A French court ruled Thursday in favor of the mayor of a town in in eastern France in a case over non-pork alternatives in school cafeterias. The case was launched by the Muslim Defense League after Gilles Platret, the mayor of Chalon-Sur-Saone, which is near Dijon, France, announced in March that students would no longer be guaranteed a non-pork option at lunchtime for the coming school year.
France has been offering non-pork alternatives in public school cafeterias since 1984, and Platret's decision to get rid of the option sparked debate that spread far beyond the borders of his town. Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said Platret's decree would have the effect of "taking children hostage."
France has the largest Jewish population in Europe and is thought to have the third largest in the world, behind Israel and the U.S., along with one of the highest Muslim populations in Europe. Both religious traditions have strict rules banning the consumption of most pork products.
Platret argued that 40 percent of the students in his district do not eat any meat at all, since it's not halal, or prepared in accordance with Sharia law, and said the town has compensated by serving additional vegetables in the school cafeterias.
"First victory for secularism!" Platret tweeted Thursday in response to the ruling.
Le Trib. adminis. vient de rejeter le recours dirigé contre la fin des menus de substitution à Chalon. Première victoire pour la #laïcité !
— Gilles PLATRET (@gillesplatret) August 13, 2015
Secularism laws ban asking questions about race or religion when taking census data, so the exact numbers of Jews and Muslims in France is not certain. Experts have estimated there are 4.7 million Muslims and around half a million Jews living in France.
The debate over secularism in France has picked up momentum in the past ten years because of a growing Muslim population. Head scarves and other "conspicuous" signs of religious practice were banned in public schools in 2010, and the law sparked a similar debate over the limits of freedom of expression. Those who supported the law said it was in keeping with France's strict secular government, and those who opposed it accused the law of targeting Muslims and Jews.