German state of Bavaria to display crosses in all government buildings

Courtesy Photo of Markus Söder's twitterBERLIN – Bavaria has ordered all government buildings in the predominately Catholic southern German state to hang a cross on their entrances, a move that sparked outrage across the religious spectrum in Germany.

"The cross is a fundamental symbol of our Bavarian identity and way of life," said Bavaria's new state leader Markus Söder, as he hung a cross in the lobby of the state's headquarters in Munich directly after the new rule was passed by the state government Tuesday.

The move comes as Germany continues to grapple with integrating more than a million newcomers mostly from the Middle East and Africa.

In 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the nation's borders to mostly Muslim refugees, setting off criticism – even in her own conservative Christian bloc – over the "Islamization" of the nation.

Still, leaders of the Bavarian government said the new requirement is "an expression of the historical and cultural character of Bavaria" and that hanging crosses in public buildings is "a visible commitment to the basic values of the legal and social order in Bavaria and Germany."

"It stands for elemental values such as charity, human dignity and tolerance," Söder added.

Some said they expected the government to make such a rule: Visible crosses are already mandatory in Bavarian school houses and courtrooms.

Others said they are reconsidering living in the state.

"I've been forced to consider in the last few days whether I'll reach a point where I'll have to tell my employer that I don’t want to live or work in Bavaria anymore because I just can't accept the legal situation," Bavarian student Florian Meier posted on Twitter.

Politicians also expressed disdain at the new rule.

"The way that Markus Söder and the (party) permanently instrumentalize religion for party politics is reminiscent of Erdogan," Christian Lindner, the leader of Germany's pro-business Free Democratic Party, posted on Twitter, referring to Turkey's strongman and conservative Muslim President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "The constitution has no denomination!"

Still, many were unsurprised: Bavaria was on the frontlines of the refugee crisis that began in 2015, and had even threatened to sue the government for opening the nation's borders as migrants streamed through the state from elsewhere in southeastern Europe to apply for asylum in Germany.

Since then, they've sought to implement policies in Bavaria to preserve Germany's Christian ideals, such as the banning of burkas in public spaces.

"Islam doesn't belong to Germany," Germany's new Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told the German daily newspaper Bild last month. "The Muslims who live with us here are of course a part of Germany, but this doesn't mean that we have to falsely consider giving up our country-specific traditions and customs."

Seehofer's Ministry now includes a "homeland" wing dedicated to protecting traditional German culture, a move condemned by many as placating rightwing, nationalist forces within the country that have disrupted German politics since the refugee crisis.

In September, the rightwing, anti-Islam Alternative for Germany, founded in 2013, entered parliament for the first time with 12.6 percent of the vote, making them the nation's third-largest political party. It also marked the first time that such a party had entered the German parliament since the 1950s.

The latest polls from Germany's INSA Institute polls the Alternative for Germany (AfD) at 13 percent in Bavaria, a figure that could greatly disrupt Söder's Christian Social Union's dominance in the state's elections next year.

"The AfD welcomes every measure to make it clear to all people that the basis of living together in Germany is a Christian-Western-inspired guiding culture," said Martin Sichert, a member of the German parliament with the AfD representing Bavaria, in an email. "Therefore, we also look forward to the CSU's approval to our application to hang a cross in the German Bundestag."

"But more important than such symbolic policies would be to actively live by these values, for example, by renouncing Islamic education," Sichert added.

Still, religious leaders from other faiths question the result of such a provocative move.

"In principle, I have nothing against crosses in official buildings, but one must ask themselves the question of what meaning they should actually have," the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, told Bavarian public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk.

Others were quick to point out the double standard that Bavaria shows by banning certain religious symbols while glorifying others.

"We Muslims have no problem with the cross, even with the appreciation of religion in social life. However, state neutrality should always be respected." said Aiman Mazyek, a chairwoman with the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, in an email. "What does not work is the double standard of accepting Christian symbols, but banishing Muslim, Jewish or others from the public sphere."

An alternative version of this story can be found in Washington Times.
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