A Note From Our Editor: Crucifixes In Italy -- By: John Warwick Montgomery
A Note From Our Editor: Crucifixes In Italy
On 3 November 2009, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg dropped a political/religious bombshell. In Lautsi v. Italy, Case No. 30814/06, the Court ruled that the Italian law requiring the display of crucifixes in public school classrooms throughout the country was incompatible with Article 9 (freedom of religion) and of Protocol 1, Article 2 (parental rights in the education of their children) of the European Convention [Treaty] of Human Rights.
To say that the decision has created a flap would be a vast understatement. Politicians, churchmen--and the Pope--have been outraged. Since the Court’s decision has been published only in French, and is therefore inaccessible to most of our readers, we shall comment briefly on it. Its relevance goes far beyond the boot of Italy.
The Italian crucifix law originated in 1860, and crucifixes have been a fixture in Italy’s public school classrooms ever since. But a Finnish woman, one Soile Lautsi, a non-believer married to an Italian, objected to the fact that her two children were subjected to this religious symbol. She sued, and her case went through the Italian courts without success. Having “exhausted domestic [i.e., national] remedies,” she took the case to Strasbourg, and the Court agreed with her. In immediate reaction to the decision, the Italian foreign minister declared: “This is a death blow for a Europe of values and rights.” The Vatican questioned the right of the European Court to interfere in a central matter of Italian belief and practice, calling the ruling “wrong and myopic.”
The Italian government’s lawyers had argued that the crucifix, as a national symbol, should not be removed from classrooms since it simply reflected the fact that Europe in general and Italy in particular have been deeply influenced by the tradition represented by the crucifix. So what was the Court’s rationale for barring the crucifix?
First, the Court noted that in 1948, when Italy adopted its present republican constitution, it explicitly separated the state from the Catholic Church; and in 2000 the Italian Constitutional Court interpreted this as meaning that the state had to remain “equidistant and impartial” in relation to all religious and philosophical beliefs held by the citizenry. Secondly, the European Court of Human Rights, whilst agreeing that the crucifix is a multifaceted symbol, pointed out the obvious: that its predominant reference is religious, and specifically Christian. Therefore to display it in public school classrooms is to give a special, privileged position to one particular religion. Finally, the Court observed that school children are especially impressionable--vulnerable to influence, owing to their youth and inexperience....
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