WARSAW, Nov 9 (Reuters) - A new ultra-liberal party requested on Wednesday the removal of a cross from the Polish parliament, saying it contravened the country's secular constitution, but conservative lawmakers branded the move an attack on Poles' national identity.
Palikot's Movement, led by former vodka tycoon Janusz Palikot, is the third biggest party in parliament following last month's election. It backs gay rights and abortion and wants to reduce the clout of the Roman Catholic Church.
"In our view, there is no doubt that the cross should not hang in the Sejm (lower house)," Roman Kotlinksi, a lawmaker from Palikot's Movement, told a news conference after the party submitted its request to the speaker of parliament.
"The Republic of Poland is a secular state whose public authorities, including the legislature, should remain impartial on religious and philosophical matters," the state PAP news agency quoted the letter as saying.
Poland's main opposition party, the conservative-nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS), submitted a rival request to the speaker on Wednesday demanding that the cross be allowed to remain hanging in the chamber.
"A clash of cultures has broken out in Poland," said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of PiS and a former prime minister.
"This concerns not only questions of faith and religion ... but also of patriotism and national pride ... The defence of religion should be observed in a law-based state."
Palikot's petition is unlikely to succeed as Prime Minister Donald Tusk's ruling liberal-conservative Civic Platform has also responded coolly to the idea of removing the cross.
But the fact that Palikot's party submitted its request just one day after the new parliament reconvened points to turbulent debates ahead between liberals and Catholic traditionalists in parliament over social and moral issues.
The Catholic Church is revered by many Poles for its role in the overthrow of communism two decades ago with the backing of the "Polish pope", John Paul II. But a growing number of young Poles baulk at its influence in politics and daily life. (Reporting by Gareth Jones; editing by Elizabeth Piper)