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Articles in the Current Debates section concerning the religion in the workplace topic for France:

  • 22 July 2014: injunction to serve halal meals in prison overturned

By its ruling of 22 July 2014, the Administrative Court of Appeal of Lyon overturned the judgement of the Administrative Court of Grenoble of 7 November 2013 that ordered Saint-Quentin-Fallavier prison (in the French département of Isère) to offer halal meals to Muslim prisoners (see the ’current debate’ section for March 2014 below).
The court took the view that the various menus on offer ensure that prisoners are not obliged to eat food prohibited by the rules of the religion, that prisoners can furthermore request the supply of appropriate menus for religious holidays and have the option of buying halal meat through the ’canteen’. Therefore, a fair balance is maintained between the necessities of public service and prisoners’ religious rights.

For further information see the press release issued by the Administrative Court of Appeal of Lyon.

  • March 2014: a prison obliged to provide halal meals to Muslim prisoners

On 20 March 2014, the Administrative Court of Appeal of Lyon refused to suspend the enforcement of a ruling issued by the Administrative Court of Grenoble, which, on 7 November 2013, obliged the prison administration of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier (in the French département of Isère) to regularly provide halal meals to Muslim prisoners on the grounds of freedom of religious practice. This decision was to be enforced within three months, which expired on 7 February.
The Ministry of Justice then appealed and requested that enforcement of the ruling be suspended on the grounds of “disruption to the prison service”, the complexity of certifying halal products and the fact that religious freedom was already upheld since vegetarian or pork-free menus were offered. The judgement of 20 March held that there was no “prohibitive additional expense for the prison” nor “any particular technical difficulty”. Halal meals are already provided for prisoners during major religious festivals. They can also purchase halal food at the canteen.

The chief inspector of custodial facilities took the view that providing faith-based meals (halal or kosher) in prisons does not infringe the principle of secularism (see his 2013 annual report, Section 8: ’Feedback on the issue of secularism in custodial facilities’). He states that it is difficult to refuse this freedom insofar as “the law of 1905 authorises chaplaincy services and funds allocated to expenditure for solely religious purposes”. He believes that in view of the principle of secularism, there is no difference between not serving pork and serving meals that are compliant with religious rituals.
In her comment* regarding the judgement delivered by the Administrative Court of Grenoble, Florence Nicoud takes the opposite view. She claims that by enforcing the compulsory provision of halal meals, the judgement reinterprets the principle of secularism as defined by the law of 1905 and challenges the neutrality of public service by responding to demands that appear to be community-based. She believes that this judgement creates a difficult situation, since as long as the public authorities fail to take a stance on this issue, an increasing number of disparate situations will emerge. This may spread to other public services such as hospitals, the armed forces or school dinners.
A ruling on the merits of the case is expected by the end of the year.

* Florence Nicoud: "Laïcité et restauration collective : du nouveau dans les prisons" [Secularism and catering: new developments in prisons], Grenoble Administrative Court, 7 Nov 2013, no. 13-02502, JCPA, no 15, 14 April 2014.

For further information: Revue générale du droit, Le Monde, le Figaro.

  • 16 October 2013: Jehovah’s Witnesses chaplains must be approved for prisons

The Council of State was called upon to quash several legal disputes relating to refusals to accept representatives from the Jehovah’s Witnesses as prison chaplains. The prison administration based its refusal on the insufficient number of detainees claiming to belong to this confession. The administrative courts and administrative courts of appeal involved had already condemned this reasoning (see Current Debates, 30 May 2011).

The Council of State confirmed the solution adopted by the original trial judges. Indeed, it recalled that detainees’ freedom of opinion, conscience and religion is guaranteed and that they “may exercise the religion of their choice, in accordance with the suitable conditions for organising the premises, within solely the limits imposed by security and good order in the institution”. The provisions of the Code of Penal Procedure require that prison authorities, “insofar as premises allow and within solely the limits imposed by security and good order in the institution, allow for the organisation of worship in establishments; that solely facilitating common law visits by representatives of the faith could not satisfy these obligations; that Paragraph 2 of no. 29 of the European Prison Rules, of which the minister avails himself and which is, moreover, without real legal scope, simply recommends making the number of approved chaplains proportional to the number of faithful, but has neither as its aim nor as its result for refusals of approval to be justified by low numbers of worshippers”.

The Council of State has also stated that nothing stops a chaplain being appointed who agrees to carry out such activity on a voluntary basis.

For further information:
 CE, 16 Oct. 2013, Garde des Sceaux, ministre de la justice et des libertés c/ m. n…et autres (in French)

  • 30 May 2011: Jehovah’s Witnesses chaplains must be approved for prisons

Several appeals have been lodged with the administrative courts against the refusal of prison authorities to grant the status of prison chaplain to ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses and, for the first time, an administrative court of appeal has delivered three different verdicts on the matter.
On 30 May 2011, the Administrative Appeal Court in Paris summoned the prison administration to conduct, within two months, a review of applications for approval by Jehovah’s witnesses or be fined 100 Euros per day overdue. The court in fact upheld the previous ruling that had annulled the refusal by stating it was not based on grounds of public policy and further found that "no statutory or regulatory conditions determine the designation of a chaplain for a minimum number of inmates likely to seek spiritual assistance; and that by therefore claiming in a general way - as is obvious from the ministerial appeal - that there were insufficient numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses inmates in order to refuse to issue an authorisation to Mr. A to be a chaplain, the reasoning by the Director of Interregional Prison Services in Paris did not legally justify such a decision".
The Chancellery has announced that it has decided to appeal to the Council of State against the decision.

See the text of décision N° 10PA03618 of 30 May 2011.

D 19 November 2014   

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