- A French mayor banned pork substitutes in school meals
- He argued the substitutes are “anti-republican” and violate France’s secularism
- The decision has been criticized as being "anti-Muslim"
- The move has deprived 150 Muslim students of substitute meals since Monday
A far-right mayor's decision to ban pork substitutes in school meals has been slammed by the head of a watchdog group.
Julien Sanchez, mayor of Beaucaire town in the south of France and a member of the far-right National Front, outlawed as of Monday alternatives to pork in school canteens, arguing substitute meals are “anti-republican” and violate France’s secular principles.
Abdallah Zekri, head of France’s National Observatory Against Islamophobia, condemned what he called "an arbitrary and discriminatory decision."
"It's an unacceptable measure. We cannot accept that while some children are eating, others will just watch," Zekri said.
He pointed out that Sanchez's decision is contrary to the principle of secularism, noting that secularism guarantees freedom of conscience and religion as a fundamental right for every citizen.
"He is using the respect of secularism as a pretext, but his action contradicts it. It is simply racism against Muslims. It is an anti-Muslim process," he added, calling for the decision to be canceled.
Sanchez's move has been depriving around 150 mainly Muslim pupils of their “substitute meals” since Monday.
Anne Moiroud, head of the Beaucaire school district's parents' association, on Monday organized a picnic in the square in front of Beaucaire’s town hall to protest the decision.
"My issue is in fact that [Sanchez] seeks publicity for the National Front all throughout France but does not think of the children here in Beaucaire," the angry parent told local news website ObjectifGard.
"It [substitute menus] has existed for 40 years. Children have the same rights as us concerning their freedom of religion, thought and expression. They have the right to eat pork or not to."
Laure Cordelet, head of a local opposition group, said the mayor’s move "breached children’s rights" and "stigmatized the local Maghreb [North African] community."
The decision, she added, "can in no way be justified in the name of secularism."
Marlene Schiappa, France’s gender equality minister, also expressed her outrage, calling Sanchez “a typical example of someone brandishing secularism as an anti-Muslim political weapon, or anti-Jewish for that matter."
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A renewed controversy
This is not the first time that substitute meals have made headlines.
Gilles Platret, the mayor of Chalon-sur-Saone town in Burgundy from the center-right Les Republicains party, took a similar decision back in 2015 before a local court annulled it in 2017 on the grounds that limiting options was not in the best interests of children. He vowed to appeal.
In 2015, children at Piedalloues primary school in Auxerre, Burgundy who did not eat pork were ordered to wear at lunchtime red discs and those who did not eat meat to wear yellow disks.
Eighteen of the school’s 1,500 pupils were affected by the decision.
They were withdrawn after protests by angry parents and community leaders who said they were reminiscent of the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear under the Nazi occupation.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy made a controversial statement when seeking reelection in 2016.
He said “if a little guy’s family does not eat pork and the menu at the cafeteria is a slice of ham and fries, well, he skips the ham and eats a double helping of fries. In a republic, it’s the same rule and the same menu for everyone”.
In 2017, Michel Rotger, mayor of Chevigny-Saint-Sauveur and also a member of the conservative Republican party, announced the cancelation of alternative school menus that do not include pork to promote secular values in schools.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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