Pope Francis has urged France to respect the right of Muslim women to profess their faith and wear the hijab same as Christians are allowed to wear the cross.
“If a Muslim woman wishes to wear a veil, she must be able to do so. Similarly, if a Catholic wishes to wear a cross,” Francis told the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, The Guardian reported.
“People must be free to profess their faith at the heart of their own culture not merely at its margins.”
Showing support to secularism, Pope said that states also needed strong laws guaranteeing religious freedom and needed to ensure individuals, including government officials, had a right to conscientious objection.
He also expressed a “modest critique” of France, saying the country’s laws exaggerate “laïcité” – the separation of church and state.
“This arises from a way of considering religions as subcultures rather than as fully fledged cultures in their own right. I fear that this approach, which is understandable as part of the heritage of the Enlightenment, continues to exist,” Francis said.
“France needs to take a step forward on this issue in order to accept that openness to transcendence is a right for everyone,” he added.
France is home to a Muslim community of nearly six million, the largest in Europe.
French Muslims have been complaining of restrictions on performing their religious practices.
In 2004, France banned Muslims from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress, in public places and schools.
France also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public in 2011.