The recent confirmation of the removal of a monument of St. Michael the Archangel from a beach village by a French Court of Appeal sparked outrage throughout the nation and garnered extensive media attention.
However, this incident in the Vendée town of Sables d’Olonne is by no means unique.
In fact, a number of individuals formed an organisation to safeguard this aspect of French history after a rise in court decisions that targeted Catholic symbols or monuments in public places.
The National Federation for Free Thought, a coalition of regional groups, complained over the placement of a statue of St. Michael in front of a church devoted to the archangel in 2018. The complaint led to the Sept. 16 Appeal Court’s judgment.
The erection of the monument, which was situated on the grounds of a private school from 1935 until 2017, had widespread support from the locals of the Sables d’Olonne. In a public referendum held in March of last year, Yannick Moreau, the town mayor, received over 95% in support of keeping it.
The members of La Libre Pensée initiated this legal lawsuit in 2021 in the name of lacité, a French word meaning secularism.
Article 58 of the 1905 statute governing the separation of church and state, which forbids the display of religious symbols and pictures outside of places of worship, cemeteries, monuments, and museums, served as the foundation for the legal defense.
The appeal of the mayor of the Sables d’Olonne to the Council of State, the highest administrative tribunal of France, has little chance of success, according to Baudouin Poupon, president of the association Touche pas à ma statue (“Hands off my statue”), which was recently founded in the Vendée in an effort to defend the maintenance of the St. Michael statue and any other Catholic work threatened with removal.
According to him, the now-famous monument just symbolizes one of the goals of this allegedly anti-clerical organization, whose slogan is “Neither god nor master, away with the clergy and long live the Social!”
In recent years, it has amassed a series of judicial wins and succeeded in having a number of crosses and nativity scenes removed from public areas.
In 2017, the Council of State ordered the removal of a cross that was hanging above the monument of St. John Paul II in the Breton village of Plormel, once again against the advice of its residents, after a lengthy judicial and public fight akin to that of Sables d’Olonne.
In more recent times, a Virgin Mary monument on the island of Ré in the Nouvelle Aquitaine area of western France sparked the rage of passionate secular campaigners who won an administrative court order to have it removed.
In the years after World War II, the monument was built as a memorial to all the troops who had survived the conflict and come home safely. It was severely damaged after being struck by a vehicle a few years ago, but the current mayor of the town, Jean-Paul Héraudeau, restored it indistinguishably and reinstalled it in the same location.
Because the monument is a significant representation of the city’s history and legacy, the municipal council paid for its maintenance, according to Poupon. Therefore, its supporters believe that it has a cultural component rather than a religious one, similar to the Statue of St. Michael in Vendée.
Poupon’s organization, which has gathered a team of attorneys to investigate the remaining legal options in the Sables d’Olonne issue, is basing its legal defense on this cultural character of the monuments in question to refute the charge that they violate secularism.
In light of the Council of State’s prior rulings in other legal matters brought by the Libre Pensée, he stated, “unfortunately, we are not particularly confident about the result of the case before it. This federation is spearheading legal activities across the whole nation.
They are almost everywhere, and as a result of their influence on mayors and other public officials, many more Catholic monuments and sculptures will be taken down or won’t be rebuilt in the future.
Poupon said that due to a feeling of defeatism brought on by their cumulative judicial triumphs, a number of other instances were not covered by the media or protested by individuals or legislators.
“These legal disputes are what these anti-clerical seniors use to pass the time. It is a tiny but extremely powerful minority,” Poupon remarked, adding that the fact that none of the La Libre Pensée members reside in the cities being attacked by their acts only serves to inflame the residents’ resentment.
We developed “Touche pas à ma monument” with the intention of exposing these incidents as much as possible, encouraging networking, and raising awareness among the largest possible number of people because we feel it is time to respond to this rising danger to our history and culture.
The group, which is nonpartisan and apolitical and is now raising money, wants to support the development of regional antennas around the nation in order to support more direct activities, such as future protests in Vendée and all the other cities that will be targeted.
Poupon said that many non-Catholics were supporting the cause, citing the statues, crosses, and nativity scenes as the protectors of their French identity.