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Court ruling ends five-year nativity row

Decision welcomed as 'common sense'

A court ruling that allows a Christmas nativity scene to go on display in the building of the conseil général in Nantes has been hailed as 'common sense' after it brought an end to a five-year legal battle.

In 2012, secularist group the Fédération de la Libre-Pensée (Free-Thought Federation) wrote to the Conseil général of Vendée, citing France's law of separation of Church and State of 1905, to demand that it remove its nativity scene 'in the name of secularism'.

The tribunal administratif de Nantes upheld the group's claim in 2014, and banned the nativity scene from being put on display. A year later, that judgment was overturned on appeal.

The Conseil d'Etat quashed the appeal court's decision in 2016, saying that it had not questioned whether the installation, 'resulted from local use, [or if] there were special circumstances in which it could be recognised as cultural, artistic or festive'.

The case was returned to cour administrative d'appel de Nantes, which ruled on Friday that it did come under the 'local use' derogation that allows officials to exclude it from the principle of neutrality in public service.

The court also ordered the Fédération de la Libre-Pensée to pay €2,000 towards the Conseil départemental's court costs.

The lawyer for the Conseil départemental called the decision 'common sense'. He said: "It was … strange … because we lived in peace with the creches for a hundred years. This somewhat ridiculous war is now over.

"Christmas is part of our history, and the vast majority of French people want to set up nativities.

The former president of the Conseil départemental de Vendée, Bruno Retailleau, said in a statement that no one should, "make the principle of secularism a principle of absurdity".

He added that it is necessary to distinguish between, "what belongs to the religious domain and what belongs to the cultural domain".

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