A new left-wing party in Poland demanded Wednesday the removal of a crucifix that hangs in parliament, a move seen by many citizens in the mainly Roman Catholic country as a provocative challenge to a cherished symbol.
The party, Palikot's Movement, filed its request with the new parliamentary speaker, Ewa Kopacz. It argues the crucifix violates a constitutional guarantee of a secular state.
It is the party's first such appeal since the newly elected parliament held its first sitting Tuesday and follows a similar appeal made last month which went unanswered.
"Poland is a lay country and its public authorities, including the legislature, should maintain impartiality on matters of religious and philosophical convictions," the party said.
Led by maverick businessman-turned-politician, Janusz Palikot, the party unexpectedly emerged as the third political force in Oct. 9 elections. It advocates curbing the influence of the church, simplifying laws and cutting down on bureaucracy.
It also supports gay rights, and two of its members made history by becoming the first transsexual and openly gay person to be elected as lawmakers.
However, it's the party's demand that the crucifix be removed that has caused the biggest stir.
The conservative opposition Law and Justice party and a youth organization have written to Kopacz in support of the crucifix. They recalled that it was put up as a symbol of regained freedom after communism _ which was hostile to religion _ was toppled in 1989.
"This is not only about issues related to faith and religion, a part of our tradition," said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of Law and Justice. "This is a matter of patriotism, of national identity, national dignity."
The dispute over the cross in parliament prompted the church to recently ban a prominent priest, Adam Boniecki, from making public statements.
Boniecki said on private TVN24 that there might be reasons to have the cross removed and that the church should examine why there has been a recent rise in anti-church views. Boniecki is the former editor of the respected Catholic weekly, Tygodnik Powszechny.
In another issue tied to the storm over the place of religion in public life, the country's leading pro-choice activist, Wanda Nowicka, faced a struggle on Tuesday to win election as a deputy speaker of parliament.
Nowicka, who also belongs to Palikot's Movement, failed to win that position in a first round, with many lawmakers objecting due to their Catholic, anti-abortion views. She eventually prevailed in a second round of voting.