France’s far-right political party, the National Front, announced late last week it would be banning schools in its towns and districts from offering students an alternative to pork in meal programs.
Party leader Marine Le Pen said the arrangement went contrary to the country’s secular values and must be stopped. “We will not accept any religious demands in school menus,” Le Pen told RTL radio. “There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere, that’s the law.”
The mayor of Arveyres, Benoit Gheysens, told AFP the reason behind the pork ban was practical, too. The high cost of providing alternative meals, and the waste the option generates, were part of the decision.
“Often children who did not take the substitute dinner complained as well, and left the pork. It distressed the staff to see how much food was wasted,” Gheysens said.
The National Front won mayoral positions in 11 new towns in recent elections, as well as taking 1,400 municipal seats nationwide, more than double the party’s record from the 1990s. The party ran on an anti-immigration platform, taking advantage, as well, of anti-EU sentiments.
The National Front was established by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 1972. Marine has softened some of her father’s hard-line positions; she promotes severely restricting immigration rather than stopping it entirely. However, she sees religion as a foreign element which infringes on French secularism and opposes it vehemently.
Marine Le Pen sees the party’s recent success as evidence it has established itself in the eyes of the French public as the third political force, after the ruling Socialist party and the mainstream conservatives. She believes the party will have a strong showing in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections.
Although the overwhelming majority of French citizens are Catholic, the country is officially secular. Controversial anti-religious laws include 2011’s ban on full-face veils in public, affecting the country’s growing conservative Muslim population.
Some of the National Front’s newest mayors complained about the number of Halal meat shops in their districts. Mayor Fabien Engelmann of the eastern town Hayanges even proposed hosting a “Pork Fest” in the town square in an effort to “liven up” the community. He insists the proposal is not intended to offend religious residents. It will do little, however, to solve the town’s real problem of unemployment.