NEW DELHI: The French have again come under fire for religious discrimination after a Muslim girl was sent back from school for wearing a "long skirt".

The girl identified as Sarah K was reportedly sent back twice last month by her teachers at Leo-legrange school in Eastern town of Charleville-Mezieres, for wearing a long skirt, defined by the school authorities as a "conspicuous" symbol of religion. The 15 year old girl is reported to have always removed her headscarf before entering the school.

A local education officer, Patrice Dutot explained the incident as not wholly understood by the media that has covered it extensively. He said, "She was asked to come back with neutral clothing and it seems her father did not want the pupil to return to school."

The teenage girl told a local newspaper Le'Ardennais that her skirt was "nothing special, it's very simple, there's nothing conspicuous. There's no religious sign at all."

The 2004 French ban on display on religious symbols in academic institutions includes a prohibition on the wearing of veils, head gear, and any symbols which are "conspicuous" or "ostentatious" in their display of any particular religion. The law thus allows a wide definition of what can or cannot be termed as a religious symbol.

These "conspicuous" symbol include, among others, Star of David, small crosses, turban, hijab, and Fatima's Hands .

The incident sent twitterati aflutter, with the hash tag #JePorteMaJupeCommeJeVeux, translated into English as “I wear my skirt as I please” being used to comment on the issue.

One user commented, "if it's worn by a 'white' it's hippy chic, if its a Muslim it becomes conspicuous".

France has an 8.3 m strong Muslim population, most of them immigrants from African and Turkish roots. The law to ban religious symbols was primarily seen as an attempt to scuttle Islam's overwhelming effect on the French secularism.

France has a long history of conflict between Church and State, which finally put to rest in 1905 by a exclusion of Church in the secular matters of the State. The 2004 ruling was seen as inspired from this tradition of religious influence on the politics, and an attempt to reduce it .

A scholar from Brookings Institute wrote at the time giving the context for the 2004 French decision that, "French Muslim community includes a fringe of Islamist militants who are taking advantage of the growing number of Muslims in France to "test" the French Republic, demanding privileges that other religions do not have and trying to rewrite some of the long- established rules of French society. In some instances, they have obliged girls to wear a headscarf in school (often against their will) in order to create pressure for other girls to do the same; they have forbidden girls from attending mandatory biology courses (because there are classes on reproduction) or physical education classes (because women should not participate in sports); and they have not allowed women to be treated by male doctors in public hospitals".

Balancing out the law, the 2004 recommendations had also included national holidays for non Christian festivals such Yom Kippur and Eid, but these have remained neglected since.