France: A Bill to Defend Nativity Scenes

December 29, 2022
Provençal Nativity scene

Every year for decades in France, Nativity scenes have been in the news at Christmas time. Because, for a very long time, crèches have been installed in public places, such as town halls or large squares, paid for by the taxpayer. They are increasingly contested in the name of secularism.

This year was no exception with a Nativity scene at the town hall of Perpignan, the mayor, Louis Aliot, was threatened with a fine of “one hundred euros per day of delay” by the administrative court of Montpellier, if he didn't take down the crèche he had put up for Christmas. Other town halls have found themselves in the same situation.

These court decisions are based on an article of the 1905 law, or the law on secularism, article 28 of which provides that it is “prohibited, in the future, to raise or affix any sign or religious emblem on public monuments or in any public place whatsoever, with the exception … of museums or exhibitions.” Recent decisions of the Council of State (2016) have modified this principle.

It also happens that the court can decide different ways depending on the situation. On the strength of this observation, around thirty senators tabled a bill, on December 22, to modify the 1905 law, in order to “preserve the crèches,” but also “the immemorial traditions of the French nation.”

“The symbols of our traditions are attacked by an extremist and woke political movement which aims to deconstruct what we are: Christmas trees, nativity scenes, santons, King cakes, and even Easter eggs are targeted,” say the authors of the project, who propose to complete article 28 of the law “by adding exceptional cases linked to the immemorial traditions of France, namely the temporary presence” of these “cultural and not religious symbols.”

The debate has not finished agitating the French Senate. For Pierre Ouzoulias, the communist senator from Hauts-de-Seine, this bill hides a “very oriented false neutrality,” can be read on the Senate television channel. He also tabled a bill in November which aims to prevent communities from financing worship.

As for the mayor of Perpignan, he said he contacted the Council of State to appeal and declared that the crèche would not move until January, invoking an old tradition. Some of the town’s citizens have also declared themselves ready to pay the fines.

It is thus gratifying to see a part of the political class determined to defend the Christmas Nativity scene, and sometimes ready to face the wrath of the law. But this is done in the name of a culture, which is already something, leaving the main thing – the mystery of the Nativity of Christ – in the shadows.

Unfortunately, it is undoubtedly this cultural point of view that animates most of our contemporaries around the tree and the nativity scene, and not the doctrine of Christ the King who is born of the Virgin Mary on this Christmas day.