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French court rules no halal meals in prison

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A French prison will not be forced to serve up halal meals after all. Photo: John Moore/AFP
09:05 CEST+02:00
A controversial ruling that ordered a French prison to serve up halal meals to inmates was overturned by a court in Lyon this week in the latest issue to pit the country's secular tradition against Islamic practice.

A French court on Tuesday cancelled a November ruling ordering a prison to provide halal meals for Muslim prisoners, in the latest legal battle over an issue that has caused controversy in the secular republic.

The French government had sought to overturn the ruling by an administrative tribunal that argued that the Saint-Quentin-Fallavier jail in south-eastern France should provide the meals on the basis that failing to do so would violate Muslim prisoners' rights to practise their religion.

On Tuesday a court in Lyon ruled that "given the possibility for detainees to get meals without pork or vegetarian meals, to get special meals during the main holidays and given the possibility to buy halal meat," prisoners' rights were being respected.

Many Muslims view France, which is officially a secular republic despite being overwhelmingly Catholic, as imposing its values on them and other religious minorities.

The issue of halal meat is a controversial topic in the country and has been used as a political football.

In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen launched a fierce row by claiming all meat from abattoirs in the Paris region was prepared using Islamic halal traditions, and that non-Muslim consumers in the capital were being misled.

Then-president Nicolas Sarkozy waded into the row, suggesting that meat should be labelled to tell consumers how the animal was slaughtered, a proposal rejected by Jewish and Muslim groups, who feared being stigmatized by the labelling.

Then-French Prime Minister François Fillon subsequently caused outrage by suggesting French Jews and Muslims should abandon their "outdated ancestral traditions" regarding food and diet.

And back in April 2013, the principal of a school near Paris was forced to backtrack after announcing that all pupils would be obliged to eat meat, and none would be allowed an exemption for religious reasons.

Jews and Muslims are forbidden from eating pork under their religious dietary laws, but that didn't prevent the principal from sending out a strongly-worded letter to parents, saying: “I remind you that your child is being educated in a school in the Republic, and that secularism – one of the foundations of the Republic – must be respected in its entirety.”

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Just a month earlier, The Local reported how Jewish and Muslim parents in the south-western town of Arveyres were outraged when their children's school announced that the canteen would no longer be serving a substitute for pork.

The debate has been mirrored by higher-profile disputes over the wearing of veils in France, which has one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe.

Any form of clothing linked to religious observance is banned from French state schools and since 2011 the wearing of full-face veils in public has been outlawed.

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