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French court orders town to remove Virgin Mary statue

A French court on Friday ordered a small town to remove a statue of the Virgin Mary, saying the religious display violates the separation of church and state.

French court orders town to remove Virgin Mary statue
(Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

The statue is located at a crossroads in La Flotte, a municipality of 2,800 inhabitants on the popular holiday island Ile-de-Re, off France’s Atlantic coast.

The statue was erected by a local family after World War II in gratitude for a father and son having returned from the conflict alive.

Its initial home was a private garden, but the family later donated it to the town which set it up at the crossroads in 1983.

In 2020, it was damaged by a passing car, and the local authorities decided to restore the statue and put it back in the same place, but this time on an elevated platform.

That move triggered a legal complaint by La Libre Pensee 17, an association dedicated to the defence of secularity, on the basis that a French law dating back to 1905 forbids religious monuments in public spaces.

A court in Poitiers followed the argument as did, on appeal, the regional court in Bordeaux, ordering La Flotte to remove the statue, according to a press statement. 

Local mayor Jean-Paul Heraudeau called the discussion around the statue “ridiculous” because, he said, it was part of the town’s “historical heritage” and should be considered “more of a memorial than a religious statue”.

But while the court accepted that the authorities had not intended to express any religious preference, it also said that “the Virgin Mary is an important figure in Christian religion,” which gives it “an inherently religious character”.

According to Catholic doctrine going back to the New Testament, God chose Mary to give birth to Jesus while remaining a virgin, through the Holy Spirit.

Catholicism, and several other religions, venerate Mary as a central figure in their faith, and she has been the subject of countless works of art over the centuries.

La Flotte has six months to remove the statue, the court said.

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RELIGION

French Muslim union sues nation’s biggest literary star Houellebecq

The Union of Mosques in France is suing the controversial French novelist Michel Houellebecq for discrimination, hate speech and inciting violence in remarks to an interviewer, the organisation told AFP on Friday.

French Muslim union sues nation's biggest literary star Houellebecq

Houellebecq, whose books sell in big numbers, penned the international headline-grabbing 2015 novel “Submission” about a Muslim winning the presidency, which taps into right-wing fears over the rise of Islam. 

He is accused of telling an interviewer for the “Front Populaire” publication that Muslims in France should “stop stealing and being aggressive” to “ethnic” French people. 

The passages suggest there could be violence towards French Muslims, which he dubbed “reverse Bataclans”, a reference to the 2015 attacks on the Bataclan concert hall by French and Belgian-born jihadists with links to the Islamic State group. 

Houellebecq has said the controversial sections would be edited out of the interview online, and in a forthcoming book in which the remarks will feature.

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the union, said in a statement “his proposal to replace them in a forthcoming book does not put an end to their dissemination and does not protect Muslims from their consequences”.

Stephane Simon, a contributor to “Front Populaire”, and the interviewer, philosopher Michel Onfray, are also named in the lawsuit, lawyer Najwa El Haite told AFP.

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