Burkini day is off. The announcement on Wednesday brought a halt to what would have been France's most controversial pool party ever.

On Monday, Smile 13, a women's group from Marseilles, posted flyers advertising September 10 as a private day at the Speed Water Park for women and children only, with men and boys over the age of 10 banned. Also banned? Two-piece swimming suits and suits worn without a sarong or shorts.

The event organizers' decision to ban men from entering the waterpark was met with resistance, as was the advertisement's mention of the "burkini" and the "swimming jilbab." Both garments are illegal to wear in French public pools. Michel Amiel, mayor of the region where the park is located, voiced his concerns immediately after the event was announced, saying that it "risked causing problem of public order." Another right-wing politician called for a ban on the burkini altogether.

And on Wednesday, Amiel announced that the event would be canceled. "We must not be naive," he said. "The question is linked to radical Islam and will not be solved tomorrow. What I regret is that the association [Smile 13] does not realize that its invitation is nothing less than a provocation." A joint statement released by the city of Pennes-Mirabeau and the Speed Water Park said that neither wanted to be "the scene of the disturbances of public order."

On its Facebook page, Smile 13 regretted the polemic that had greeted the proposal and stated that menacing letters and bullets they had received in the mail would be brought before the Collective Against Islamophobia in France. A spokeswoman acknowledged that the proposal was controversial, but defended the right of participants to practice their religion. "Our goal is to bring women to the water," said Smile 13 treasurer Mélisa Thivet. "Some of them don't have the chance to be able to swim in the park during the regular season because of modesty. We are offering them this chance, but people are narrow-minded."

Much of the rancor surrounding the event stemmed from its seeming acceptance of wearing the burka in public, an act that is itself illegal in France. A 2010 law bans face-covering headgear—everything from balaclavas and helmets to the niqab and burka. Supporters of the law argued that face-coverings pose a security risk because they prevent the identification of a person and that removing the possibility of facial recognition is a "social hindrance." Although challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, the law still stands.

Both the so-called "burka ban" and the controversy at Speed Water Park are continuing developments in the saga of the legality of religious clothing in France. Under a 2003 law, the wearing of "ostentatious" religious symbols is banned in French public schools. This includes yarmulkes, conspicuous crucifixes, and Muslim headscarves. The law was controversial when passed and remains so today, as does a later piece of legislation specifying that a woman may not wear the hijab in her passport photo.

Unlike the United States, where the federal government is restricted from infringing upon the freedom of worship, in France, the national government is supposed to be impartial or neutral in affairs of religion. The principle of the secular state, or "la laïcité" is at the heart of the French understanding of the republic. When the Revolution pledged in the late 18th century that the government would be secular, it paved the way for Jews and Protestants to gain citizenship and suffrage in majority-Catholic France.