The Council of State of France confirmed earlier this week that the cross from the statue of Pope John Paul II in Ploërmel was to be removed on the basis of separation of the church and state, it was announced.
The statue was offered in 2006 by Zurab Tsereteli, a Georgian-Russian sculptor, after an agreement was made between the artist and the then-mayor of the commune. The inauguration of the statue already made controversy in the town, and a few years later the Fédération morbihannaise de la libre-pensée (Morbihan Federation of Free Thought), a secularist association, as well as two other residents filed a lawsuit to order the removal of the statue for infringing on France’s secular law. They argue that the religious symbol erected over the monument, on a public space and authorized by the local government breaks the law.
Indeed, the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and State states that the French government will not recognize any religion or sect, prohibits religious institutions from being funded by the state, and guarantees religious freedom and state secularism. Article 28 of the law states it is forbidden to erect any religious symbol on public monuments or any public space whatsoever. This law has been criticized many times throughout the century as an attack on the Christian history of France and the values European nations inherited from.
The statue was already scheduled to be removed within six months in April 2015 by the courthouse but the decision was withheld in December 2015 due to a procedural defect. The debate over the removal of the cross never ended and another lawsuit was filed.
Earlier this Saturday, the Prime Minister of Poland, Beata Szydlo, gave remarks on the removal of the cross, criticizing state secularism and condemning the decision of the court as censorship. On behalf of Poland, she offered her help to protect the monument and moving it to Poland if that means saving it.
The decision of the Council of State also set off French conservatives on Twitter, launching the hashtag #MontreTaCroix (en: Show Us Your Cross) on national top trends. The hashtag was used to protest the removal and share photographs of Christian crosses all around the country. Several petitions were also launched to save the statue, one of which currently sits at 18,000 signatures.