Paris (CNSNews.com) – A French senator has slammed what she called “ayatollahs of secularism” after a tribunal ordered the mayor of a small town near the Swiss border to remove a statue of the Virgin Mary, erected in a public park five years ago.
The mayor of Publier, a town of 6,500 inhabitants overlooking Lake Geneva Lake, received the order from the district’s administrative court in Grenoble, which said if the statue was not removed within three months, the city will have to pay a penalty of 100 Euros (around $107) per day.
Mayor Gaston Lacroix said in a statement he would look for a new location for the statue – on private land – as soon as possible.
“I am not deaf to the decisions of the administrative court,” he said. “For five years, I have never received any injunction from the state nor from any court. Now I have.”
Lacroix pointed out that as an elected mayor in France he is required to be “a guarantor of secularism.”
But Senator Nathalie Goulet of the center-right Union of Democrats and Independents slammed the court ruling, which followed complaints by secularists.
“I call those so-called free thinkers the ‘ayatollah of secularism,’” she said in a phone interview.
“It is the same thing as forbidding Muslim women to wear a burkini on beaches as happened last August in southern France.,” Goulet added. “Does it mean that we have now to change names of streets in our cities because they are called Saint Dominique or any other saint’s name?”
Jacques Closterman of the far-right National Front also criticized the court ruling saying in a tweet that decisions of that nature represent “a new tyranny.”
Critics say Lacroix used public fund to erect the statue in a public park in 2010.
After a citizen complained, an association of activists advocating free thinking and secularism took up the case in a bid to compel the mayor to comply with secular law.
Lacroix sold the statue to a religious organization for 24,000 Euros ($25,800) – which went back into the city coffers – but tried without success to also get it to buy the piece of land where the statue stands.
Goulet said many French mayors finance church roofs or other religious building without any problem, although she admitted in most cases the buildings are considered national heritage.
“If the mayor built the statue with taxpayers’ money without any council debate then it is wrong,” she said. “But going to the courts to remove a statue of the Virgin Mary erected in a public park seems to me very intolerant.”
France has very strict secular laws passed in 1905 and incorporated into the 1958 constitution. Displaying religious symbols in public is banned.
Last year some city halls came under fire for having nativity scenes set up in their premises.
Although the practice had taken place in previous years without problems, this year, many city halls are being more discreet, moving the nativity scenes to alternative locations to avoid potential complaints.
Goulet said she opposed stopping the tradition because a few secularists complain.
She recalled having recently attended a ceremony in a village in her ward – some 200 kilometers east of Paris – where a veterans’ flag was blessed by the local bishop. She wondered how secularists would have reacted to that kind of ceremony.