Italy: Strasbourg European Court Rules against Crucifixes in Schools

Source: FSSPX News

In a judgment dated November 3, the European Court for the Rights of Man, in Strasbourg, considered that the presence of crucifixes in Italian classrooms was against the parents’ right to bring up their children according to their own convictions, and against the children’s right to religious liberty. On its part, the Italian government argued that this presence was natural, the crucifix being not only a religious symbol, but also, as the “flag” of the only Church named in the Constitution, a symbol of the Italian State. But the judges of Strasbourg deemed that the cross could be easily be interpreted by pupils of any age as a religious sign, a sign which may be disturbing for students of other religions or for atheistic children.
Already in 2002, Soile Lautsi, a Finnish-Italian woman, had asked the public school Vittorino da Feltre, in Abano Terme (Padua) attended at the time by her two children, to remove the crucifixes from the classrooms, because they were in opposition to the principle of secularization according to which she wanted to bring up her children. The Italian tribunals ruled against her. But, on November 3, the Court of Strasbourg  declared that the compulsory presence of the symbol of a given religion had “restrained the parents’ right to bring up their children according to their conviction, as well as the children’s right to believe or not,” and it unanimously concluded that article 2 of Protocol 1 (right to instruction) and article 9 of the European Convention of the Rights of man (freedom of thought, of conscience and of religion) had been violated.
“The presence of a crucifies in the classrooms does not signify adhesion to Catholicism, but it is a symbol of our tradition,” declared Mariastella Gelmini, Italian Minister for Education to news agency Ansa. “The history of Italy is also transmitted through symbols: by suppressing them, we suppress a part of ourselves. In our country, no one wants to impose the Catholic religion.” And she added that “no one, and even less so an ideological European court, will manage to suppress our identity. Besides, our Constitution precisely recognizes a particular value to the Catholic religion.”
The Italian government has already announced that it would lodge an appeal against the decision of the Court of Strasbourg, using as intermediary Judge Nicolas Lettieri, who defends the Italian State before the European Court of the Rights of man. If the appeal were rejected, the decision would become final within three months. It would then be up to the Committee of the ministers of the European Council to decide, within six months, what actions the Italian government should undertake not to cause more violations of the law by the presence of crucifixes in classrooms.
In a declaration sent to the press and broadcasted both on the airwaves of Radio Vatican and on the first Italian TV channel, Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Press Office of the Holy See, stated: “The decision of the European Court has been received with astonishment and regret at the Vatican. The cross has always been a sign of God’s offer of love, union and welcome of all of mankind. It is unfortunate that it be considered as a sign of division, of exclusion or of limitation of freedom. It is not so, and it is not commonly perceived as such by people here. It is especially serious to want to set aside from the educative world a basic sign of the importance of religious values in Italian history and culture. Religion offers a precious contribution to the moral formation and growth of persons, it is an essential element of our civilization. It is incorrect, and narrow-minded to want to exclude it from the educative field.” For the Vatican, “it is moreover surprising that a European Court intervened so heavily in a matter very deeply linked with the historical, cultural, and spiritual identity of the Italian people. This is not conducive to make us love and share the European project, which, as Italian Catholics we had strongly supported from its beginning. It seems that they want to deny the role of Christianity in the formation of European identity, whereas,  on the contrary, it has been and remains essential.
On the other hand, Domenico Maselli, president of the Federation of the Protestant Churches of Italy indicated, in a press release dated November 4, and quoted by ENI, that he rejoiced over the decision, “for it brings back the idea that religious liberty and the respect for all religions are the foundations of peaceful and civilized Europe.”
When the question was put to him by the press, on November 4, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State of the Holy See, deplored the sentence of the Court of Strasbourg: “The Europe of the 3rd millennium only leaves to us the pumpkins of the recently celebrated feastdays (Halloween, Ed.) and deprives us of our dearest symbols.” “We must seek to preserve the signs of our faith by all means, for the sake of the believers and of the unbelievers,” stated the top-rank prelate, who admitted that he had perceived the “pain of those who feel somewhat betrayed in their roots because they think that the symbol of the cross is a sign of universal love, and not a sign of exclusion but of welcome.” If he explained that the Holy See could not interfere with a sentence of the European Court of the Rights of Man, Cardinal Bertone nevertheless applauded the appeal which Italy intends to lodge. He also asked whether crucifixes were also to be taken out of the streets or even of the works of art.
In its November 5, 2009, The Osservatore Romano, on its part, judged that “the decision of the Court of Strasbourg, while wishing to protect the rights of man, (had) ended up by questioning the roots upon which these rights are based.” — The daily of the Vatican considers that the rights of men are rooted in Christianity and wonders that the fruits fall off their roots. This ingenuity would soon be dispelled if we were to admit once and for all that the Declaration of the rights of man is opposed to the rights of God, that is to any transcendence casting a shadow over the sacrosanct autonomy of modern individuals. Already in 1988, at the Parliament of Strasbourg, John Paul II had solemnly rejected the idea of a Christian State for an ideal defined by the reign of civil liberty in the political realm and by religious liberty in the domain of faith. In this situation, he thought, “faith can only become invigorated by meeting the challenges of unbelief. And atheism can only measure its own limitation when confronted with the challenge faith addresses to it.” This vision of an irenic exchange between faith and atheism remained too theoretical, the Court of Strasbourg has moved on to practical work; they are much more polemical. (DICI n°205 - 11/19/2009– Sources: Imedia/Ansa/Apic/ Osservatore Romano/ENI/Radio Vatican)