Cardinal Bernard Panafieu, the Archbishop of Marseilles, has denounced the French government's ban on religious symbols in state schools. In the first reading of the Bill on Tuesday, deputies in the National Assembly voted 494 to 36 to ban Muslim Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses, in France's strictly secular public schools. The ban will not extend to private schools. French officials argue the ban is needed to defend France's secular tradition against a wave of Islamic militancy among its five million Muslims. But Cardinal Panafieu said the State would do better "to act through persuasion than by compulsion" if it wanted to control the use of religious symbols in its schools. Describing the ban as "unenforceable", he said it would be wrong to use laws to prevent immigrants from "asserting their identity". The bill must now go to the Senate and then back to the National Assembly for final approval in mid-March. The key passage of the law, which schools will have to apply from September, reads: "In primary and secondary state schools, wearing signs and clothes that conspicuously display the pupil's religious affiliation is forbidden." Many church and human rights organisations have expressed concerns that the bill will increase tensions in the community rather than easing them.
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