A French far-right mayor and adviser to presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has been fined for asserting that the percentage of Muslim students in some schools is too high.
Robert Menard, mayor of the southern town of Beziers, was found guilty of inciting hatred and fined €2,000 for his claim which was made in September 2016.
“In a class in the city center in my town, 91% of the children are Muslims. Obviously, this is a problem. There are limits to tolerance,” Menard told French news channel LCI.
Last September, on the first day of the new school year, Menard posted a tweet contending that his town was witnessing “the great replacement,” a reference to an alleged conspiracy theory which contends that France’s white Christian population is being supplanted by the rising number of foreign-born Muslims.
An ally of France’s anti-immigrant National Front Party, Menard rejected the accusation that his comments were discriminatory, stating, “I just described the situation in my town.”
“It is not a value judgment, it’s a fact. It’s what I can see,” he told Agence France Press at the time.
The prosecutor in the case argued that Menard had reduced children “to their religion, regardless of whether they have French nationality or do not practice.” Menard was convicted of “incitement to hatred and discrimination” and ordered to pay €1,000 to the seven anti-racist groups that brought the case against him.
Menard’s defense attorney argued for free speech and implored the court not to declare “a death penalty of the freedom to think.”
Menard said, “If the truth, what we see, becomes an offense, we can never say anything again. I have described a situation. I have said what all the elected officials find and never dare to say. To leave them like that is to condemn them. That’s why I’m trying to solve this problem.”
In October 2016, Menard posted signs in his town warning against the arrival of migrants in Beziers that he said the state is “imposing on us.” His actions and statements caused outrage on social media.
The posters featured the headline, “That’s It. They Are Coming,” above a picture of a crowd of male migrants outside Beziers’ cathedral.
Menard was widely condemned for the poster campaign, and accused of spending taxpayer money to fund “hateful propaganda.”
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