The Belgian branches of the Red Cross have been ordered to remove crucifixes from the walls of their offices in an apparent attempt to make the international aid organization more secular.
André Rouffart, president of the Red Cross in Verviers, revealed that all 28 branches have been ordered by the Provincial Committee of the Red Cross in Liège to remove the Christian symbol from its offices to "respect the principles of the Red Cross," Breitbart News reported, citing 7sur7.
The decision to remove the crucifixes has drawn criticism from volunteers and other members, according to Rouffart.
"Let things be as they are. We said Christmas holidays, now winter holidays. The Christmas market in Brussels has become the Winter Pleasures," one aid worker reportedly said.
"For a certain part of the population — because of the Muslims — the crosses were removed in the Red Cross houses and, more particularly, in that of Verviers," the volunteer went on to say.
Rouffart, however, attempted to downplay the issue by saying, "I think it's a storm in a teacup."
The Red Cross, founded in the 19th century by Jean-Henry Dunant, is a "neutral" organization in a sense that it does not take sides in conflict and does not engage at any time in political, racial, religious or ideological controversies.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies stresses that it provides aid to vulnerable people "without discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions."
The organization's symbol, the red cross on a white background, is an inverse of the Swiss flag (white on red), which has been said to originate to the time of Christian Emperor Charlemagne.
In Muslim countries, the aid organization uses a red crescent on a white background because the traditional red cross is considered offensive by many Muslims.
In other parts of Europe, Christians have been pushing back against the attempt to remove crosses from public places.
About 350 people recently participated in a protest in the French commune of Ploermel after a French court ruled in October that a giant cross atop a statue of Pope John Paul II should be removed because it violated church-state separation laws.
The protesters, organizing under the banner of "Don't touch my cross," reportedly held up signs such as "Stop Christianophobia" in French.
Beata Szydło, prime minister of Poland, where the late pope was from, had offered to take the statue to "save it from censorship."
She denounced the "dictates of political correctness" and the "secularization of the state," which she says is promoting "values which are alien to our culture, which leads to terrorizing Europeans in their everyday life."