The French Front National has begun a campaign to install nativity scenes in French town halls over the Christmas period.
Marion Maréchal Le Pen, niece of party leader Marine, has proposed a motion in the parliament of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region calling for nativity scenes to be allowed in all town halls of the area.
She pointed out that even under France’s strict secular laws, nativity scenes are permitted in public buildings if they a “symbol of the culture and identity” of the region.
TV channel LCI reports that the Front National called for the Republicans, who govern the region, to “put aside political divisions and vote for this common sense motion.”
However, the idea was met with scorn by regional president Christian Estrosi, a member of the establishment conservatives, who sarcastically remarked: “Finally, Madame Le Pen has an idea: the installation of a nativity scene in the regional parliament!”
Earlier this month, the town of Hénin-Beaumont, which is governed by the Front National, was condemned by a regional court for installing a nativity scene last year. The judge ruled there was “no evidence that it is an existing local tradition”, adding that it was not an “art exhibit, nor could it be considered an extension of the Christmas market.”
Last year, the Association of French Mayors (AMF) also called for nativity scenes to be banned, claiming they were just trying to be loyal to the “values of the Republic”. They also pointed out that the 1905 law that separates church and state prohibits “any religious symbol” in public places.
Around 50 mayors protested the decision, saying that while they shared the Republic’s secular values, an outright ban would be “anti-religious”.
Robert Ménard, Front National mayor of the town of Béziers, was also taken to court recently for putting a Christmas nativity scene in his town hall. He claimed he was defending French tradition and that “France has a Christian culture”.
Two years ago, a study found that 71 per cent of the French public support nativity scenes in public spaces.