France’s chief religions are protesting plans by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative party to hold a debate next week on Islam’s role in the country, joining a growing chorus of voices who fear it could stigmatize Muslims and worsen social tensions.

The top representatives of France’s Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists published a joint statement Wednesday saying the debate could add “to the confusion in the troubled period we are traversing.”

Muslim leaders in France have said the debate will further stigmatize western Europe’s largest Islamic population, estimated to number at least 5 million people.

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