A small town in Germany with deep historic links to the Royal family is taking a stand against an order from the Bavarian regional government to display cross in all public buildings.

The local council in Coburg, birthplace of both Queen Victoria’s mother and her beloved consort, Prince Albert, says there will be no cross on display in the town hall when the controversial order comes into effect on Friday.

The order, issued by the new Bavarian regional prime minister, Markus Söder, has caused huge public controversy across Germany. Mr Söder says the cross is “a fundamental symbol of our Bavarian identity and way of life”.

But his opponents say he is exploiting a religious symbol for political ends and have denounced the move as unconstitutional.

In Coburg, in the former Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the local authorities are taking an independent stance.

Norbert Tessmer, the mayor, told the local Neue Presse newspaper he had decided there was no obligation to hang a cross in the town hall as it belongs to the local municipality, and not the regional government. 

But he conceded crosses would have to be hung in other local public buildings such as the tax office and the law courts.

A believer carries a cross, covered with a plastic bag to protect it against the rain, as he takes part in a pilgrimage in Niedertraubling, Germany, Thursday, May 17, 2018Credit:
Peter Kneffel/dpa

Elsewhere in Bavaria, institutions are taking a more confrontational stance. Nuremberg’s famous Neues Musuem is refusing point blank to display a cross, even though it is a public institution.

“It is problematic to make such a display in an institution concerned with the freedom of the arts,” Eva Kraus, the museum director said. 

The Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts in Munich is also taking a stand. “We have nothing against crosses of any kind, but they should only hang where they belong: in church,” Michael Krüger, the academy president said.

A spokesman for the Bavarian interior ministry admitted last week that it would not be possible for the ministry to enforce the order in every case. 

Public protests are planned in Munich on Friday, but a recent poll found 56 per cent of Bavarians in fact support the order, with only 38 per cent against.

Support is strong among Roman Catholics, who make up 58 per cent of Bavaria’s population. The order has been endorsed by the Catholic Archbishop of Bamberg, Ludwig Schick. 

But some of the strongest opposition to the order has come from the church. A leading Catholic theologian accused Mr Söder of exploiting people’s fears over Muslim migrants ahead of regional elections.

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“You are using Christianity to exclude people of other faiths,” Burkhard Hose wrote in an open letter to Mr Söder. “The cross is not an extension of a policy of exclusion or nationalistic egoism… I urge you to stop using Christianity as a supposed bulwark against Islam.”

The move has also been criticised by the head of the German evangelical church, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm., who warned: “It is very clear that no one should misuse a religious symbol like the cross for political purposes”.

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