Friday, October 21, 2016

The thorny issue of the nativity scenes in front of the Council of State – The Figaro

The public rapporteur of the Council of State has recommended on Friday to allow the installation of nativity scenes in government buildings under certain conditions. He referred in particular to the principle of secularism.

The issue is thorny. The public rapporteur of the Council of State has recommended on Friday to authorize, subject to conditions, the installation of nativity scenes in government buildings, in the name of the principle of secularism. “We do not believe that the context of tension on the secularism you are required to instruct in principle the trial of the crib,” said Aurélie Bretonneau, insisting on the “dimension pacifying of secularism”.

According to the public rapporteur, article 28 of the law of 9 December 1905, and more generally the principle of neutrality does not prohibit to install cribs on the public domain”, except when an “intention-religious” presides over such an event. Install a crèche in a town hall shall be permitted only under three conditions, that this exhibition is “temporary”, that it is not accompanied by any manifestation of “religious proselytism” and, finally, it assumes the character of a cultural event or at least festive”, has qualified the rapporteur. The opinion of this judge, who said the law, are usually monitored.

In a climate of increasingly tense on the secular state, the highest administrative court has held on Friday the meeting of the litigation. This training of 17 judges, which decides on the affairs of major importance and the main steps of the case-law, had to respond to this sensitive question: “A Christmas crib is a sign or emblem of a religious whose installation in a building or public place is always prohibited by the provisions of the law of 9 December 1905, guaranteeing respect of the principle of secularism?”

The State Council had been seized of two conflicting decisions regarding the installation of these representations of the Nativity in the city hall of Melun (Seine-et-Marne) and the general council of Vendée. The administrative court of appeal of Paris had ordered in a judgment of 8 October 2015 the removal of the crib from the mairie, Melun, considering that this “emblem religious” did not have its place. To the contrary, the administrative appeal court of Nantes had opted a few days later for the maintenance of the nursery “in the context of a tradition relating to the preparation of the family celebration of Christmas” was not in the nature of a “sign or emblem religious.”

The 1905 law leaves a wide margin of appreciation in the qualification or not of the emblem, the religious of these figurative representations.

These developments were challenged by the “federation of free thinkers” – in the Vendee and in Seine-et-Marne, – in the first line to combat the presence of characters of the holy Family in the public buildings in the name of the principle of neutrality. It also remembers of some mayors, such as Robert Ménard, the mayor of Béziers, akin to the FN, which have made the maintenance of the creche a symbol of the defence of christian culture in France. The defence of secularism to that of the identity, the debate is not without recalling that of last summer on the burkini.

today, on the side of city halls, the blur persists. “on Thursday, we received a request from an elected official who wanted to know if he had the right to install a nursery”, reports Nicolas Cadène, the rapporteur-general of the Observatory of secularism. Distinguish between tradition and religion, to draw the line between neutrality and respect of religions: the work of clarification requested to the State Council, promises to be difficult. On this subject, the defenders of secularism to the “closed” or “open” are struggling to tune their violins. In his vade-mecum released in the wake of the attacks of November 2015, the Association of mayors of France (AMF) had considered that the presence of nativity scenes in city hall was “not compatible with secularism” and asked for a “legislative clarification”.

More flexible, the Observatory of secularism believes in the latest version of its Guide to the secularism that the 1905 law “leaves a wide margin of appreciation in the qualification or not of the emblem, the religious of these figurative representations”. In this instance, a manger, “presented in a cultural framework for a short-term” can be regarded as an “exhibition”, an exception is provided for and authorised in article 28 of the 1905 law. In other words, a crèche of santons would have any place in a hall of provence on a limited period of time. “But it’s not as if it was the town hall which housed the Virgin and the baby Jesus and each situation must be examined on a case-by-case basis,” says Nicolas Cadène. This “third way” between prohibition and permission of nativity scenes in public buildings will not necessarily be taken into account by the Council of State, because the judgments reviewed “does not place it on the ground,” however, believe Me, Régis Froger, the advocate Federations of free thinkers. “Even when the nursery is of a cultural nature, it represents a biblical scene and, therefore, has value of religious sign”, he notes.

Me Alexandre Varaut, council of the department of Vendée of appeal, for its part, had pointed out that a creche in a public space wasn’t a “little church” and that “people do not pray in front of it”. The decision will be made within several weeks.


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