As of Monday 15 January, Mayor of Beaucaire – a town in the south of France – Julien Sanchez, and member of the far-right National Front, outlawed alternatives to pork in school canteens, arguing that substitute meals are “anti-republican” and violate France’s secular principles.
While the Mayor justified his decision on the basis of “secularism,” the decision once again brought to the agenda the difference in secularism and the discrimination of minorities in society in the name of secularism.
Previous laws have also been applied by the French authorities in the name of protecting the secular nature of the Republic, such as the headscarf ban. Meanwhile, many groups dismiss this law as discriminatory and unjust.
Similar to the headscarf ban, Abdallah Zekri, head of France’s National Observatory Against Islamophobia condemned Sanchez’s decision, calling it “arbitrary and discriminatory.”
“It is an unacceptable measure. We cannot accept that while some children are eating, others will just watch.”
Bringing attention to the mere difference between secularism and discrimination, Zekri stated that the decision made is contrary to the principle of secularism, noting that secularism guarantees freedom of conscience and religion as a fundamental right for every citizen.
Calling for the decision to be cancelled, Zekri added “He [Julien Sanchez] 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.”
Following the decision made, around 150 Muslim students have been deprived of their “substitute meals.”
Anne Moiroud, head of the Beaucaire school district’s parents’ association organized a picnic in the square in front of Beaucaire’s town hall on Monday to protest the decision made.
Speaking to a local news website ObjectifGard, Moiroud expressed her distress by stating: “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.”
“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.”
Head of the local opposition group, Laure Cordelet, criticized the Mayor’s decision and claimed it “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.”
Marlène Schiappa, a French politician serving as the Secretary of State in charge of Equality between Men and Women, also dismissed the decision and expressed her outrage by calling Sanchez “a typical example of someone brandishing secularism as an anti-Muslim political weapon, or anti-Jewish for that matter.”