SWITZERLAND – Battle for crosses in public spaces reignited
A Swiss national petition is calling for Christian symbols to be preserved and replaced in public buildings, schools and public spaces. The petitioners are opposed to the fact that crosses are disappearing from school rooms and public buildings.
“We want Christian symbols to be preserved in the public space and – where it is meaningful – for new ones to be created,” explains Lucerne canton SVP councillor Pirmin Müller.
Thousands of people from all over Switzerland have signed the “Kreuz bleibt” (Cross Remains) petition within the past five months, says Müller. The signatures have now been handed over to the Federal Council. A spokeswoman for the Federal Chancellor said the petition had about 24700 signatures.
Conservative-Christian group Verein Neuer Rütlibund is behind the petition. Founded in 1990, the Neue Rütlibund has around 400 members and its President is Pirmin Müller. “Saying Christian symbols no longer had any place in public space and in public buildings, is denying a core of Christian-Western identity,” Neuer Rütlibund has stated on its website.
At the launch of the petition in May, Pirmin Müller said it was intended to bring discussion about symbols (crosses, angels, crucifixes ) to the national level. With the petition, the association also wants to stimulate an in-depth discussion about what constitutes public space.
“Today, opponents of the cross are placing their demands on courts or the state,” says Müller. However, public space belongs to the people and is not neutral but pluralistic. He added “Christian symbols must have a place in the shaping of public space without the state interfering and thus affecting freedom of belief.”
“When it comes to the question of whether Christian symbols are removed, people are supposed to have an influence,” he says. From his point of view, the petition is only a first step: “We also want to encourage people to become active themselves.”
Michael Köpfli, a Member of the Board of Bern’s Freidenker, cannot understand the reason for the petition: “There are many crosses in the public space, they are not forbidden.” He also had no problem with crosses on mountain summits, though there were different opinions on the Freidenkern. “I do not want to ban religion from the public sphere,” says Köpfli. He said that he was personally opposed to the fact that crosses were being hung only within state buildings and in school rooms.
The placing of crucifixes in public buildings became an issue again recently, mainly because of the design of the hall at the Friedland municipal in the city of Lucerne. The city authorities wanted to make the hall non-religious. A committee, led by the CVP, opposed it, but the public voted to go ahead with the plans on 25 September. In the past months, the question of Christian symbols has also led to debate in different regions.
This is not the first petition about Christian symbols. Six years ago, CVP and SVP politicians in the canton of Lucerne had submitted a similar petition entitled “Crucifix remains” with almost 12,000 signatures. There have also been discussions at national level. In 2010, Lucerne’s CVP National Councillor, Ida Glanzmann, called for a parliamentary initiative to stipulate that “symbols of Christian-Western culture” were permitted in the public sphere but it was unsuccessful.
Petitions, however, have little weight in politics. “The “Cross remains” petition should not stand a chance politically,” said Glanzmann “but it is a good thing to be discussed again.” She said the parties would have to work together if they wanted to achieve majorities. Glanzmann also stressed that Christian symbols must have their place in society.
In Eastern Switzerland, artist Christian Meier recently caused a stir in the media when he installed a crescent moon on a mountain peak in the Alpstein. Summit crosses are “simply absurd”, he said: “Religion should be private. That is why a Christian symbol does not belong on a mountain summit. “