The French cabinet has approved a bill seeking to crack down on Islamic extremism following a series of recent attacks by extremists.
The bill is part of President Emmanuel Macron’s long-term efforts to ensure the country’s independence from any religion, through stricter rules on local schools and hate speech.
Critics in France and abroad have accused his government of using the law to attack religion.
But French Prime Minister Jean Castex called it a “protection law” that would free Muslims from the clutches of extremists.
He insisted that the law was not enacted because it affected a particular religion, especially Islam.
What does the law say ?
The bill, which “supports the principles of the Republic”, will tighten measures to curb hate speech on the Internet and prohibit the use of the Internet to disclose personal information about other people.
This is seen as a response to the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty in October.
Paty, 47, was killed by a extremist after showing his students a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
The law also prohibits “private” schools that propagate Islamic ideology and impose stricter rules on home reading.
It will also strengthen the ban on polygamy by refusing to grant residency to multiple applicants.
Doctors may be fined or prohibited from performing virginity tests on girls.
There are new rules for dealing with money for Muslim groups and the need to sign the rules of the Republic of France in order to raise funds.
The law prohibits officials from wearing religious clothing in the workplace for transport workers and workers in swimming pools and markets.
Why was the law introduced?
It has taken a long time to study this bill, but recent attacks by Islamist extremists have further strengthened the need for its enactment.
Paty’s assassination was one of three attacks that angered France.
Three people were killed by a stabbing at the Nice church in October.
Two more people were stabbed and seriously injured in September in Paris near the former Charlie Hebdo magazine office, where Islamist militants carried out a deadly attack in 2015.
President Macron was a staunch supporter of the Republic of France, including the country’s position as a non-religious organization.
He described Islam as a “religion of conflict” and defended Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
France has about five million Muslims.
What is the response?
Mr Macron has been widely criticized by many around the world, especially in Muslim countries, in many Muslim-majority countries.
Relations between his country and Turkey, which have already soured, have soured, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan describing the law as “provocative” and saying Mr Macron was “mentally ill”.
Protests have taken place in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Lebanon.
The US envoy on religious freedom, Sam Brownback, also criticized the move, saying: “When you gain power, the situation can get worse.”
In France itself, some liberal politicians have expressed concern about how the law is likely to discredit Muslims.
Le Monde reports that this could affect other religious groups that teach reading at home.
But the BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Paris says pressure is mounting on President Macron to take action.