It doesn't take much these days to stir up a debate in France over "laïcité," or secularism — a word that seems to be joining "liberté," "égalité" and "fraternité" as a guiding principle of the French republic.

Last week, the debate flared up again, this time over a ban in one local school system against offering an alternative to pork for Muslims and Jews who do not eat the meat. In a message on March 16 to the parents of 3,800 schoolchildren, Gilles Platret, the center-right mayor of Chalon-sur-Saône, a town in Burgundy, banned pork-free substitutes as antisecular and anti-French.

"To propose a substitute menu when pork is served is to create discrimination among pupils, which is unacceptable in the framework of a secular Republic," Mr. Platret wrote. "The cafeterias of Chalon must once again become places of neutrality."

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