A plan to ban alternatives to pork in school canteens in Chalon-sur-Saône, Burgundy, has been widely condemned.
Mayor Gilles Platret, who belongs to the right-wing UMP party, sent a letter to parents telling them that pupils would not be provided with other options if pork was being served in the canteen, adding that most who refused it did so "for religious reasons".
Platret said the plans were made in order to "return to the principles of secularism".
Platret said that offering non-pork meals would be a form of discrimination.
In the letter, he writes:
It is indispensible to return to the firm principle of living together. The food on offer [in schools] cannot take account of religious considerations.
Offering substitute menus when pork is served is to install a form of discrimination between children, which cannot be accepted in a secular republic.
School canteens [in the town] should revert to neutral spaces.
But he admitted in a French newspaper that pork was only served 19 times in the town's schools each year.
The policy would primarily affect the town's Muslims and Jews, whose faith prohibits them from eating pork.
The Times reported that the town's 2,200 Muslims originate mostly from France's former North African colonies.
It adds that there is a "small" Jewish community, which worships at two synagogues.
Non-pork options have been offered in schools in Chalon-sur-Saône for the past 31 years, but recently school canteens have become a controversial topic in France.
According to The Times, schools in at least three other small towns have moved to "pork or nothing" policies in their canteens, although the towns have even smaller Muslim and Jewish populations.
The separation between church and state is a fundamental part of the French constitution. Under French law, religious symbols, including Islamic headscarves and Jewish skullcaps, are banned from public institutions such as schools.
French education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem condemned the mayor's plans, and accused him of "demagoguery".
On Tuesday, she told the French TV channel BFM TV that the policy was "not in the interests of the children" and warned that some pupils could go hungry.
"In reality, I think this is a way of banning some children from going to the canteen," she added.
Hussein Kesvani is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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