A lawmaker in France will introduce a draft bill proposing to make vegetarian meals obligatory in all French schools as a way of bypassing the nation’s strict rules on secularism, and so accommodating for religious sensitivities. An online petition in support of the idea has garnered over 125,000 signatures.
On August 13th this year, a French court upheld a local authority decision to stop offering alternatives to pork when it was served in schools. The mayor of Chalon-sur-Saone, Gilles Platret, tweeted at the time: “A first victory for secularity,” Religion News reports. The ruling was seen as setting a precedent for other school across France, and religious campaigners having been searching for a way around it since.
— Yves Jégo (@yvesjego) September 6, 2015
Now, Yves Jego, a politician from France’s centrist UDI party and Mayor of Montereau, has written in an open letter attached to the petition, that he “will… submit a draft bill to make vegetarian menus obligatory in all canteens as an alternative to daily menus to allow those who do not want meat or fish, whatever the reason, to eat healthily.”
In the letter, he asked:
“Can we force a Catholic child to eat meat on Good Friday because nothing else is offered, or a Jew or a Muslim child to eat pork? In the canteens of the Republic, should we take into account religious requirements, and if so, what are the limits? Should we force children to fast, who do not want to violate family rules?”
Stating that, in his view, “this topic is becoming hostage to all forms of extremism and the source of a useless confrontation aimed in reality in most cases at the Muslim community.”
Adding: “The Republic has, to me it seems, nothing to gain by letting this controversy prosper, which challenges our ability to make ‘living together’ a reality,”. He also took the time to praise vegetarianism, as “a food fashion increasingly recommended for its health virtues and already practiced by over 1.5 million people.”
In France, there are no stiff guidelines governing what school meals should consist of, and it is up each and every of the nations 34,000 mayors to take the decision individually. However, halal and kosher are generally shunned as going against France’s closely guarded secularity policy, which was enshrined in the French constitution back in 1905, when the French people voted to completely separate church and state.
Speaking to AFP, Isabelle Maincion, who curates a school meal portfolio at the Association of French Mayors, said the current laws were clear and there should be no further debate:
“We have to respond to regulations currently in place today, which are to serve well-balanced meals… We don’t have to worry about any other demands at school, which is secular.
“Pork is not served up that often, and parents know it. The days when there is pork, children just don’t eat pork, and parents make up for the lack of protein in the evening, it’s that simple,” she said.
However, Francois Pupponi, the mayor of the Paris suburb of Sarcelles, known for its ethnic diversity, argued that the French system was driving religious students out of state schools and needed to change:
“I have parents who have told me they want to put their children in public school, but they want them to eat kosher. And today, we’re starting to see the same phenomenon with Muslims,” he said.