I am not sure yet what I think about this, other than the suspicion that Chirac is going in the wrong direction. I cannot believe that banning religious dress (and other displays such as large crosses) will increase tolerance and understanding The LA Times has an onerous sign in policy. Here's the gist of the article by Sebastian Rotella
PARIS — President Jacques Chirac proposed a law Wednesday to ban Muslim head scarves, Jewish skullcaps and large crucifixes in public schools, stepping into a divisive cultural conflict by reaffirming the secularism at the core of the French national identity.
The proposal follows months of political debate and increasing tension in schools, hospitals and other public institutions as religious practices, primarily those of a fast-growing Muslim community, clash with the secular tradition of the French state.
Muslims now make ub about 10% of the French population, due to immigration. (I believe there are more Muslims than Jews.)
In addition to the proposed law, which is expected to pass parliament and could go into effect by September, in time for the new school year, Chirac laid out a plan to defend secularism in the private sector. He said the government should assist it in establishing appropriate regulations for religious symbols and customs in the workplace, though he did not provide details.
Despite France's rapid demographic change, the president made it clear that he rejects the social model, associated with the United States and Britain, wherein governments recognize and deal with groups based on ethnic and religious differences and accommodate their disparate identities and demands.
The French approach, on the contrary, envisions total integration by an impartial, egalitarian state that aspires to tolerance by ignoring distinctions of race, creed or origin.
In 1789, the French Revolution did away with a monarchy allied with the Roman Catholic church. The landmark law separating church and state was passed in 1905 and established a secular republic assuring all types of religious expression.
"The danger is division, discrimination, confrontation," Chirac said, declaring that unnamed "societies structured around communities are often full of unacceptable inequalities. [The community-based model] will never be the choice of France…. I refuse to engage France in that direction. It would sacrifice its heritage there. It would compromise its future there. It would lose its soul there."