German Jews are silent on ban of crucifixes in schools

BERLIN — The German Jewish community has been unusually silent about a recent ruling that prevents public schools from hanging crosses in the classroom.

The normally outspoken Ignatz Bubis, executive director of the Central Council for Jews in Germany, has not commented publicly on the ruling, which has been a source of controversy since the ruling was issued two weeks ago.

A federal court ruled that the display of crucifixes in public schoolrooms is unconstitutional and that any crosses now hanging must be removed.

The ruling came in response to a complaint made by a couple in Bavaria, Germany's most staunchly Catholic state.

Conservative critics of the court noted that the last time crosses were banned in Germany was under Adolf Hitler.

Both German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Finance Minister Theo Waigel, who heads a party in Bavaria related to Kohl's Christian Democrats, attacked the judges and said the ruling was wrong.

The ruling was supported by politician Johannes Rau, a leading Social Democrat.

An assistant to Bubis said he was on vacation when the ruling was issued and that it was not unusual for the head of the Jewish community to avoid comment on such a topic.

Privately, several members of the Jewish community welcomed the ruling, but they refused to go on record.

A poll published in this week's Der Spiegel newsmagazine found that 47 percent of those questioned felt that the ruling was wrong while 24 percent felt that it was right.

Unlike the United States, Germany does not have a strong tradition of separation of church and state.

People who want to become a member of a church or synagogue here must declare their religious affiliation to the German equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service and pay a church or synagogue tax.

The synagogue tax amounts to about 8 percent of one's gross income.