Two years ago, we posted a note on the news that Gilles Platret, the Mayor of Chalon-sur-Saône, near Dijon, had decided in deference to the principle of laïcité to remove pork substitutes from school lunch menus and that his decision had been upheld by the local court. The result was that on some days the menu would offer either pork or … pork.
Needless to say, the local Muslim population was outraged by the change and, as we speculated at the time, that was not to be the end of the story. The local Muslim Defence League challenged the move in the administrative court; and in Ligue de Défense Judiciaire des Musulmans et autres (N° 1502100, 1502726, 28 août 2017), the Tribunal administratif de Dijon has handed down a decision annulling it.
Following an investigation involving the Defender of Rights and the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, the Tribunal held that the Mayor’s decision had not given primary attention to the interests of children within the meaning of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Ever since 1984, the school canteens of Chalon-sur-Saône had been offering a substitute meal when pork was served and that choice made it possible to take account of the freedom of conscience of children and the religious or cultural concerns of parents. In the opinion of the Tribunal, the Mayor’s decision had taken away that choice from users of the service by putting an end to a practice that had never previously been questioned; moreover, the children’s families were not necessarily able to find another way of ensuring that they got their lunch.
Without adopting any general position of principle, the Tribunal concluded with regard to the particular case of the school canteens of Chalon-sur-Saône:
- that a substitute menu had been offered, without any discussion, from 1984;
- that the town’s removal of that menu had not been motivated by any technical or financial constraints; and
- that in the past, where a substitute menu was offered the children had been grouped by tables according to their menu-choices; and the town had therefore failed to demonstrate that there was no possible alternative method such as recourse to anonymized questionnaires or operating a self-service system.
In view of those findings, the Tribunal of First Instance concluded that it did not have to examine the applicants’ other argument based on the violation of freedom of conscience and worship.
Finally, the Tribunal stated that its conclusions did not prejudge any future decision in the event of a dispute over a school canteen where no substitute meal had ever been offered.
The contested decisions were annulled. According to Religion Clause, the town plans to appeal.
[The Guardian ran an interesting piece on the controversy in October 2015: see Angelique Chrisafis: Pork or nothing: how school dinners are dividing France.]