In an interview with Le Monde newspaper, Le Pen accuses previous governments of both the mainstream right and the left of preparing the ground for “the events that are shaking the world today” – an apparent reference to Muslim protests against the film Innocence of Muslims and French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s publication of cartoons of Mohammed.
Negotiating with “politico-religious fundamentalists” has only made them stronger, she argues, declaring that “freedom of expression is non-negotiable”.
Asked if she is in favour banning the wearing of the Islamic headscarf in public, Le Pen replies, “Yes, shops, public transport, the street … ” and goes on to confirm that the ban would also apply to the Jewish skullcap – the kippa or yarmulke.
A controversial French law passed under former president Nicolas Sarkozy banned wearing garments that cover the face, such as the burka and niqab, in public.
Education Minister Vincent Peillon hit back on Friday by dubbing Le Pen “first among fundamentalists” and President François Hollande declared, “Everything that tears people apart, opposes and divides them is inappropriate.”
Both men were attending the inauguration of a holocaust memorial in Drancy, the town outside Paris that hosted a camp from which Jews were deported to concentration camps during World War II.
Copé, who is standing for the leadership of Sarkozy’s UMP, also slammed Le Pen, saying that she “is mixing up secularism and the eradication of religions”.
Le Pen’s Front National (FN) accused Copé of “joing the herd of the élites” and “showing contempt for French people’s problems” on Saturday.
"The kippa is not a problem in our country," Le Pen told TF1 television on Saturday, explaining that she called for it to be banned in public to "allow equality in the demands we put on all sides".
The interview, that came ahead of this weekend’s FN summer school in the west coast town of La Baule, is a further step in Le Pen’s efforts to portray her party, a number of whose members are fundamentalist Catholics, as a defender of France’s secular tradition and “republican values”, including freedom of speech.
Reminded that she herself has sued Charlie Hebdo over a cartoon portraying her as a pile of faeces, she replies, “The limits of free expression are libel and abuse.”