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Berlin moves to ban religious symbols in public sector
Wed Mar 31 2004 08:24:30 ET

Berlin's regional government agreed Wednesday to outlaw all "religious symbols" for civil servants amid a German national debate about the wearing of Muslim headscarves in the public sector.

The compromise deal came after months of wrangling in the city-state's ruling coalition of Social Democrats and the former communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS).

If approved by the regional legislature, they will cover police officers, judges, bailiffs and public school teachers.

"We are banning not only all Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves but also covering all religious symbols," said the head of the PDS parliamentary group, Marion Seelig, adding that this would include Christian crucifixes and Jewish skullcaps.

The Berliner Zeitung reported that the legislation would go into effect in mid-2004 and exclude employees of state day care facilities and welfare offices.

Seelig noted that the German basic law requires equal treatment of all religions and said she doubted whether draft laws presented by other German states to restrict only the wearing of Muslim headscarves would stand up before the country's highest tribunal, the federal constitutional court.

The German capital's legislation would mimic a controversial French law, set to come into effect in September, which will prohibit "conspicuous" religious symbols in the classroom, including Islamic headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses.

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