The ruling followed an attempt by a teacher in a state primary school in Bavaria to sue the Bavarian state for not allowing him to take down his classroom’s crucifix, which he said was a “psychological burden” to him because he was an atheist.
Bavaria, the birthplace of Pope Benedict, is one of Germany’s Catholic-majority states and has its own state parliament.
The Bavarian Minister of Justice, Beate Merk of the Christian Social Union (CSU), welcomed the court’s decision.
“The crucifix is a historic symbol of the Christian Occident and of Christian values. A teacher’s personal tastes are of secondary importance,” she said in Munich.
The Minister for Culture, Siegfried Schneider, also welcomed the ruling. “Reverence for God is one of the aims of education in the Bavarian constitution,” he said.
The teacher claims that Bavarian law violates religious liberty and he has said he plans to appeal against the ruling. He is supported by the Bavarian Green Party, a majority of which voted last June in favour of removing religious symbols from Bavarian state schools.
The problem goes back a long way. Bavaria is the southernmost part of Germany and most of its inhabitants are Roman Catholics. Many of them regard Guten Tag ("good day") as an alien Prussian expression and say Grüss Gott ("God greet") instead.
The Nazi party was founded in Munich, and seized power throughout Germany in 1933. In 1941, the Nazi governor of one part of Bavaria, Adolf Wagner, ordered the removal of crucifixes from schoolrooms, but the resistance to this order, by the people as well as by the Catholic Church hierarchy, was so strong that it was soon rescinded.
After the war the new Bavarian constitution provided accordingly that in each such school, the children must all be given a Roman Catholic education or else all of them a Lutheran one.
Later the national German supreme court, having confirmed in 1965 that the State must be neutral in all religious matters, declared in 1975 that this meant that the public schools in Bavaria must not give anyone a Christian indoctrination. The new ruling included, however, a long section allowing the term Christliche Gemeinschaftschule to be retained, provided it was taken to mean that the children would be taught the cultural background of Bavaria's Christian heritage without being influenced ideologically by it.
The national German supreme court in 1995 had found it contrary to the German constitution to favour any religion in a school which children from families of all religious persuasions are obliged by law to attend.
In August 1997 the supreme court of Bavaria heard the arguments pro and con as to whether the government may require that crucifixes hang on the classroom walls in the public [State] schools. So one of the main legal arguments for having the crucifix in the Bavarian classrooms has been that it does not influence the children in favour of any religion but only serves as a memento of Bavaria's cultural heritage.
The other argument has been that Bavaria is a special case, nearly everyone wants the crucifix on the schoolroom wall, the tiny minority who feel otherwise should tolerate it. The court was under intense political pressure to accept these arguments, as a lower court had already done.The court's decision, issued on August 1st, sustained the law intact. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
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