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In Germany, secularism does not prohibit crucifixes on public buildings, judges say

The crosses affixed to the walls of public buildings in the State of Bavaria can remain in place: this is what the Federal Administrative Court of Germany decided on December 19, contacted by a secular association on this subject.

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In Germany, secularism does not prohibit crucifixes on public buildings, judges say

The crosses affixed to the walls of public buildings in the State of Bavaria can remain in place: this is what the Federal Administrative Court of Germany decided on December 19, contacted by a secular association on this subject. This decision reflects the German interpretation of the principle of secularism, according to an article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung spotted by Courrier international: public authorities are not required to “completely renounce religious symbols, by virtue of uncompromising secularism, but rather to proof of openness towards the diversity of ideological and religious beliefs”.

The crucifixes in question did not arrive by chance on the walls of official buildings in Bavaria: since 2018, it has been an obligation decreed by the Bavarian government. This decision by Marküs Soder, the Minister-President of Bavaria, a prominent member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), was interpreted as a clear political message sent to the Catholic electorate, in a context of the rise of extreme right and therefore competition on the identity field with the AfD. Since 2018, the AfD has nevertheless progressed by 4 more points during the regional election in October 2023: 14.6%, compared to 10.2% in 2018. But for the moment without weakening the CSU, which remains very well in the lead at around 37%, and has therefore continued to govern Bavaria since 1957.

The fact remains that in 2018, Markus Söder's initiative with his crucifixes made Angela Merkel's coalition in power at the time, of which the CSU is a part, uncomfortable. The Catholic Church itself had distanced itself, fearing an exploitation of the faith for political ends. However, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had already, in a previous judgment in 2011, ruled that the presence of crosses in Bavarian schools did not infringe fundamental rights.

This time it is in domestic law that this assessment is confirmed: German justice considers that the cross is an “essentially passive emblem, without the effect of proselytism or indoctrination” and that displaying it on a wall is not a gesture of exclusion towards believers of other religions. The Free Thought Union (Bund für Geistesfreiheit), the German association which brought the case to court, announced that it would appeal to the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe.

Also read “Don’t touch my statue”: in Sables-d’Olonne, more than 1000 demonstrators against the unbolting of Saint-Michel

This first instance decision underlines the hiatus between the German conception of secularism, and that which has prevailed in France since the law of 1905. The National Federation of Free Thought, resulting from a movement born in 1890 and which counted in its The ranks of the main actors in the separation of Church and State (Ferdinand Buisson, Aristide Briand) regularly take legal action against municipalities which host religious symbols in public spaces.

Latest victory for these supporters of uncompromising secularism: a judgment forcing the City of Sables-d'Olonne to move a statue of Saint Michel erected in front of a church, but on a municipal square. The statue will ultimately be moved... a few meters, to comply with the law.

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