Turbans get Sikh students expelled

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THREE Sikh students have been expelled from a French school for refusing to remove turbans.

It was the first time Sikhs were forced out under a new French law banning conspicuous religious signs and apparel in the classroom, their lawyer said.

Officials of the Louise Michel high school in Bobigny, near Paris, decided to expel the three teenagers at disciplinary hearings ordered by a court, said lawyer Felix de Belloy.

The ruling was the latest twist in France’s effort to apply a new law banning religious symbols at public schools. The ban, which includes Islamic headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses, took effect at the start of the school year.

At least eight Muslim girls have been expelled under the law. Islamic headscarves were its main target because of concerns that growing Muslim fundamentalism in France was weakening the nation’s secular roots.

Turbans were not a focus of the debate over the measure, but Sikhs later learned the head covering would also be outlawed.

The Sikh boys had been suspended since September 23 pending this week’s disciplinary hearings.

A court last month ordered the hearings to decide the fate of the boys, who had been confined to classes in a cafeteria, apart from other students, since the start of the school year.

Sikhs had asked the court to force school officials to take action by either accepting or expelling the boys.

The Sikh students had made a concession by agreeing to wear a "keski" - a smaller version of the full turban, but the disciplinary panel did not accept that offer, de Belloy said.

"I think school officials are a bit afraid that if they admit the Sikhs, then young Muslim girls would say it’s unfair," he said. "It’s not a big surprise."

For traditional Sikhs, external appearance is sacred and men and boys who practise the faith wear turbans to cover their unshorn hair.

Earlier this year Islamic extremists kidnapped two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, in an attempt to persuade the French Government’s not to ban Muslim headscarves.