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Germany: Bavaria can hang crosses in state buildings

A top court has overruled a challenge to Bavaria's decree about hanging crosses in state buildings. When Christian conservatives first introduced the rule, it sparked a heated German debate on where church meets state.

Crosses mounted in the entrances of the state's administrative buildings in Bavaria can stay up, Germany's highest court for most administrative law disputes ruled on Tuesday. 

In 2018, Bavarian state premier Markus Söder of the Christian Social Union (CSU) ordered that all public buildings prominently hang a cross "as an expression of Bavaria's historical and cultural character."

A Bavarian lobby group advocating "the meaningful separation of church and state as well as the eradication of church privileges," whose German name might roughly translate to the Association for Free Thinking for Bavaria (bfg Bayern), challenged the decree in court.

It argued the move infringed on people's freedom of religion and violated the state's obligation to be neutral on such matters.

Case against the cross 'not over yet,' plaintiff says

The court, however, found that the regulation was a "mere administrative regulation with no external legal effect and therefore did not violate any rights of the plaintiffs."

The court said that while "the crosses brought in do display a central symbol of the Christian faith to an objective observer," they nevertheless had no legal impact on visitors' religious freedom. 

Söder welcomed the decision on social media.

"The cross is a symbol of our Christian and cultural character. It is part of Bavaria," he said. 

The Bavarian group said it was considering its legal options, including taking the case to the Federal Constitutional Court — Germany's highest.

"It's not over yet," Assunta Tammelleo, the association's chairperson, said.

Catholicism dominates in Bavaria

When the cross requirement was first announced, it sparked a heated debate in Germany and drew criticism from the Protestant church and even from the Catholic German Bishop's Conference.

The churches were worried the issue was being misused ahead of a state election that year, which the CSU went on to win. 

On Tuesday, just before the court's judgment, the Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx said he was "very much in favor of the cross public space."

"The cross cannot be made to disappear in Bavaria," he said.

Bavaria, Germany's second-most populous state, is home to the country's largest Catholic population by some margin. According to 2011 census figures — the most recent available — 55% of Bavarians were estimated to be Catholic, compared to 21% Protestant, 6% Muslim, and around 20% who either held another religion or none.

Only the much smaller western German state of Saarland had a larger proportion of Catholics in its population, at 63%.

Source: Dw

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