For God's sake

Bavarian leader sparks outrage over crucifixes in public buildings

Markus Söder and his crosses
It's his to bear. Source: DPA

The government of Bavaria, led by conservative politician Markus Söder, declared on April 24 that government buildings in the state must display crosses as of June. Although he sold the proclamation as an affirmation of German culture, it was a clear middle finger to weeks of debate over whether Islam has a place in Germany — a discussion sparked by Mr. Söder’s comments that the religion does not, though Muslims do.

Mr. Söder is a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union. Bavaria’s mandate sparked national outrage, and inspired some spectacular photoshops (click at your own risk). On the face of it, the proclamation seems to go against Germany’s constitutional separation of church and state, but crucifixes are not an uncommon sight in classrooms and government buildings. Stars of David or stars and crescents or flying spaghetti monsters? Not so much.

Constitutional or not, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the archbishop of Munich and the head of the German Bishops’ Conference, was having none of it — Mr. Söder, he said, was co-opting a clearly religious symbol for his own devices, which he considers not very Christian. “Seeing the cross purely as a cultural symbol shows a misunderstanding. In that case, the cross has been usurped in the name of the government,” he told Süddeutsche Zeitung, a newspaper.

The cardinal admitted he would be happy to see a national discussion on what it’s like to live in a country based on Christianity. But that discussion, he said, would have to include everyone: Christians, Jews, atheists and — gasp — Muslims.

As time passes, more opinions emerge. A recent poll by state broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk gauged the opinion of Bavarian voters: 58 percent approve of the measure to require crosses in public buildings, while 38 percent are opposed.

The final opinion will likely come from the country’s uppermost court. Former constitutional court judge Udo di Fabio said in a column that such crosses are allowed, because they are not an attempt to recruit visitors to the religion. “A sleek cross in a public area doesn’t have that kind of symbolic power,” he wrote in the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Still, as the Bill Hicks joke goes, one does wonder how Jesus would feel if confronted by the tool of torture as he attempts to register his new address in Regensburg, or his used BMW in Nuremberg.

To contact the author: a.bulkeley@handelsblattgroup.com

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