A group of traditionalist Protestants has objected to the use of the European Union emblem on car registration plates in the Netherlands, on the grounds that the circle of 12 golden stars on a blue background symbolises the Roman Catholic veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The National Foundation for the Preservation of the Political Reformed Principles is concerned that the symbol is too close to the 12-star halo surrounding Mary's head in Roman Catholic art.
According to the Vatican newspaper l'Osservatore Romano, the designer of the emblem, Arsene Heitz, said he got the idea from 19th Century reports of apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Paris.
Other politicians say that the symbol dates back to Greek mythology, long before Christianity.
The foundation works to promote Calvinist principles within the Netherlands' oldest party, the Political Reformed Party, which draws much of its support from Christians living in the country's Bible belt.
The "Bijbelgordel" runs from the south west to the north east across the central portion of the Netherlands and contains communities in which the Reformed Christian Church plays a central role, one hostile to the liberal attitudes of mainstream Dutch society towards such issues as euthanasia, abortion and homosexuality.
The belt is a relic of the conquest by Catholic Spain of Flanders and North Brabant, when Protestants were told to leave or convert to Catholicism.
Many moved just across the border, and their successors helped found conservative churches such as the Reformed Congregations, known locally as the "black stockings churches".
Among the belt's towns and villages is Staphorst, where Christian parties including the Political Reformed Party dominate the local council.
Christian observance has been sufficiently strict for swearing to be banned and cash machines not to dispense money on Sundays.
There have also been warnings about potential outbreaks of measles in the Bible belt, because of parents' suspicions about state vaccination programmes.
But the Dutch government seems unwilling to compromise in the question of regulations applying to number-plates.
Undaunted, the foundation's chairman, Op 't Hof, is selling stickers bearing the country's lion symbol for motorists to place on top of the EU emblem.
So far this act of defiance has prompted no official response.
______________________________________________________The circle of stars bears a striking similarity to the twelve-star halo of the Virgin Mary seen in Roman Catholic art. The flag's designer, Arsène Heitz, has acknowledged that the Book of Revelation (which is where the twelve-star halo of the Virgin Mary was first mentioned) helped to inspire him. Revelation 12:1 is cited to explain the symbolism: "A great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (a crown of stars can be interpreted as a "Crown of Immortality"). It has been noted that the date the flag was adopted, 8 December 1955, coincided with the Catholic Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a feast decreed in 1854 by Pope Pius IX. Blessing Madonna, stained glass window in Strasbourg Cathedral featuring the twelve stars.
Others have traced the origin of the flag of Europe to the time of the Second World War. Paul Lévy, a Belgian of Jewish descent, vowed that he if he should survive the war, he would convert to Christianity. He duly survived and became a Catholic. When the Council of Europe was established, Lévy became its Chief of its Department of Culture. In 1952, when the idea of a European flag was being discussed, Lévy backed the flag of the Pan Europe Movement. However, the cross element in its design was rejected by the Socialists and Turks as too Christian. It is claimed that one day, Lévy passed a statue of the Virgin Mary with a halo of stars and was struck by the way the stars, reflecting the sun, glowed against the blue of the sky. Lévy later visited Count Benvenuti, a Venetian Christian democrat and then Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and suggested that he should propose twelve golden stars on a blue ground as motif for the flag of Europe. However, the idea of the flag's design came from Arsène Heitz, not Lévy, and Lévy has stated that he was only informed of the connection to the Book of Revelation after it was chosen. Official authorities of the European Union disregard the biblical interpretation as myth.
Despite the formal rejection of biblical references, on 21 October 1956 the Council of Europe presented the city of Strasbourg, its official seat, with a stained glass window for Strasbourg Cathedral by the Parisian master Max Ingrand. It shows a blessing Madonna underneath a circle of 12 stars on dark blue ground. The overall design of the Madonna is inspired by the banner of the cathedral's Congrégation Mariale des Hommes, and the twelve stars are found on the statue venerated by this congregation inside the cathedral (twelve is also the number of members of the congregation's council).