.- Teachers in a rural school in northern France returned 1,300 packages of chocolates intended for their kindergarten students last week because they were shaped like St. Nicholas and his cross, reported The Associated Press.
While the chocolates were a longstanding Christmas tradition for kindergarten students at this school, the French ban on all religious symbols in public schools made the chocolates illegal.
The law, which took effect in September, was adopted mainly to keep Muslim girls from wearing traditional Islamic head scarves to class and stem what the French perceive as growing Muslim fundamentalism in their country. The law bans all overt symbols, such as Islamic headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and Christian crosses.
“It’s an unhealthy political affair. Absolutely regrettable,” said André Delattre, mayor of the northern town of Coudekerque-Branche, which has shipped the traditional chocolates to local schools for 11 years.
“What’s the point? It’s the children who are being penalized for this difference of opinion,” the Socialist mayor reportedly said. “They’ve been deprived of a festive moment.”
Delattre, whose $5,300 gift of chocolates was returned, was annoyed that the new law could break a longstanding Christmas tradition. The mayor said his office replaced the chocolate figurines with regular chocolate bars.
This is the first time the law has been used to challenge Christian imagery. A spokeswoman for the Education Ministry told the AP yesterday that she was not aware of any other incidents involving Christian symbols.