Paris - The Islamic veil is still very much a national controversy, data from a front-page BVA survey in Le Parisien newspaper showed on Monday.
More than 80% of respondents favor toughening the country's 2004 law, which bans religious dress and insignia in schools, nurseries, and anywhere that involves the care and education of children. Another 83% is in favor of extending the ban to the private sector, and 16% is against.
Socialists, intellectuals, politicians and humanitarian NGOs signed an online petition launched by Marianne weekly, calling on the government to enact a new, tougher law in defense of secularism, one that will explain with ''pedagogy and clarity'' where and when the principle of secularism is to be applied.
Prominent signatories include philosophers Elisabeth Badinter, Alain Finkielkraut and Jean-Pierre Le Goff, Socialist Party secretary Harlem Desir, and several former ministers. For influential think tank Institut Montaigne, the existing law does not need reforming. The debate flared when France's highest court on March 19 vacated the dismissal of a woman from a Chateloup-les-Vignes private nursery school for refusing to remove her Islamic veil in the workplace. School authorities cited the principle of secularism and the school's ''philosophical, political and sectarian neutrality'', but the Supreme Court replied that since secularism does not apply in the private sector, the dismissal ''constitutes in this case an act of discrimination on grounds of religion''. Interior Minister Manuel Valls hotly criticized the ruling, which he said ''brings secularism into question''. Since 2004, French law bans ostentatious wear of all ''religious insignia'' in public schools. A law banning women from wearing the full-body Islamic veil (burqa and niqab) in all public places, including the street, was enacted in 2011. Women defying the ban risk fines of 150 euros.