A primary school in France caused outrage among parents after tagging Muslim and Jewish students with red discs during lunchtime so canteen staff would not serve them pork. Piedalloues Primary School in Auxerre, Burgundy offered red disks to children who do not eat pork and yellow discs to those who do not ingest meat. Of the school’s 1,500 students, only 18 were marked with such discs until protests by angry parents and community leaders compelled the concerned authorities to withdraw them.
The protesters compared the school’s strategy with the way in which Jews were forced to wear yellow stars under Germany’s Nazi regime.
“It’s revolting. It reminds you of the darkest times,” said a local councillor, Malika Ounès. “Practices like this are not acceptable. No one has the right to impose this on children.”
Christian Sautier, director of communications in the mayor’s office, said the school in question made an isolated, unfortunate and clumsy move that did not last more than a day. He explained that the canteen staff had implemented the measure for their own convenience, without consulting any local authority, who ended the practice as soon as they were informed.
“When we learned about it, we fell out of our chairs,” Sautier said, adding that the mayor had ordered an investigation.
Earlier this year, a court in France upheld the decision to stop offering alternatives to pork in school canteens. The move not only sparked dismay on the part of Muslim leaders but also set a precedent for municipalities elsewhere.
The court ruled in favour of Mayor of Chalon-sur-Saone, Gilles Platret, who had announced in March that students who do not eat pork would no longer be guaranteed an alternative during lunchtime from the next academic session.
“A first victory for secularity,” tweeted Platret, after the court ruling.
However, Abdallah Zekri, head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, expressed his regret.
“I can only condemn this mayor’s decision, which is not taken to bring social peace to schools,” he said in a statement. “All Muslims respect secularity. Muslims have never asked for Halal meat in school cafeterias.”
Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who is a practicing Muslim, criticized the ruling that was taken by the court in Dijon, saying children were beginning to be taken hostage.
No Jewish leaders were immediately available for comments.
The ruling was reportedly based on procedural grounds and attorneys for the Muslim Council are likely to appeal it even though the court explained that it only intended to address the age-old tradition of offering alternatives to pork during lunchtime along with vegetarian meals. The ban received applause from various sectors, including conservative politicians and staunch secularists, who have often complained that offering substitutes for pork is both expensive and extravagant.
This is not the first time that education and religion have clashed in the country, where a 1905 law ensured the separation of church and state. A government ban that was initiated a decade ago against Muslim veils, Jewish skullcaps and other brazen displays of religion in public schools had managed to stir a similar controversy back then. Here, it must be mentioned that France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish populations.
Photo Credits: Jihad Watch