PARIS — France’s justice minister went before parliament Tuesday to defend a hotly debated bill that would ban burqa-style Islamic veils in public, arguing that hiding your face from your neighbors is a violation of French values.

Michele Alliot-Marie’s speech at the National Assembly marked the start of parliamentary debate on the bill. It is widely expected to become law, despite the concerns of many French Muslims, who fear it will stigmatize them. Many law scholars also argue it would violate the constitution.

The government has used various strategies to sell the proposal, casting it at times as a way to promote equality between the sexes, to protect oppressed women or to ensure security in public places.

Alliot-Marie argued that it has nothing to do with religion or security — she argued simply that life in the French Republic “is carried out with a bare face.”

“It is a question of dignity, equality and transparency,” she said in a speech that avoided mentioning the words “burqa” or “Islam.” Officials have taken pains to craft language that does not single out Muslims: While the proposed legislation is colloquially referred to as the “burqa ban,” it is officially called “the bill to forbid covering one’s face in public.”

Ordinary Muslim headscarves are common in France, but face-covering veils are a rarity — the Interior Ministry says only 1,900 women in France wear them.

Yet the planned law would be a turning point for Islam in a country with a Muslim population of at least 5 million people, the largest in western Europe.

France is determined to protect the country’s deeply rooted secular values, and the conservative government is encouraging a moderate, state-sanctioned Islam that respects the secular state. Last week Prime Minister Francois Fillon inaugurated a mosque in the Paris suburbs.

Lawmakers at the National Assembly are expected to vote on the bill July 13. It goes to the Senate in September.

France’s opposition Socialists agree with much of the draft law, although they say a ban shouldn’t be applicable everywhere, just in certain places, such as government buildings, hospitals, public transport and banks.