World

France walks narrow line on religion in schools _ with Islamic extremism the unspoken threat

  • France's Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve speaks during a debate on the secularism in school, at the Jean Zay college, in Paris, France, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. The school door and the cafeteria menu are the new front lines in the anguished debate over religion in France, where children in one Paris suburb this week were denied alternatives to pork in the name of secularism. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

    France's Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve speaks during a debate on the secularism in school, at the Jean Zay college, in Paris, France, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. The school door and the cafeteria menu are the new front lines in the anguished debate over religion in France, where children in one Paris suburb this week were denied alternatives to pork in the name of secularism. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)  (The Associated Press)

  • France's Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve gives a speech during a debate on the secularism in school, at the Jean Zay college, in Paris, France, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. The school door and the cafeteria menu are the new front lines in the anguished debate over religion in France, where children in one Paris suburb this week were denied alternatives to pork in the name of secularism. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

    France's Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve gives a speech during a debate on the secularism in school, at the Jean Zay college, in Paris, France, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. The school door and the cafeteria menu are the new front lines in the anguished debate over religion in France, where children in one Paris suburb this week were denied alternatives to pork in the name of secularism. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)  (The Associated Press)

  • France's Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem speaks during a debate on the secularism in school, at the Jean Zay college, in Paris, France, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. The school door and the cafeteria menu are the new front lines in the anguished debate over religion in France, where children in one Paris suburb this week were denied alternatives to pork in the name of secularism. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

    France's Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem speaks during a debate on the secularism in school, at the Jean Zay college, in Paris, France, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. The school door and the cafeteria menu are the new front lines in the anguished debate over religion in France, where children in one Paris suburb this week were denied alternatives to pork in the name of secularism. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)  (The Associated Press)

France's Socialist government has come down strongly against towns that have stopped offering children alternatives when school cafeterias serve pork.

In speeches Wednesday to public officials who advise on secularism in schools and government, the country's education and interior ministers said forcing children to eat something forbidden by their religion has nothing to do with France's ideals. The issue is a tense one, and the meeting was intended to help the government-appointed secular mediators do a job that many link to the January terror attacks by French Islamic extremists in Paris.

Education Minister Najat Vallaud Belkacem said separating religion and state was "not up for discussion, not negotiable" — but at the same time she and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve sharply criticized politicians who use it to target French Muslims.