German chancellor, officials differ on religious symbols in schools

Muslim teachers in public schools should be allowed to wear headscarves, a German official responsible for foreigners' integration says.

"It is counterproductive to block such women from training and a career and limit their emancipation," the official, Marieluise Beck, said in an interview Monday with the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper. "It is better to bet on the power of an open society that makes offers to young women and smooths their way into this society."

A week ago, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder took a different position, saying Islamic veils have no place in the classroom.

President Johannes Rau has also weighed into Germany's debate over headscarves. He did not take a specific stand on Muslim veils, but said he supported equal treatment of all religious symbols. Germany has roughly 3.5 million Muslims, mostly of Turkish origin.

Germany has been divided over whether to ban Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves in public classrooms since the nation's highest court ruled in September that veils were allowed unless existing legislation specifically outlawed them.

French President Jacques Chirac's announcement of plans earlier this month to ban all religious symbols from public schools further fueled the discussion.