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Moslem Girls Decide to Take Off Controversial Scarves

December 2, 1989

CREIL, France (AP) _ Two Moslem girls whose insistence on wearing Islamic scarves to school kicked off a national debate announced Saturday that they would take off the controversial headgear in class.

The 13- and 14-year-old sisters, Fatima and Leila Achaboun, said they would bow to the request by their principal at Gabriel-Havez College in the northern Paris suburb of Creil and take off their ″hijabs.″

They gave no explanation of their decision to lower the hijabs to their shoulders while in the classroom. A third student in Creil, 15-year-old Samira Saidani, continues to refuse to abide by the school’s request.

Wearing the hijab, which covers the hair, ears and neck, has stirred debate over the separation of church and state in France.

The principle of secularity in public schools has been the law in France since the Roman Catholic Church was officially separated from the state in 1905.

The controversy began in Creil when the school principal, Ernest Chenieres, applied the 1937 law prohibiting all religious symbols in school and denied the three girls the right to attend class until they removed the scarves. The girls refused.

Similar cases arose in other French cities, and the arguments became linked to the issue of immigration, particularly attitudes toward immigrants from Moslem countries in North Africa.

On Monday, the Council of State ruled that the girls could wear the religous headgear if it did not cause disruptions. The ruling by the council, France’s highest administrative authority, left the decision up to school authorities to judge on a case-by-case basis.

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