Since 2018, a cross has had to hang in state buildings in Bavaria – “as an expression of historical and cultural influence.” Is that legal?
The cross with the cross: Since 2018, a crucifix has had to hang in every state building in Bavaria – and since then there has been criticism of this regulation. The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig is now concerned with the so-called cross decree from Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU). The controversial regulation is to be negotiated there on Thursday (December 14th).
“In a democratic constitutional state, religious symbols simply have no place in public institutions that all citizens are forced to enter at some point. This must be obvious to every democratically minded person,” says Assunta Tammelleo, chairwoman of the religiously critical Association for Freedom of Thought (bfg) in Munich , the German Press Agency.
The bfg, which accuses Söder of “the further Christianization of the – at least Bavarian – West”, had sued against the regulation – and suffered a defeat in the second instance before the Bavarian Administrative Court last summer.
Court outside Bavaria brings new hope
But going to Leipzig also brings new hope. “It’s not unusual for different courts and judges to have different legal opinions,” says Tammelleo. “Without wanting to lean too far out of the window, from our point of view it was almost to be expected that Bavarian courts in particular would be politically closer to the policies of the Bavarian state government than others, for example outside of Bavaria.”
In April 2018, the Bavarian cabinet passed the cruise decree on the initiative of Söder, who had recently become Prime Minister at the time. Despite strong criticism – even from churches who accused it of misusing the Christian symbol for election campaign purposes – it came into force in June 2018.
Since then, paragraph 28 of the rules of procedure for the authorities of the Free State states: “A cross must be clearly visible in the entrance area of every office building as an expression of Bavaria’s historical and cultural character.”
Court: Crosses as passive symbols
The Administrative Court in Munich saw the crosses as essentially passive symbols “without proselytizing and indoctrinating effects,” as it said in the reasons for the decision.
The court ruled at the time that the cross could become a “symbolic expression of certain religious beliefs and a symbol of its missionary spread” “for the non-Christian or the atheist.” However: “A violation of the requirement of state neutrality, which amounts to a merely passive use of a religious symbol without any proselytizing or indoctrinating effect and does not entail any further disadvantages for other religious and ideological communities, does not violate their right to freedom of belief and belief nor on equal treatment.”
At that time, only the lawsuits of 25 individuals who had joined the Association for Freedom of Thought and its lawsuit were ultimately rejected. Because the Administrative Court allowed the religious-critical association to appeal to the Federal Administrative Court, the case is now going to the next instance there.
“What people personally believe, which God they trust, which religious community they belong to, that is their very personal, private decision,” emphasizes Tammelleo. “Freedom of religion and belief is an achievement that has been fought for by courageous people for everyone, with great effort and length.” What someone believes and whether at all should “play no role in a democratic constitutional state,” she said. “After all, we don’t live in Turkey or Iran here.”
If the Federal Administrative Court confirms the lower court’s view and dismisses the lawsuit, this does not have to be the end from the bfg’s point of view. “It is clear: if we file such a lawsuit, then we must be able and willing to go through all instances,” says Tammelleo. “If we lose in Leipzig, the confidence will only be temporarily broken a little. Then it will probably be possible to take this matter to the Federal Constitutional Court.”
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.