A French court in Dijon ruled in favour of a Muslim organisation on Monday, directing schools to provide non-pork meals in the interest of Muslim and Jewish children.
The court annulled a 2015 decision by the town hall in Chalon-sur-Saône in Burgandy to not provide alternate lunches in school canteens. Local authority officials said they would appeal against the decision.
The town hall’s decision had been legally challenged by the Ligue de Défense Judiciaire des Musulmans [LDJM – the Muslim Legal Defence League] in 2015, terming the decision “illegal, discriminatory and a violation of the freedom of conscience and religion”. Their lawyer, Nicolas Gardères argued that “secular principles come second to children’s rights.”
At the sentencing, the judge stressed that he was not concerned with religious context but over the town’s failure to provide alternate meals which meant many children could not have lunch.
He said it was “not in keeping with the spirit of the international convention on the rights of children” and was not “in the interests of the children”. The judge highlighted that the town had provided non-pork meals since 1948 “with no argument whatsoever.”
At another hearing on Friday, August 25, 2017, a state legal expert told court they had reached the same conclusion.
Defending his decision, Gilles Platret, the right-wing Les Republicans party mayor of Chalon-sur-Saône, insisted he was upholding the French Republic’s principle of ‘laïcité’[secularism] by stopping non-pork meals in schools.
In a statement on Monday, Platret said that “the decision comes only a few days before the start of the term. It is materially impossible for the town of Chalon-sur-Saône to change the operation of a public service in such a short time without risking the continuity of that service”.
The council claimed they were combating separation and discrimination by making all children eat together. But the French national consultative committee on human rights said the move was an “erroneous interpretation of the principles of secularism and equality”.
This article originally appeared in The Guardian.
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