The premier of Bavaria has sparked uproar after his cabinet ordered that Christian crosses be fixed in the entrance halls of all public buildings.
Markus Söder, whose conservative CSU party faces a far-right challenge in state elections in October, declared that “the cross is a fundamental symbol of our Bavarian identity and way of life”.
It should be seen as a cultural rather than a religious symbol, added Söder of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Critics pointed out Germany’s constitutional separation of church and state, while some religious leaders charged Söder was playing politics with a sacred symbol.
The satirical website Der Postillon suggested that Söder’s next move would be to decree that a copy of the German basic law be used as a doormat in front of all administrative buildings.
The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, said that “we Muslims have no problem with the cross” or the appreciation of religion in society, but added that “the state’s neutrality should always be respected”.
He also warned against the “double standard” of banishing Muslim or Jewish symbols from the public sphere, in comments to national news agency DPA.
The protestant church leader Heinrich Bedford-Strohm said the cross should not be used to exclude others, and that Christian values such as helping the weak should apply to Germany’s refugee policy.
The CSU has strongly pushed for Germany to limit its refugee intake and step up immigration controls following a mass influx of more than 1 million mostly Muslim asylum seekers since 2015.
Söder’s predecessor, Horst Seehofer, recently became Merkel’s cabinet minister for a rebranded “interior and homeland” ministry, where he was quick to revive a long-running debate by stating that “Islam is not part of Germany”.