Populist mayor of Béziers Robert Ménard has been told by a French court to permanently take down a nativity scene from the city hall, but Ménard has vowed to let it stand.
The controversy surrounding the placement of the nativity scene began in 2014 shortly after Ménard had been elected mayor of the city.
Complaints were lodged against the religious scene, with some claiming that it violated the strict secularisation laws in France, and now the administrative court of appeal of Marseille has judged that the 2014 nativity had no place in the city hall, L’Expressreports.
Ménard, despite the court case, also put up a nativity scene in 2015, 2016, and plans to have one this year, as well. According to the Béziers mayor, the new scenes will reflect local regional customs.
The move will likely allow Ménard to get around the ban as a judgement from 2016 stated that nativity scenes were allowed in public buildings if “special circumstances show that the installation is of a cultural, artistic or festive nature”. Since 2015, the nativity has been accompanied by a large Christmas tree as well as a letterbox for children to post letters to Father Christmas.
On Twitter, Ménard commented on the court’s decision: “They will try to ban our #crèche of 2017, 2018 and up to 2030. We will never yield on our culture!”
— Robert Ménard (@RobertMenardFR) November 10, 2017
Ménard also wrote a column for his former magazine Boulevard Voltaire in which he said: “I am respectful of secularism, but an open, tolerant secularism that does not consist in chasing down what we are and denying our history.”
The controversy is not the first for Ménard who, while not being a member, is supported by the populist Front National. Earlier this year, he was fined 2,000 euros because he mentioned the demographic changes in local schools.
“In a class in the city centre of my town, 91 per cent of the children are Muslims. Obviously, this is a problem. There are limits to tolerance,” he said and later mentioned the “Great Replacement”, a term for rapid large-scale demographic changes coined by French author Renaud Camus.
Last month, the French administrative courts made a similar ruling when they ordered a cross above a statue of former Pope John Paul II to be removed.
In response, the Hungarian government offered to take the cross with Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó commenting: “Is it really true that in 21st century Europe we are removing a Christian symbol? It everyone entitled to religious freedom except for Christians?”