Europe: Italian schools will keep their crucifixes

Source: FSSPX News

The Holy See, in a communiqué published on the afternoon of March 18, noted its “satisfaction” shortly after the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).  The judges of the Grande Chambre voted 15 to 2 that the presence of crucifixes in the classrooms of Italian public schools did not violate the right to instruction:  “the choice to place crucifixes in classrooms depends in principle on the ‘margin of appreciation’ [latitude allowed to individual countries in interpreting and applying the European Convention on Human Rights], especially given the absence of a European consensus.  This latitude, however, goes hand in hand with supervision by the Court, which is responsible for making sure that this choice is not the result of a form of indoctrination.”

Along with the Bulgarian judge Zdravka Kalaydjieva, the Swiss judge Giorgio Malinverni expressed another point of view in his dissenting opinion.  According to him, the Convention on Human Rights demands the strict neutrality of the State, not only in academic curricula, but also in the school environment.  The State therefore must not impose on pupils religious symbols that they do not recognize.

For its part, the Vatican described the ruling handed down in Strasbourg as “historic”, reversing a decision of a lower court which had condemned Italy in November 2009.  Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Press Office of the Holy See, thus noted the “satisfaction” of the Vatican, less than two hours after the ruling was announced.  “This is a particularly pleasing and historic ruling,” he explained.  Indeed, this judgment “reverses a unanimous initial ruling, against which Italy had appealed with the support of an unprecedented number of member States and the approval of NGO’s [non-governmental organizations] expressing vast popular sympathy.”

“The Court therefore affirms that displaying the crucifix is not indoctrination, but rather an expression of the cultural and religious identity of traditionally Christian countries,” the Vatican spokesman said in a self-congratulatory way.  According to Fr. Lombardi, this ruling also recognizes “at an international juridical level that is particularly authoritative, that the culture of human rights is not necessarily incompatible with the religious foundations of European civilization, to which Christianity has made an essential contribution.”

The Jesuit also considered that this ruling “effectively” contributed toward “reestablishing confidence in the ECHR” in the eyes of Europeans who were “convinced and aware of the defining role of Christian values in their own history, but also in the building of the one Europe, as well as in its culture of law and freedom.”

For his part, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, had declared it undeniable that “the Christian presence as a foundational element” was “an objective datum” in “Western civilization over the centuries”.  For the crucifix is “a sign of civilization; even though one may not recognize it from a theological perspective, it is one of the great symbols of the West.”  The prelate had said that he is convinced that “from a cultural perspective, Europe is fundamentally Christian.”

In favoring “the way of subtraction”, he said with regret, “one ends up truncating humanity, which expresses its true identity through symbols.”  And he warned, “the idea of having a blank wall so as not to condition [minds] will lead to a cultural void, to weakness, to fragility.”

In November 2009, in a case brought by the mother of an Italian family, the ECHR had considered the presence of crucifixes in Italian classrooms “contrary to the right of parents to educate their children according to their convictions” and “to the right of children to freedom of religion”.  Italy then had appealed that ruling, considering among other things that, in addition to being a Christian symbol, the crucifix was a “historico-cultural” object having an “identifying value” for the Italian people, in keeping with the Constitution of the country.  (Sources : apic/imedia/cedh/VIS – DICI no. 233 dated April 16, 2011)