levinson at CEU.HU
Tue Aug 19 18:23:13 PDT 1997
I would be eager to hear your reactions to the following story that
is on the front page of today's International Herald Tribune (by
William Drozdiak of the Washington Post, so I presume it's gotten
some domestic coverage as well):
Crusade Against Crucifix: Does Bavaria Have a Prayer in Court?
The story is from Bruckmeuhl, Germany, and details the travails of
Josef Obermeier (religion not given) after he complained about a
crucifix hanging in his daughter's (public school) classroom. He
has, apparently "bec[o]me the target of a vicious hate campaign."
"[M]any secular Germans are questioning organized religion should
play so central a role in their political culture. The state
collects a church tax to pay the salaries of clergy and clerics sit
on advisory councils that approve content of radio and television
Since gaining power 15 years ago, Mr. Kohl's governing alliance has
been solicitous about protecting church interests. The government
has rebuffed efforts to curtail a curch-support tax. Mr Kohl himself
as vowed to preserve the identity of Germany as 'a bastion of
Christian civilization' [sic]."
"With Parliament unable or unwilling to establish clear guidelines,
the task has fallen to a legal system that has become embroiled in
volatile conflicts affecting society's basic institutions. Two years
ago, Germany's supreme court struck down a Bavarian law requiring
the display of crucifixes in classrooms because it violated a
constitutional requirement of 'religious neutrality' in public
"The ruling was the culmination of 10-year crusade by the Bavarian
artist Ernst Seler, who said he did not want to send his three
children to schools in which they would be horrified by what he
called the 'image of a bleeding, half naked male corpose' that
depicted Jesus Christ dying on the cross. Far from settling the
issue, the decision provoked an unprecedented wave of public protest
across Bavaria, Germany's second most populous state with 11 million
ncitizens and a strong Roman Catholic heritage [sic: I think it is
also accurate that Bavaria was one of the bastions of Naziism].
Premier Edmund Stoiber of Bavaria accused the court of issuing 'an
edict of intolerance that wounded the very soul of Bavaria....
"Mr. Stoiber's government then began to work around the court ruling.
It amended the law to allow for the removal of a crucifix from a
classroom or public building if somebody who objects gives
sufficiently valid reasons for taking it down.
"Enger Josef Obermeier. He escorted his 6-year-old daughter,
Hasmine, to class . . . and said he did not want his child to study
in the shadow of the crucifix and asked that it be removed. That was
when the troubles started.
"'I gave what I thought were sensible reasons,' Mr. Obermeier said,
adding that a religious symbol had no place in a classroom,
'especially if it represents a church that is anti-demoratic in
nature and practices sex discrimination by refusing equal rights to
women, such as the chance to become priests.'"
"Mr. Obermeier's rationale was rejected as 'too polemical and not
sufficiently personal.' Local courts backed the school's decision."
"The publicity that has focused on the village embarrasses Johannes
Mangels, Bruckmuehl's school director. 'We are talking about a
special situation. This is not just a question of religion. It is
about cultural traditions, going back more than a thousand years, and
the crucifix is one of our [sic] most cherished historical symbols.
We respect basic human rights, but in a peaceful democracy the
minority must consent to go along with the majority view.'"
Does everyone on this list agree that this would be (and ought to
be) an easy case in the US, i.e., that the state most certainly could
not display a crucifix in a public school. I confess I am not sure
that the Christian Coalition wouldn't be very sympathetic with the
town, either in its construal of German law or, more to the point, as
something that the US should aspire to (if the judiciary were packed
with persons with the right understanding of establishment).
PS: I was asked the following question by a Macedonian student, and
I am stumped for an answer. A municipality in Macedonia has
apparently started flying the Albanian flag (perhaps together with
the national Macedonian flag, maybe not, I'm not sure). In any
event, she was wondering if a US municipality could, as a
constitutional matter, be prevented from flying anything other than
the US and state flags. I assume that municipalities have only such
rights as their states choose to respect, but the question is whether
states must respect dissident municipal speech. (Obviously, the US
would protect the right of private persons to fly the Albanian (or
North Vietnamese) flags.) I apologize for going off-topic, though I
suppose this deals centrally with civil religion and its defining
rituals. Thanks for any suggestions you can give me on this.
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