Law Banning Religious Symbols in France Affects Christmas Season

A new law in France that barred Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to school has now forced schools to send back donated Christmas chocolates, news agencies reported Monday.

Although the northern town of Coudekerque-Branche has shipped traditional chocolates shaped like Christian crosses and St. Nicholas’s to local schools for 11 years, this year all 1,300 packages have been sent back to the its City Hall.

“It's an unhealthy political affair. Absolutely regrettable,” the mayor of Coudekerque-Branche told the Associated Press. “What's the point? It's the children who are being penalized for this difference of opinion. They've been deprived of a festive moment.”

Since it took effect in September, a new law banning conspicuous religious symbols at schools has resulted in the expulsion of more than a dozen teenage Muslim girls from high schools for refusing to remove their Islamic headscarves, as well as three Sikh boys of a Paris-area school for wearing turbans.

Originally the law, which also bans overt symbols such as Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses at public schools, was said to be France’s response to what many perceived as a rise in Islamic fundamentalism. However, as Christmas nears, Christians in France have found that the law also applies to them.

According to AP, last week's dispute over the chocolates was the first time the law had been used to challenge Christian imagery. Now for assurance, few public classrooms in the traditionally Roman Catholic nation are decorated with crosses and other religious imagery even at Christmas time.

The situation in France notably differs from that in neighboring Italy, where a 1923 regulation issued during Benito Mussolini's Fascist rule and never repealed states that a symbol of the crucifix should hang in every classroom and courtroom in the country.