PARIS - Drawing fierce criticism from French politicians and religious leaders, far-right leader Marine Le Pen called on Friday, September 21, for a ban on wearing Muslim veils and Jewish skullcaps in public.
Religious headwear should be banned "in stores, on public transport and on the streets," Le Pen said in an interview Friday with the newspaper Le Monde.
Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front Party, added that the ban should apply to the Jewish skullcap, known as the kippah or yarmulke, as well as Muslim headwear.
"It is obvious that if the veil is banned, the kippah is banned in public as well," she added.
Islam and immigration have been a main theme in the electoral rallies of Elysee hopefuls.
Focusing on inciting fear on the role of Islam in France, home to up to six million Muslims, Le Pen shocked the French elite by winning almost 18 percent in the first round of this year's presidential vote.
In 2010, Le Pen compared Muslim prayers on the streets to Nazi occupation.
Along with its anti-immigrant approach, her party also focuses on problems facing French people, including scarce jobs and housing problems.
Most mainstream politicians on the left and right of the political spectrum in France say that Le Pen is dangerously stigmatizing large swathes of society.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one's affiliations.
In 2004, the French government banned hijab in state schools and institutions, triggering several European countries to follow suit.
It also enacted a law banning the wearing of face-veil - burqa or niqab - in public places.
According to Wikipedia, Jewish law dictates that a man is required to cover his head during prayer.
Originally, wearing a head covering outside of the synagogue for Orthodox males was a custom.
Le Pen comments stirred fierce criticism from French politicians and religious leaders.
"Everything that tears people apart, opposes them and divides them is inappropriate, and we must apply the rules, the only rules that we know, the rules of the Republic and secularism," President Francois Hollande said, AFP reported.
Jean-Francois Cope, who leads the right-wing UMP party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, said Le Pen showed little understanding of France's much-vaunted secular traditions.
"Marine Le Pen wants to ban any signs of religion on the street, starting with the veil and the kippah, Cope said.
By doing this, she shows she understands nothing of secularism.
Secularism is not the eradication of all religious expressions in society.
Religious leaders also denounced Le Pen controversial comments.
Richard Prasquier, who heads France's main Jewish council CRIF, said the statement showed there were "secular fanatics just as there are religious fanatics.
"Obviously, I am hostile to both," he said.
The main Muslim council CFCM said the far-right icon wanted to "set up a totalitarian regime in France."
Le Pen comments are expected to add to religious tensions sparked by US-made anti-Islam film and anti-prophet cartoons.
Last Wednesday, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published cartoons displaying a man said to be the prophet as naked.
Entitled Muhammad: a star is born, one caricature depicts a bearded figure crouching over to display naked buttocks and genitals, a star covering his anus.
A second cartoon, in reference to the scandal over a French magazine's decision to publish topless photos of the wife of Britain's Prince William, showed a topless, bearded character with the caption: "Riots in Arab countries after photos of Mrs. Muhammad are published."
Islam strictly prohibits the depiction of the Prophet as blasphemous.
Caricatures deemed insulting in the past have provoked protests and drawn condemnation from officials, preachers, ordinary Muslims and many Christians.