French court rules school lunches may include pork; Muslims alarmed

A chef serves lunch in a cafeteria.

PARIS (RNS) A French court on Thursday (Aug. 13) upheld a local move to stop offering alternatives to pork in school cafeterias, sparking dismay on the part of Muslim leaders and possibly setting a precedent for municipalities elsewhere in the country.

The court found in favor of the mayor of a town in eastern France who announced in March that students would no longer be guaranteed a nonpork option at lunchtime for the coming school year.

“A first victory for secularity,” tweeted the mayor, Gilles Platret of Chalon-sur-Saone, after the court ruling.

But Abdallah Zekri, leader of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, expressed regret.

“I can only condemn this mayor’s decision, which is not taken to bring social peace to schools,” he said in a statement to the Agence France-Presse news agency. “All Muslims respect secularity. Muslims have never asked for Halal meat in school cafeterias.”

For her part, Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who is Muslim, denounced the decision by the court in Dijon for “taking children hostage.”

French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem attends the first forum of the newly-created communication board to discuss French Islam at the Interior Ministry in Paris, France, on June 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Benoit Tessier  *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-FRANCE-PORK, originally transmitted on August 13, 2015.

French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem attends the first forum of the newly created communication board to discuss French Islam at the Interior Ministry in Paris on June 15, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-FRANCE-PORK, originally transmitted on Aug. 13, 2015.

This is not the first time religion and education have clashed in a country where a 1905 law cemented the separation of church and state. A government ban pushed through a decade ago against Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and other “ostentatious” displays of religion in French public schools stirred similar controversy. France has Europe’s largest population of Jews and Muslims.

There was no immediate from Jewish leaders to the latest ruling.

The pork ruling was reportedly based on procedural grounds, and lawyers from the Muslim Council may still appeal it. It addressed a tradition for many years of offering alternatives to pork in public school lunches, along with vegetarian meals.

Platret’s ban has earned applause from a variety of fronts, including staunch secularists and conservative politicians. Some local municipalities also complain that offering substitutes for pork is expensive and wasteful.

Beyond cost concerns, the tradition has also tapped simmering anti-immigrant sentiments in France. The far-right National Front party has vowed to enact similar bans against pork substitutes in the 11 towns that it controls.

“We will not accept any religious demands in school meals,” National Front leader Marine Le Pen said earlier this year. “There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere; that’s the law.”

There may be one clear victor in Thursday’s ruling. French pig farmers have been staging angry protests against low pork prices and calling for more action from the government.


About the author

Elizabeth Bryant


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  • As usual, France not only gets things wrong but does so in a way to enable fascist types. Like collaboration with the Nazis wasn’t enough. Its telling the National Front is all for this measure.

    Secular government involves not just keeping religion out of government, it means keeping government out of religion. Protecting the free exercise of religion. They have the separation of church and state but without the protection of religious practice.

    This sort of thing would never fly in the US. Not the headscarf/skullcap ban, not the refusal to deal with religious based dietary restrictions. Its telling that these measures only affect minority faiths typically followed by France’s immigrant population. Religious persecution (with major support from French Christians, mind you) of religious minorities under the guise of “secularism”. Much like how the word “Democratic” in a nation’s name is always a sign of dictatorship.

  • The same is said of all minority religions. Jews have their rules concerning Kosher food, Hindus with Desi requirements, and so on. France has its share of Jews and Hindus as well. Singling out Muslims for this sort of thing is remarkably selective.

    As for Muslim majority countries, one should never model behavior of a democracy on that of a dictatorships. Muslim majority nations are dictatorships. They act worse. They are unfree, terribly governed nations. France as a democracy is better than that and should act as such.

    Nobody should be barred from requesting a school lunch in accordance with their faith. It is not a guaranteed right that it must be provided, but at least an accommodation and some effort can be made. Religious freedom is an integral right to a democratic nation. This is simply antagonizing religious believers for the sake of doing so.

  • So you are saying that exercise of religion is a privilege to be granted by the majority population. Provided it doesn’t annoy them.

    Why must a simple courtesy be banned in the name of civil government? First it was religious clothing, now diet. Can they find more ways to strip away the dignity of minority religious believers in everyday living? Of course. Its not like France has not done that before.

    As I said before, this would never fly in the US. France like much of Europe gets a lot of things wrong when it comes to civil liberties, religion and dealing with minority/immigrant groups. Separation of church and state without protection of free exercise of religion is not a secular government. Its merely a way for majority groups to attack the rights of others.

  • Good for France. Catering to every dietary trend is not the focus of schools…..that’s what restaurants are for. And it’s a good “dig” at the Muslim community.
    Pack a lunch, eat a salad, fast for the day…..who cares? Are we going to upgrade food fights to international crisis status? Absurd.

  • Alas! There are only a couple of Muslim majority countries that are anywhere close to being democratic in the Western sense for us to compare with. I wonder why?

  • My kid likes his ham sandwich. I don’t stop anyone from having their beef sandwich. Why should they stop my kid from having his?

  • The legal age of consent in France is 15, so you will find sexually active students in French schools which as both legally and socially acceptable by French standards.

    If you give muslims a right to demand pork free school meals, then what will you do if muslims demand homosexual students to be thrown off of the school roof and students engaging in pre-marital sex to be publicly stoned to death as it commonly practiced in multiple muslim countries?

    The state will either have to observe all muslim rules or none. You can’t have it both ways.

    If you don’t want to eat pork then choose a vegetarian meal or pack a lunch.

  • T Ryber, skipping pork here means children go without lunch. Is that what you want? Something else on the menu is not a special concession.

  • Can you read? There are no vegetarian meals. It’s pork or nothing. They’re not asking for pork to be banned from school, they’re not asking for halal meat, they’re asking that they not have to fast for the day.

  • Believe me, they will live until dinner time at home. Many kids decide not to eat what the school cafeteria offers on any given day. They manage.

  • Don’t eat any shellfish Dominic or god will smite even you. Be very careful. Satan is every where trying to feed you disallowed things. Remember, no croutons or lettuce on the Sabbath or you will be disendowed.

  • Don’t be so fast. God made us the beasts to eat and take in toxins so that many of us can have cancer.

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