French Cabinet ministers on Wednesday adopted a bill to ban conspicuous religious symbols in public schools — the first step to outlawing Islamic head scarves in the classroom.

The bill, containing three articles, goes to the parliament for debate on Tuesday.

It stipulates that "in schools, junior high schools and high schools, signs and dress that conspicuously show the religious affiliation of students are forbidden."

It does not apply to students in private schools.

The law would forbid Islamic head scarves (search), Jewish skullcaps (search) and Christian crosses, but it is clearly aimed at the Muslim head coverings.

Conservative President Jacques Chirac (search), who called on lawmakers to move ahead with such a law in a nationally televised speech in December, had asked that the legislation be succinct, quickly passed and in force by the new school year in September.

The legislation culminates 15 years of often bitter debate over the wearing of Islamic head scarves in classes, perceived as an affront to the constitutional principle of secularism that underpins French society.

Most, but not all, public schools have observed guidelines forbidding head coverings. However, schools have been left to decide on taking action against those who flout the rules, and decisions have been made on a case-by-case basis.

Scores of young girls have been expelled over the years for refusing to respect school rules.

Chirac's party, the Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP, has a large parliamentary majority that is expected to approve the measure quickly. However, some party members have recently voiced dissent.

The opposition Socialists favor a law, too. However, one Socialist official, Francois Rebsamen, said Wednesday that the party plans to seek amendments to improve the bill's "comprehension and application."