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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Du porc pour tout le monde !

by Charles Thiefaine

Pork all round

Translated Sunday 20 September 2015, by Richard Pond

Replacement meals have been scrapped in the school canteens of Chilly-Mazarin, a commune (local authority) in Essonne. The commune’s canteen meal plan shows that pork will be mandatory on three occasions in September.

There will be pork, and no alternative, on the canteen menus in Chilly-Mazarin. The conservative (les Républicains, LR) mayor, Jean-Paul Beneytou, is imposing a single meal on the school canteens in the commune. A note addressed to pupils’ parents on Monday reads: "From the start of the new school year in 2015, the municipal government of Chilly-Mazarin, responsible for safeguarding the freedom of religious belief, no longer wishes to vary the composition of meals based on a religious prohibition that belongs within the private or family sphere. The municipality applies secularism [laïcité] as a governing principle when providing public services." This decision was taken without a vote by the local council and without consulting parents.

Once more, the right’s erroneous interpretation of secularism has victimised a minority of pupils, encouraging sectarianism and divisions between communities in schools.

Speaking about the cancellation of substitution meals in Chalon-sur-Saône, Jacqueline Costa-Lascoux, a sociologist at CNRS, explained to l’Humanité.on 11th August: "When we don’t manage to solve the problems of unemployment or finding work for young people, for example, this sort of issue gets whipped up."

In its latest report, the Observatoire de la laïcité (secularism observatory, a government agency) warned against "instrumentalising this principle and sliding towards a neutralisation of society and of individuals".

"Whole sections of society are stigmatised"

This decision means an obligation to eat pork on three occasions in September, as can be seen from the meal timetable. Pupils will be able to eat sautéed pork, roast pork and Strasbourg sausages. At the start of the new school term, parents challenged this provocation. The "Essonne info" newspaper brought together the views of a number of angry parents. "Why take this decision when this has been around for several years? We’ve never had a problem until now!" commented a young mother of a pupil at La Fontaine primary school. "It’s totally discriminatory!" declares the father of two girls (also at La Fontaine), adding: "With this decision, whole sections of society - like Muslims and Jews - are being stigmatised. It’s a bad example of how to live together that we’re setting for our children."

The same view was expressed by a woman of Muslim faith: "I work every day and I can’t return at midday to go and fetch my son when there’s pork on the menu. Does that mean he’s going to have an empty stomach all day long? It’s unacceptable."

Unfortunately, the LR mayor isn’t the first to offend against this republican value: Chalon-sur-Saône and Wissous have likewise undergone a removal of substitutes from their menus. Last August the administrative court in Dijon refused to uphold an injunction challenging the Chalon-sur-Saône mayor’s decision to scrap the menus, while nevertheless taking no position on the question of whether the measure was compatible with the principle of secularism.

On the contrary, there is nothing very secular about being blind to differences of faith in the name of secularism.

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