French Education Minister Lionel Jospin stepped into a national dispute over Islam in the classroom today, saying that girls could wear Muslim headscarfs in school if they insist but that refusal to attend certain classes will not be tolerated.
The suspension early this month of three schoolgirls who wore the headscarfs in class is causing hot debate in France where Islam has become the second-biggest religion.
Speaking in the National Assembly, Jospin called on parents and children across France to avoid displaying any sign of their religion in school.
"But should the principal face a rigid refusal, especially in the case of headscarfs, then the school must take the children in," he added to angry shouts.
Jospin specified, however, that the refusal by some Muslim teen-age girls to attend biology and music classes or practice sports will not be tolerated.