French prison ordered to serve halal meals

Photo: AFP

A French court has ordered Saint-Quentin-Fallavier prison, near Grenoble in southeastern France, to begin making halal meals available to Muslim inmates, it emerged Wednesday, citing detainees’ right to “free exercise of religion”.


A prison in France has been ordered to make halal meals available to its Muslim inmates in a landmark legal ruling.

The administrative tribunal in Grenoble in southeastern France ruled that the nearby Saint-Quentin-Fallavier prison must begin serving halal meals in its canteen, citing French laws guaranteeing “free exercise of religion”.

A Muslim inmate at Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, known only as Adrien K, made a request to the prison’s warden in March this year asking for Muslim detainees to be offered the option of halal meals, according to French media reports.

The request was denied, prompting the inmate to appeal to the administrative tribunal.

In a decision dated November 7, the court ruled in favour of the inmate and ordered the prison to provide “regular” menus with halal meat options “within three months”.

‘Major breakthrough’

It is the first time a French legal institution has ruled that a prison must provide certain food to accommodate inmates’ religious beliefs.

“It is a major breakthrough,” lawyer Alexandre Ciaudo, who is representing the inmate, told France Info radio. The decision will likely be applied to “all prisons that do not already provide halal meat to Muslim detainees”, he added.

In its ruling, the court said that by refusing to supply halal meals, the prison warden had violated Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion.

The court also stated that France’s secularism laws, in addition to enforcing a strict separation between church and state, require that “the Republic guarantees the free exercise of religion”.

Making halal meals available would come with “no prohibitive additional cost” to the prison, nor would it present any “particular technical difficulty”, said the court.

France’s halal debate

The ruling adds a new chapter to a long-running debate in France over the place of halal meat within the country’s perceived national identity and traditions.

In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, then Interior Minister Claude Guéant came under fire when he objected to Socialist proposals to give immigrants the vote in local elections on the grounds that “we don't want foreign town councillors making halal food obligatory in canteen meals”.

Prime Minister François Fillon then added further fuel to the fire when he suggested that “ancestral traditions” of ritual slaughter of meat as practised by Muslims and Jews had no place in “modern society”.

There was also an attempt by former President Nicolas Sarkozy to introduce the labelling of meat to tell consumers how the animal was slaughtered, which Jews and Muslims rejected because they feared it would lead to them being stigmatised.

France is home to Western Europe's largest Muslim minority, officially estimated at at least four million.

Halal slaughter methods require cattle to be killed by slitting the throat. Stunning the animal first, as is usual in non-halal abattoirs, is forbidden.

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