On a warm Thursday morning last month, 15-year-old Sarah started her typical one-hour journey to school.

The French Muslim girl of Algerian descent had grown accustomed to taking her headscarf off just before she stepped into Leo Lagrange junior-high school in Charleville-Mezieres.

Sarah has been wearing the hijab, Islamic veil, for the past year, but in order to receive an education, she was forced to take it off because of a 2004 French law that bans students from wearing any "conspicuous signs" of religion, such as headscarves, skullcaps or crucifixes at school.

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