Pending a definitive ruling on the latest issue to pit France's secular tradition against Islamic practice, a French prison has been ordered to provide halal meals for Muslim prisoners.
Justice Minister Christiane Taubira is contesting a November ruling by an administrative tribunal in Grenoble that the local Saint-Quentin-Fallavier prison should provide halal meals on the basis that failing to do so would violate Muslim prisoners' right to practice their religion.
Pending a ruling on the principle involved, the justice ministry sought a suspension of the tribunal's decision on the grounds that it was impractical for the prison to completely change its catering arrangements.
That argument was rejected last week by an appeals court which ruled that the prison could easily organise a tender for an outside caterer to supply halal meals.
"It is a new setback for the justice minister," Alexandre Ciaudo, the lawyer for the prisoner who brought the case, said Tuesday. "The prison now has to implement the ruling."
The French government is arguing that the prison was doing enough to ensure the respect of religious freedom by ensuring that prisoners always have the option of either vegetarian meals or ones without pork, which is proscribed for Muslims.
The debate has been mirrored by similar controversies over whether schools and holiday camps should be required to provide halal food for Muslim children and by higher-profile disputes over the wearing of veils in France, which has one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe.
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.