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France politicians attack decision to delay trial during Ramadan

[JURIST] French politicians are criticizing a court's decision to postpone a Muslim suspect's trial on armed-robbery charges during the holy month of Ramadan [Beliefnet.com backgrounder], arguing that it violates France's constitutional separation of church and state. The Court of Assizes at Ille-et-Vilaine on Friday rescheduled the trial "in the interest of a proper administration of justice" after a defense attorney requested the delay because his client would not be fully capable of defending himself after having fasted for 14 days. The attorney general of the Court of Appeal [official website, in French] at Rennes, where the trial is to take place, said the court's decision was based on several factors and added that the judiciary would not "stop judging people of Muslim faith who follow the Ramadan." In an interview [text, in French] with the newspaper Liberation, Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara [Time profile], a Muslim herself, called the postponement a "knife wound" to secularism. Right-wing leader Jean-Marie le Pen [JURIST news archive; BBC profile] also denounced the decision. The trial is now scheduled for January 19. BBC News has more. Le Monde has local coverage, in French.

Article I of the French Constitution [text, in French] "ensures equality before the law for all citizens without regard to origin, race or religion." Since 2004, France [JURIST news archive] has banned religious clothing and symbols in public schools [JURIST report] as a measure to protect separation of church and state. Muslim women have opposed the law as discriminatory because it prohibits them from wearing headscarves. A German court upheld a similar ban in March, and the Danish government announced plans [JURIST reports] in May to prohibit judges from wearing religious headscarves. In Turkey, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) last month dropped its opposition to a prohibition on wearing headscarves at public universities after the Turkish Constitutional Court struck down a constitutional amendment [JURIST reports] seeking to relax the ban.

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