WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sen. Daniel K. Inouye's colleagues praised him Wednesday as a man of ''selfless demeanor'' and intentions despite his acknowleged judgment error in backing a schools project in France for North African Jews.

The speeches on the Senate floor came a day after Congress - at Inouye's request - killed an $8 million project to build schools in France for North African Jews. The Senate, by a voice vote, approved a House-passed bill late Tuesday.

Inouye, D-Hawaii, acknowledged that he made an ''error in judgment'' in originally backing the project. Inouye has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Senate majority leader post should Sen. Robert Byrd, D- W.Va., step down.

Rep. Daniel J. Evans, R-Wash., said people like Inouye are ''motivated by something other than their own self-interest.'' Inouye has a ''selfless demeanor and dedication to the plight of those less fortunate that himself,'' said Evans, who is not seeking re-election in 1988.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, also praised Inouye, as did Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, a day earlier.

''His original action was well-intentioned ... but perhaps that well- intentioned action should not have occurred,'' Metzenbaum said.

The $8 million project was included in a $600 billion omnibus spending bill approved by Congress and signed by President Reagan shortly before Christmas.

The provision was criticized by members of Congress and civil liberties groups, which said the United States should not be spending money to build religious schools in a developed country.