A Mayor in France has been accused of racism and acting illegally on May 5 after using the names of school children in his southern French town to decide how many were Muslim.
Under France’s strict secularism laws, the Government does not keep statistics on people’s religion or ethnicity.
Robert Menard: French mayor questioned by police over claims files were kept on Muslim school children
However, Mayor of Béziers, Robert Ménard, said his administration had used lists of pupils’ names to decide how many were Muslim, and claimed the figure came to 64.6 percent.
“Sorry to say this, but the town hall has, class by class, the names of the children,” said Menard, a 62-year-old former journalist who was elected in 2014 representing the Arise Republic movement, has always been backed by the far-right National Front.
“I know I don’t have the right to do it. Sorry to say it, but the first names tell us their religion. To say otherwise is to deny the evidence”.He added that there were schools where the “majority of mothers don’t speak French”.
His comments brought condemnation from the Socialist Government, with Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, tweeting “shame on the mayor”. “The Republic does not make any distinction between its children,” Valls said before adding that the scandal shows “the reality of the far-right”.
President François Hollande said the list was “against all the values of the Republic”.
Education Minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, said she had called for a judicial investigation, saying Menard’s statements were “profoundly anti-Republican”.
Head of Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France, Abdallah Zekri, said he was “scandalised and sickened by these comments”. “Moreover, you can be called Mohammed without being a practising Muslim,” he added.
However, the town hall of Béziers denied that there was any list of children’s names or that any effort had been made to identify which were Muslim. “The town hall of Béziers does not have, and has never had, files on its children,” it said in a statement. Police raided the town hall to gather evidence.