Christmas is yet some time away, but in France, in the southern city of Montpellier, the thought of many in the last hours was turned to the Nativity Creche. One of the most important symbols of popular religiosity, which sinks its Medieval roots in that of Greccio, by inspiration of Saint Francis of Assisi, was saved from an ungrateful fate on the altar of French secular morality.
On July 16, the Administrative Court of Montpellier judged in favor of Robert Menard, Mayor of the small municipality of Beziers, in the Languedoc-Roussillon area. The first citizen decided last December not to bow to the protests of the League of the Rights of Man against the installation of the Crib in the lobby of the Town Hall.
Thus, deaf to the requests of the detractors of the Nativity, he left the Crib in its place and had himself dragged before the Judges. Examining the case, the latter established that there was no confirmation of an attempt against the principles of secularism, the freedom of conscience and the neutrality of the public service, no violation of article 28 of the December 9, 1905 law (on the separation of Church and State), which prohibits “raising or affixing any religious sign or emblem on public monuments or in any public place, with the exception of buildings that serve for worship, of burial plots in cemeteries, of funeral monuments, and of museums and exhibitions.
According to the Judges, the representation of the birth of Jesus does have “above all and necessarily a religious meaning”; however, the prohibition foreseen in article 28 does not apply to all objects having a religious meaning but only to those that “symbolize the claim of religious opinions.”
Therefore, there was nothing offensive in regard to those who do not profess the Christian religious confession. In fact, the Montepellier Court stressed that “the installation of the creche at the entrance of Beziers’ Town Hall was always presented as an exhibition in the ambit of the cultural manifestations organized in the city on the occasion of the Christmas holiday, without any element that revealed a different intention or the manifestation of a preference for persons of the Christian faith.”
For his part, Mayor Menard reacted jubilantly. A few minutes after the judgment he wrote on his Twitter profile: “This is an historic judgment. At Christmas we will do an even more beautiful Crib. Then he added in a note: “The Court did not single out any attempt against secularism, any discrimination, any damage. With good sense, it highlighted without the need, however, to refer to a local tradition, that this creche is a cultural element of a civilization that bears a name: the
French and European civilization.
In the name of the defense of this civilization, last December a true and proper movement was formed in France by a student group with the eloquent name “Touch Not My Crib.” Groups of young people organized, on the style of the “flash mob,” living Nativity scenes in different public places. They did so, as a sign of protest against a judgment of the Administrative Court of Nantes, which had prohibited the public presence of Cribs — a judgment that was dismantled today by the Judges of Montpellier. However, the controversy will not end here.
Some progressive political movements have decided to appeal to the Court of Marseilles, stating that the judgment that gives the right of reason to Mayor Menard “can only encourage the plans of all those adverse to the secularism of our country.” The defenders of the creche, however, will not remain idle. Although it is true that Christmas is still some time away, yet in France the battle to defend the symbols and values is already raging.