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Supreme Court Ban on School Crucifixes Changes Little in Bavaria

August 15, 1996

MUNICH, Germany (AP) _ When the Supreme Court struck down a Bavarian law requiring public school classrooms to display crucifixes, politicians vowed defiance, 30,000 Catholics marched in protest and police guarded the family that made the complaint.

A year later, most Bavarian children will find images of a crucified Jesus Christ on the walls of their classrooms when they head back to school Sept. 17.

``Naturally, nothing has changed in practice,″ said Herbert Mueller, parliamentary leader for the opposition Social Democrats.

On Aug. 10, 1995, the court ruled that the Bavarian law violated the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. The decision drew controversy throughout Germany and outrage from Bavaria’s dominant, Catholic-based party, the Christian Social Union.

But Mueller said that in all the hubbub, the point was lost that the Supreme Court never said the crucifixes had to come down _ it only said the state couldn’t require them to be put up.

The ruling came on a complaint from Ernst Seler, who objected that his daughter was ``forced to learn beneath a crucifix depicting a bleeding Jesus Christ.″

Seler is an adherent of anthroposophy, a mystical, non-Christian religious movement. His family received threats of violence, and police protection after the complaint.

Seler, who lives in the Bavarian town of Nittenau, reached a temporary compromise with his daughter’s school. A plain cross was hung in the classroom, with no figure depicted.

Bavarian state officials refused to lift the requirement for crucifixes in the classrooms, but said principals could negotiate a solution if parents complained.

The state Culture Ministry, which oversees schools, says that since the ruling, only 13 complaints about crucifixes have been registered, and in only six of those cases were the crucifixes removed. In the other cases, the ministry said, the complaints were dropped.

``With a total of 1.7 million students and 74,000 classes in Bavaria, one cannot say that it changed anything,″ said Valentin Doering, head of the Catholic information office in Munich.

Meanwhile, Seler, 46, said the angry letters and threats have stopped, and that he has begun to get letters from people who feel as he does.

``We apparently did touch an open wound,″ Seler said.

Two of his three children now attend school in another town, Neunberg vorm Wald, where the crucifixes have been removed from the classrooms they attend.

``It was certainly a lot of stress for the family,″ Seler said. ``But it has paid off.″

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