Source: Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — This was the week that schoolchildren in one Paris suburb got a stark choice at the cafeteria: pork or nothing at all.
Chilly-Mazarin joined a handful of towns run by right-leaning mayors which have ended a practice of offering a substitute for students forbidden by their religion from eating pork.
The decisions have come amid increased discussions in France about its secularist ideals following the terror attacks in January that were blamed on French Islamic extremists — a discussion critics say has been hijacked by anti-Muslim forces on the far right.
On Wednesday, the Socialist government issued unusually direct criticism against the schools that have ended the pork substitutes as it was training dozens of appointees to mediate tense questions about the role of religion in schools and in public life.
In back-to-back speeches, the education and interior ministers walked the country’s increasingly narrow line on religion in schools, with the unspoken threat of Islamic extremism hovering over the auditorium in Paris’ tony 16th arrondissement.
Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said teachers at schools have to impart the secularist ideal, but “not a secularism that is a declaration of war against a religion, as we see when a mayor here or there decides that in the name of a so-called secular ideal, children will be forced to eat pork or skip school lunch.”
France forbids “ostentatious” symbols of religion in schools and government buildings, a mandate generally interpreted to mean Muslim head scarves and one that includes parents who accompany school outings wearing them. Schools take seriously their mission to educate the next generation of secular French citizens, never more so than since the January terror attacks.