PARIS — Tensions between French authorities and the country's Islamic community resurfaced on Tuesday after it emerged that four summer camp instructors had been sacked for fasting during Ramadan .
All of the workers were employed by the local council in Gennevilliers, a Paris suburb, and were running a sports camp in Port d’Albret, in the Landes region of south west France .
They were dismissed on July 20, the first day of Ramadan, after an inspector visited the camp and told them they were endangering children's safety by not eating or drinking between dawn and dusk .
Although they were fully paid for the week they had remaining on their short-term contracts, the instructors plan to contest their dismissal through labour courts .
A Gennevilliers spokesman said: “They did not respect the terms of their contract in a manner that could have endangered the physical safety of the children they were responsible for. This lack of nourishment and hydration could have resulted in these employees not being in full possession of the means required to ensure activities at the camp were correctly and safely run, as well as the physical safety of the children in their charge .”
Nicole Varet, an aide to the mayor, said the decision to dismiss the four employees had been influenced by an incident three years ago in which a fasting camp worker had been taken ill while driving, resulting in an accident in which a child was seriously injured .
One of them, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Samir, said their treatment had been "unfair and unacceptable" and that he was glad it had been brought into the public domain. "We are thinking about going to court to get clear answers to our questions," he told AFP. "Do people have the right not to eat during the day? Are doctors who observe Ramadan putting their patients' lives in danger?" Quite possibly, I would object to being treated by someone who had prejudiced his ability by having drink taken, why not a similar lack of capacity though not having drunk.
The symptoms of dehydration are perverse and subtle headache is the least of it .
Mohand Yanat, a lawyer for the sacked workers, said the safety argument was a cloak for anti-Muslim prejudice. “How can you judge the capacity of someone to do their job on the basis of their religious observance?” said Mr Yanat .
All are taking Gennevilliers to an employment court, while France’s Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) is preparing to sue them.
Abdallah Zekri, a spokesman for the CFCM, said: “Religious freedom is a fundamental right and you cannot in any circumstances ban someone from practising their religion .”
A spokesman for the National Front said the Gennevilliers mayor had made the right decision, adding that: "Those who oppose this wise decision are making a mockery of the principles of safety and secularism ."
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