Crèches in town halls: a subject that has become political

The administrative court of Montpellier ordered Louis Aliot (Rassemblement national) to “remove the nativity scene” of its town hall in Perpignan within twenty-four hours, under penalty of a penalty of “100 euros per day of delay”. The decision targeting the far-right mayor comes on December 21, a week after that ordering the withdrawal of the nursery from Béziers (Hérault), considering that the installation ignored “the requirements attached to the principle of neutrality of public persons”, as well as article 28 of the law of December 9, 1905, stipulating the prohibition to affix religious signs in public places. Seized in both cases in summary proceedings by the League for Human Rights, the administrative court has not yet explained its reasons in the latest case.

The years pass and look alike around the installation of crèches in town halls. So much so that the subject has almost acquired the status of a Christmas chestnut tree. In 2014, the development of Nativity crèches in the town hall of Melun (Seine-et-Marne) and within the headquarters of the general council (became departmental in 2015) of Vendée went badly with associations. The Free Thought Federation, a defender of secularism, is taking legal action in these two cases. In the first instance, it proves him right in the first, then wrong in the second.

The Vendée president, Bruno Retailleau, who has since become president of the Les Républicains (LR) group in the Senate, is offended by such a decision, supported by Philippe de Villiers, who had chaired this same general council. This one emphasizes “a deadly secularism that violates our traditions and customs”. The controversy swells, and the debates crystallize between the partisans of secularism “strict” and defenders of “Christian roots of France”.

Read also (2015): Christmas cribs in town halls: the right raises the controversy

A year later, in 2015, the Association of Mayors of France (AMF), chaired by François Baroin (LR), recommends that city councilors not install crèches in town halls. The “administrative case law is still discordant on this subject”, could we read in the vade-mecum of the AMF on secularism. The advice is taken as an injunction: it causes an uproar, including on the right. The National Front (FN) is indignant at the news, and the FN mayors of Var David Rachline (Fréjus), Marc-Etienne Lansade (Cogolin) and Patricia Zirilli (Le Luc) immediately slam the door of the association of elected officials .

We have to wait until 2016 for the Council of State to make a decision. The highest administrative court will decide in favor of a ban on Christmas cribs in public buildings, “unless special circumstances show that this installation has a cultural, artistic or festive character”. The nuance is subtle. A few elected officials play it.

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