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French court backs private rule banning scarves

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PARIS (AP) - The Paris Appeals Court, overturning a high court decision, ruled on Wednesday that a private nursery school was justified in firing an assistant director who refused to remove her Islamic head scarf while on the job.

The decision was the fourth in the emblematic case of the firing of Fatima Afif at the Baby Loup nursery school five years ago. It was likely to provide fodder for lawmakers and associations seeking a law to ensure the highly prized French value of "laicité," or secularism.

Laws already ban head scarves in public school classrooms and face-covering veils in public spaces. There is no French law regulating religious apparel in private institutions, schools or companies. Many Muslims have seen the two laws in place as an infringement on their religious freedom and freedom of expression.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday opened a hearing in another case in which a Muslim woman who covers her face is contesting the face veil ban, which became effective in 2011.

In the case of the nursery school, the Appeals Court ruled that Baby Loup had a right to impose internal rules on its employees banning head scarves and other ostentatious religious symbols "to transcend the multiculturalism" of those using its services. It noted that the school received some state subsidies.

The school, located west of Paris, serves children ages 2-3, often from underprivileged families.

The Court of Cassation had ruled in favor of Ms. Afif in March, overturning decisions by a lower court and a labor court.

The French government's Observatory of Laicité, which helps guide official action regarding respect for secularism, noted after the ruling that it had recommended a circular containing guidelines outlining what the law allows and what it forbids. The Observatory said it will be issuing its own guide on the issue.

Numerous sectors in France, from political parties to professionals such as social workers, fear the country's constitutionally guaranteed value of secularism is being undermined by immigration and its increasingly diverse citizenry, particularly Muslims.


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(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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