PARIS, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he wants to launch a national debate on the role and influence in France of Islam, the country's second-largest religion.
Last week Sarkozy joined British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in announcing "multiculturalism is not working" and setting out to formalize the relationship between Islam and the fiercely secular state of France, France24 reported Friday.
Sarkozy's call for the debate is viewed as a move to woo voters from the far-right National Front party.
"It is out of the question that French society should be influenced by Islam," Sarkozy said. "This is a secular country."
France24 said one member of the conservative Union for a Popular Movement told right-wing publication Le Figaro: "The role of Islam in France is going to be a central issue in the 2012 presidential campaign."
Although Catholicism runs deep in France, secularism is enforced by a 1905 law stating:
"The Republic does not officially recognize, pay salaries for, nor subsidize any religion.
"It is henceforth forbidden to erect or display any religious signs or emblems publicly, and political meetings may not take place in places of worship."
Legislation in 2004 banned the display of religious symbols, including crucifixes, in schools, and last autumn the ban was extended to include the wearing of the full Islamic veil in public places.
The law also bans religious processions but does not address prayer meetings in the city streets, some resulting from overcrowding issues.
"We need to have a debate on prayer meetings in the streets," France24 reported Sarkozy said to his right-wing faithful. "In a secular country, we cannot tolerate having a public call to prayer."
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