France's parliament begins debate Tuesday on a controversial bill that would ban Islamic head scarves and other religious symbols in the country's public schools.
The measure, which would also ban Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crucifixes, was approved by French government ministers last week. A vote is expected next week.
French President Jacques Chirac has defended the measure, saying it is simply about France trying to maintain the separation of church and state.
France, which has the largest Muslim population in western Europe, has been at odds with the Islamic community over the head scarf issue. Muslim leaders have urged officials not to enact a ban, calling it discriminatory and saying it will stigmatize the country's Muslims.
The United States has expressed concern over the planned law, saying all people should be able to practice their religion peacefully without government interference.
Some information for this report provided by AP.