PARIS - A leader of France's top Muslim organization is criticizing a court decision that could jeopardize a decades-old policy in which public schools offer substitutes to pork when the meat turns up on lunch menus.
Abdullah Zekri of the French Council of the Muslim Faith said Thursday he is worried that the ruling a day earlier in eastern Dijon could sow discord in France — a country that in recent years has struggled to find a balance between its secular principles and its respect for religious beliefs.
A legal defense team for Muslims had sought to block application of an order earlier this year by Gilles Platret, the conservative mayor of nearby Chalons-sur-Saone, to pull pork substitutes from school menus. Such substitutes are offered across France, in addition to vegetarian alternatives.
Lawyers on both sides said the ruling was not final, and was based more on procedural grounds than a full debate on the issue.
But on Twitter, Platret called the ruling a victory for secularism in France. Many French defend a strict separation of religion and state as laid out in a 1905 law to guarantee secularism. The law has underpinned moves by recent French governments to pass bans on face-covering Muslim veils as well as headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and overly visible Christian crosses in public schools.
France is home to western Europe's largest Muslim population, estimated at more than 5 million people - most with family histories traced to former French colonies in Africa. Like observant Jews, observant Muslims don't eat pork.
Zekri, who also heads the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, called the mayor's order a provocation that could lead students to inspect each other's plates and serve as “a factor for conflict.”
Philippe Petit, a lawyer for Chalons-sur-Saone, countered on BFM-TV that religion “stops at the (public) school door.”