The Bavarian state cabinet has ordered that Christian crosses be hung in all official buildings, in apparent contravention of the principle of neutrality guaranteed under Basic Law, the German constitution. Humanists in Germany and internationally have reacted with dismay at this retrograde step.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) supports the Humanist Association of Bavaria, Humanistische Verband Deutschlands Bayern, in rejecting the order.
State Premier Markus Söder said the crosses, recognised around the world as the defining symbol of the Christian religion, should not be seen as religious symbols but instead as a “clear avowal of our Bavarian identity and Christian values”.
Michael Bauer, Chairman of HVD Bayern, countered that the cross obviously represents a specific religion and could not reflect the values of all the citizens of the Free State. “For us, the Christian cross is not a symbol of common values. Neither self-determination, freedom and tolerance, nor the ideals of enlightenment and humanism, are embodied by the cross or the crucifix,” he said. “We would like to see the Bavarian state government address the really important questions of integration rather than just a slightly transparent symbolic policy.”
About a quarter of the inhabitants of Bavaria belonged to no religious community, rising even higher in the cities.
By order of the state cabinet, crosses are to be erected in the entrance area of each public service building in the Free State on June 1, 2018, as a supposed “expression of the historical and cultural character of Bavaria” as well as a “fundamental symbol of the cultural identity of Christian-occidental character”. Municipalities, districts and districts are advised to proceed accordingly.
Rejecting that the cross had any part in the official symbolism of the state, Bauer notes that: “the Basic Law states unequivocally that there is no state church.”
Chief executive of the IHEU, Gary McLelland, comments: “This is a completely regressive step, contrary to constitutional provisions on the equal treatment of religion or belief. Nothing good can come of attempting to enshrine beliefs against a country’s modern pluralism, a country which anyway, over time, is secularizing. We call on the Bavarian state to uphold neutral secular values, to find genuinely inclusive values to rally around, and to reverse this order.”
Germany already receives a poor rating compared to most other western European countries in the IHEU Freedom of Thought Report, which covers discrimination and persecution against the non-religious worldwide. The report’s entry on Germany notes that “Although the Grundgesetz [Basic Law] is supposed to ensure state neutrality towards religious institutions, in reality Christian religious institutions are privileged in the social and political spheres.” The concerns are echoed in the Glass Walls report published by the national Humanist Association of Germany, Humanistischer Verband Deutschlands.