WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Polish appeals court on Monday rejected a complaint by lawmakers that the presence of a Roman Catholic crucifix in parliament violates their right as nonbelievers.
Judge Edyta Jefimko ruled against members of the small opposition Your Movement party, finding that the crucifix is not just a religious symbol, but also one of "culture and natural identity" in the predominantly Catholic country.
The Catholic Church united and supported Poles when the country was partitioned in the 19th century, during World War II and under decades of communism. Crosses and crucifixes can be found in schools and some offices across Poland.
But free travel after Poland joined the European Union in 2004 opened the nation to new ideas, including a secular outlook. Public signs of faith, like crosses in offices and religion classes at schools have increasingly come under criticism. Recently, a nonbeliever sued a hospital after he found out that he was given the last rights there while unconscious.
On Monday, Prime Minister Donald Tusk welcomed the verdict, saying that separation of church and state should not be expressed through "fights over whether the cross should be put up or not."
Religious lawmakers put the crucifix up in parliament in the middle of the night in 1997 to cut short a heated debate over whether it should be placed there as a symbol of the end of communism and return to national Catholic values. Traditional respect for religion has kept it there.
Opponents vowed to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.