The German state of Bavaria is reportedly requiring the display of Christian crosses at the entrances of all public buildings to reflect the state's "cultural identity and Christian-western influence."
Bavarian Minister-President Markus Söder made the declaration on Tuesday, saying the cross should not be seen as a religious symbol, but rather a "commitment to Bavarian identity" and "cultural imprint."
"The cross is not a sign of religion. This is not a violation of the principle of neutrality," Söder said after a cabinet meeting, as reported by The Local.
According to The Independent, the state already requires all public schools and courtrooms to display crosses.
The order was approved by the cabinet and is set to take effect on June 1. The mandate, however, would not apply to municipal and federal government buildings in the state.
Söder's declaration was hailed by the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is known for its anti-Muslim campaigns.
The Christian Social Union (CSU), the ruling party in Bavaria, is facing a tough challenge from the AfD in the elections in October.
The AfD had risen in popularity after Bavaria was targeted in several attacks, some of which were carried out by Muslim migrants. In the last election, the support for AfD reportedly increased by 12 percent in the region.
Other parties saw the new mandate as a political maneuver by the CSU in an attempt to avoid losing its majority in the regional parliament.
"Instead of nailing crucifixes to the walls of the authorities, it would do more justice to Christian responsibility to show mercy and charity in everyday political life," Bavaria's state chair Sigi Hagl of the Green party said as reported by The Local.
Hagl's sentiment was echoed by other party leaders such as Free Democrat (FDP) leader Christian Lindner, who said: "The way Markus Söder and the CSU permanently instrumentalize religions for party politics is reminiscent of (Turkish President) Erdogan. The Basic Law has no denomination!"
Jan Korte, leader of the Left party's parliamentary group in the federal parliament, described Söder's mandate as "clumsiest election campaign," adding that it was an "exploitation of religion for personal reasons."
After the cabinet meeting, Söder immediately hung a cross in the entrance of the Bavarian State Chancellery. He stressed that the display should be seen as a representation of elemental values such as charity, human dignity and tolerance.
The Minister-President, however, noted that the cross that he had just displayed had been given to him by former Munich Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, adding that it was also consecrated by the cardinal.