Pope backs Sikhs for their turban cause

In a rare move, the Vatican has thrown its weight behind the Sikhs in their struggle to keep their turbans out of a proposed French ban on all religious apparel at public institutions in that country, saying ''government cannot be an arbiter in any religious matter.'' ''In other words, Governments should respect dignity of the human person and of his inalienable rights among which his right to adhere, practice and propagate his religion is fundamental.

No Government should interfere with the inner core of any religion,''the Pope has said in a message to National Commission for Minorities Chairman Tarlochan Singh.

His message came after Mr Singh sought his intervention regarding the French Sikhs protest against a possible ban on their turbans considered central to the very identity of the faith.

Pope John Paul II said in a message obtained by UNI:''In recent times, we have witnessed in some European countries an attitude that could endanger the effective respect for religious freedom. Everyone may agree to respect the religious sentiment of individuals but the same can not be said of the religious factor, that is the social dimension of religions....It is nothing other than respect for all beliefs on the part of the State that assures the free exercise of ritual, spriritual and cultural and charitable activities by communities of believers.'' The Pope said a healthy dialogue between the Church and the State would encourage harmony in society.