French court overturns ruling ordering halal food in jail

LYON (AFP) - A French court on Tuesday cancelled a November ruling ordering a prison to provide halal meals for Muslim prisoners, in the latest legal battle over an issue that has caused controversy in the secular republic.

The French government had sought to overturn the ruling by an administrative tribunal that argued that the Saint-Quentin-Fallavier jail in southeast France should provide the meals on the basis that failing to do so would violate Muslim prisoners' right to practise their religion.

On Tuesday, a court in Lyon ruled that "given the possibility for detainees to get meals without pork or vegetarian meals, to get special meals during the main holidays and given the possibility to buy halal meat," prisoners' rights were being respected.

Many Muslims view France, which is officially a secular republic despite being overwhelmingly Catholic, as imposing its values on them and other religious minorities.

The issue of halal meat is a controversial topic in the country and has been used as a political football.

The leader of the far-right National Front party Marine Le Pen launched a fierce row before the last presidential polls in 2012 by claiming that all meat distributed in the Paris region was halal, or slaughtered according to Islamic law, and that non-Muslim consumers were being misled.

There has also been controversy in the past over whether schools and holiday camps should be required to provide halal food for Muslim children, as well as higher-profile disputes over the wearing of veils in France.

Any form of clothing linked to religious observance is banned from French state schools and since 2011 the wearing of full-face veils in public has been outlawed.