Bavaria puts a crucifix in every public school classroom in the heavily Catholic state, but education officials are required to take them down if parents complain.
Exactly that situation occurred at the beginning of the school year at the Albertus Magnus university-preparatory high school, daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Wednesday.
Taking down crosses is rare, but obligatory if someone complains following a court ruling in 1995, which found that the Christian symbols violated the religious neutrality of the school system.
“Usually it happens quietly and within the school community,” spokesperson for the Bavarian Education Ministry Ludwig Unger.
But members of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) have been outraged since the incident came to light over the weekend. A Christian committee within the CSU led by state parliamentarian Thomas Goppel has demanded the cross be returned to its position immediately.
“I have no understanding for one parent’s demand to take a cross out of a classroom if it defies the wishes of the majority of other parents,” Mayor and CSU member Gerhard Weber told the paper.
Weber was apparently particularly miffed that the father concerned was not a native German.
“The question must be asked whether the hospitality that we gladly extend to foreigners has been worn out,” he said.
The school has kept the father’s identity anonymous, but Weber demanded the man step forward to discuss his complaint.
Another CSU member, Bavarian school minister Ludwig Spaenle, said he could “understand why people would shake their heads at the removal of a cross,” Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.
But the school’s director Wilhelm Pfaffel questioned whether the issue would be so controversial if the father’s heritage wasn’t in question. Though he remains anonymous, he has received death threats, Pfaffel told the paper.
According to regional daily Mittelbayerische Zeitung, the man is a university professor of physics who came from an English-speaking country in 2006.
As an atheist he took issue with a daily morning prayer in his son’s classroom – which he had not been informed about. When he spoke with the teacher about it, she agreed to reword the devotional as a “good morning circle” and recommended that they also remove the cross, the unidentified man told the paper.
But some of other parents were displeased with the decision, and the issue found its way to the media, sparking the debate, Süddeutsche Zeitung said.
Meanwhile local religious leaders have also weighed in. On Monday night Bishop Ludwig Müllers appealed to non-believers for tolerance of Christian symbols.
“The cross is our expression of a civilisation of love,” he said.