Aug. 28 (UPI) -- France will ban students from wearing abayas, the long, robe-like garments worn by Muslim women, in state schools this academic year as the country faces accusations of Islamophobia from a growing Muslim minority.
The announcement follows months of debate in France, where the wearing of large crosses, Jewish kippas and Islamic headscarves or hijab is already banned.
"Schools of the Republic are built on very strong values and principles, especially laïcité," which means the separation of state and religion, according to French Education Minister Gabriel Attal.
"For me, laïcité, when put in the framework of a school, is very clear: You enter a classroom and you must not be able to identify the religious identity of students just by looking at them," Attal told French TV network TF-1 on Sunday.
"During my meetings with the school heads this summer, I sensed their need for a clear rule on the national level on the issue of abayas, so the rule is now here," Attal added.
A number of French lawmakers attacked the move as a "new Islamaphobic campaign."
"Sadness to see the return to school politically polarized by a new absurd entirely artificial religious war about a woman's dress. When will there be civil peace and true secularism that unites instead of exasperating?" Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a liberal activist, asked Monday in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
France banned headscarves in schools in 2004 and full face veils were banned in public in 2010.
"This type of policy stands in opposition to the liberal core of the 1905 Law on Separation of Church and State -- a law we've been distorting and weaponizing since the '90s," Rim-Sarah Alouane, a French legal scholar, wrote in a post on X.
"Such policies fuel the nation's fractures," Alouane added.
France has banned religious signs and dress in its schools since the 19th century, when the first rules were enacted to keep the Catholic Church from influencing public education. France has continued to update the law to reflect its changing population.
Attal said he would provide clear national rules before schools open on Sept. 4.