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

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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France blames Russia’s FSB for Star of David graffiti campaign

France believes that Russia's security service FSB was behind a campaign in which Star of David graffiti were daubed on buildings in and around Paris last autumn, a French source said on Friday.

France blames Russia's FSB for Star of David graffiti campaign

French prosecutors reported in November that 60 such stars had been found in the capital and surrounding suburbs weeks into the war between Israel and Hamas, with the graffiti being interpreted as a threat to Jews.

A Moldovan couple was arrested in the case and their alleged handler, a pro-Russian Moldovan businessman, was identified, according to the source who has knowledge of the investigation and who declined to be named.

Moldova was a Soviet republic before its independence in 1991.

France’s international security service DGSI believes the operation was run by the FSB’s fifth division that undertakes international operations, the source said, quoting from a secret internal note that was first revealed by the Le Monde newspaper.

The FSB is the main successor agency to the Soviet Union’s KGB.

Paris prosecutor Laure Beccuau said during last year’s investigation that the daubings had been made at the “express demand” of an individual residing abroad.

The graffiti, which for some brought back memories of the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II and the deportation of its Jews to death camps, were condemned across the political spectrum.

Elisabeth Borne, prime minister at the time, condemned what she called “despicable acts”.

The Union of Jewish Students of France said they were designed to mirror the way Jews were forced to wear the stars by the Nazi regime.

In the suburb of Saint-Ouen, the stars were accompanied by inscriptions such as “Palestine will overcome”.

Le Monde said the alleged FSB operation was part of a wider disinformation campaign that also targeted Poland, Spain, Germany, Romania and Austria.

In a recent note seen by AFP on Friday, the DGSI urged French police forces to report even “weak signs” of potential Russian “subversion”, such as vandalism, graffiti, posters, stickers and flyers, which are usually aimed at “amplifying divisions” in French society.

The war in the Middle East started after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7th attack that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Israel’s relentless bombardment since has killed at least 29,514 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by Gaza’s health ministry.

France blames Russia for interference in several areas.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said France’s air force pilots had been threatened with attack by Russian forces during patrol missions in international air space.

His remarks were the latest in a string of French accusations of aggressive Russian behaviour, including alleged cyberattacks and propaganda directed at France.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government is a major supplier of weapons and aid to Ukraine, which has been fighting Russia’s invasion for the past two years.

Macron declared last month that Europe’s priority must be to “not let Russia win”.