Religious Installations in French City Halls: A Christmas Crib Story

« Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s ». The principle, which in its secular form translates into the principe de laïcité in France, calls for a separation between State and Church. The highest administrative court of appeal revisited on Wednesday the principle in a case concerning the installation of Christmas cribs in town halls.

Christmas, in certain circumstances, has its place in the Republic. Judges have agreed in a plenary session reviewing two different Court of Appeal cases (courtyard of Melun’s town hall and hall of the departmental council of Vendée) that a Christmas crib in a public building doesn’t a priori represent a threat to secularism. In fact, the installation is legal, says the Conseil d’Etat, provided that particular circumstances give it « a cultural, artistic or festive character ».

In the first case concerning Melun, the Conseil declared the Christmas crib illegal because it didn’t comply with the new requirements, and in the second one concerning Vendée, it sent the case back to the Court of appeal for it to review whether the particular circumstances are met.

No doubt, to limit the cases of legal installation is the best way to make us drink the kool-aid. But it undermines secularism as well as legal certainty to an absurd degree. Could it be that some sort of religious symbol for Easter be also permitted in April due to its festive character ?

Finally, another thing is required: the temporary character of the installation, which allows for a crib at Christmas, but not a cross throughout the year.

In an attempt to be helpful, the Conseil d’Etat advises us to look at the context, the particular conditions of the installation, the place of the installation as well as the existence of a local tradition ...

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