Décision de justice

Alternative meals in school canteens, which are merely an option for regional authorities, do not clash with the principle of secularism when they are offered

The Conseil d’État ruled that it is neither mandatory nor prohibited for regional authorities to offer pupils special meals to ensure that they do not consume foods prohibited by their religious beliefs.

On 29 September 2015, the municipal council of Chalon-sur-Saône amended the school rules relating to school canteens so that only one type of meal is offered to all children, on the grounds that "the principle of secularism prohibits the consideration of religious requirements in the provision of a public service".

The Muslim Judicial Defence League and several individuals challenged this decision before the Administrative Court of Dijon, which quashed it. The Administrative Court of Appeal of Lyon confirmed this annulment. The municipality of Chalon-sur-Saône appealed to the Conseil d'État.

The Conseil d'État ruled first of all that there is no obligation for regional authorities managing a public school catering service to provide pupils with special meals so that they do not consume foods prohibited by their religious beliefs. The principle of secularism, laid down in Article 1 of the Constitution, in fact prohibits anyone from using their religious beliefs as an excuse to deviate from the common rules governing relations between public authorities and private individuals.

On the other hand, the Conseil d'État holds that neither the principles of secularism and neutrality of the public service nor the principle of equality of users before the public service prohibit local and regional authorities from offering alternative meals. It therefore confirms the annulment of the decision of the Chalon-sur-Saône municipal council, which was based solely on the principles of secularism and neutrality of the public service.

Lastly, the Conseil d'État states that when local and regional authorities that have chosen to provide a public catering service in schools define or redefine the rules governing the organisation of this public service, it is up to them to take into account the general interest of ensuring that all children have access to this public service, while taking into account the requirements for the smooth running of the service and the human and financial resources available to them.

> Read the decision (in French)