A court ordered its destruction in the name of French laïcité. Local authorities found a solution. An emblematic story.
by PierLuigi Zoccatelli
On January 5, 2021, Bitter Winter reported that in the French village of Plorec-sur-Arguenon, Brittany, a court had ordered the destruction of the local Calvary (i.e., the monumental crucifix reminding the passers-by of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, a common monument in Northern France). It was a typical application of the French principle of laïcité, very much in the news in these days because of the debates on the new law on “separatist” religion.
Laïcité forbids to erect religious monuments on public land. But when the Calvary was erected, in 1946, the relevant land was private. It was acquired by the Department of Côtes-d’Armor when the Calvary was already there.
The secular humanist Federation of Free Thought (Fédération nationale de la libre pensée) filed a suit with the Administrative Court of Rennes, which on November 18, 2020 found in its favor and ordered the destruction of the Calvary as its remaining on public land violated the principle of laïcité.
It did not really help the cause of the Calvary that a small political party called Debout la France (France Arise) politicized the issue and tried to gain visibility by demonstrating (COVID-19 notwithstanding) in Plorec-sur-Arguenon.
However, cooler tempers happily prevailed, and the desire of local villagers to preserve a historical landmark was considered by the Department’s authorities, together with the need to comply with the decision by the Administrative Court of Rennes.
By a unanimous vote, the Council of the Department voted the sale of the plot of land where the Calvary stands to the Association pour la Conservation du Patrimoine de Plorec-sur-Arguenon, i.e., to the group of private citizens that in 2017 had restored the Calvary at its own expenses.
All is well that ends well, and Bitter Winter is pleased to have helped by making the issue known outside France. It remains that local politicians exhibited more common sense than an administrative court, and the latter confirmed that too often, when in doubt, the principle of laïcité is interpreted against religion in France.