Europe’s Christian Flags

Dean Esmay has an impressive array of European (and one former European colony’s) flags which feature a variant of the Christian cross prominently in their design. He then observes, wryly,

Interestingly, most of these countries have officially established state religions–state churches which receive taxpayer funding and official recognition at government functions. I find myself wondering: how can anyone bear to live in any of these oppressive theocracies? Surely they must all be on the slippery slope toward Taliban-style rule.

As commenter Michael Demmons points out, though, none of those polities currently have state religions in any particularly meaningful sense.

What’s more interesting to me than the “theocracy” red herring is the degree to which the European countries represented by these flags have become secularized. The United States is, by leaps and bounds, more religious than its Western European counterparts. And yet, somehow, we’re also the country where minor nods to our Christian cultural heritage sparks the most bitter fights.

Is there, for example, a huge movement in any of these countries to get the cross off their flag on par with, say, the controversy over Nativity scenes on the public square or the use of Indian mascots by our sports teams?

FILED UNDER: Europe, Religion, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    Or the controversy over the Los Angeles County seal.

  2. Kappiy says:

    I am not sure about the flag issue, but the place of religion in secular democracies is a perennial theme of domestic politics in Europe and in pan-European issues.

    Actually in France last year the right-wing UMP banned students from wearing conspicuous religious paraphenalia in public schools. It garnered a huge controversey.

    There was also significant criticism of the same UMP government’s decision to put the tricolor at half mast after the pope’s death.

  3. Anderson says:

    JJ, I think there’s a cause & effect relationship here. These countries don’t have campaigns to get the crosses off their flags, simply because Christianity is such a minority creed as to not feel threatening to any of the activist-types who would be agitating against a cross on the American flag.

    It’s *because* America is so religious that people feel threatened by Nativity scenes in the public square, rightly or wrongly. In a country where no one really gave a damn, “under God” in the Pledge would raise a shrug at best.

    Notice how little kids feel free to joke about “under God” and similar religious themes, because they take their validity for granted–the opposite situtation from that in Europe, but for the same reasons. It’s our heterogeneous (?) culture re: religion that makes a prayer before a school board meeting turn into a knife fight in the courts.

  4. John Burgess says:

    I think you may need to define “meaningful sense.”

    In many of these states, “official” religions receive tax breaks and/or subsidies that unrecognized religions do not. That can amount to a benefit of millions of dollars annually. Whether you receive it or are refused it, that sort of money rings my “meaningful” bell.

    Take a look at the contortions the Scientologists have gone through in Germany seeking to be officially recognized… it was in the courts for years, but last time I look, that group was still out in the cold, and paying taxes.

  5. McGehee says:

    In many of these states, “official” religions receive tax breaks and/or subsidies that unrecognized religions do not. That can amount to a benefit of millions of dollars annually.

    Which I believe is what “establishment of religion” really means.

    Furthermore, the established churches become dependent on the state subsidy and lose their fervor to spread the Word of God. I think that if American secularists really want to make religion less relevant to the daily lives of the American people, instead of making a federal case out of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, or a Nativity scene in a public park, or the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, what they should be doing is trying to repeal the Establishment Clause.

    Gotta love the irony.