Of religious symbols in public places

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that crucifixes in state classrooms did not infringe on the right of a woman who sought to give her children a secular education, overturning its original decision on appeal.

The case was brought by Soile Lautsi, an Italian woman of Finnish descent whose sons Dataico and Sami Albertin attended a state school in Abano Terme, to the west of Venice. A crucifix was fixed to the wall of their classroom, as is typically the case in Italian state schools. 

The ECHR – the Court of the Council of Europe – had agreed, back in 2009, with Ms Lautsi’s argument that the crucifix infringed on her rights. The Court had said that the presence of the crucifix “could be encouraging for religious pupils, but also disturbing for pupils who practised other religions or were atheists, particularly if they belonged to religious minorities.”

The ruling sparked outrage in Italy and it appealed together with Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, Romania, Russia and San Marino.

Intervening on these countries’ behalf was American professor Joseph Weiler, who said that the countries supported 2 of the 3 principles mentioned by the Court – the need for freedom of and from religion and the need for education in favour of tolerance and pluralism. However, they strongly disagreed with the third point – neutrality on religious matters.

The professor argued that a strict interpretation would force the UK to remove pictures of its queen from classrooms, since she was also the head of the Church of England. He also noted that religious leaders served in the House of Lords, and that the country’s anthem – God Save the Queen – was a prayer to God, and that these too would be violations.

He compared this to France, whose concept of “laicité” meant that religion was a strictly private matter. “France with a crucifix on the wall is not France. Italy without a crucifix on the wall is not Italy,” Prof. Weiler, who is himself Jewish, argued.

The Court, which began its deliberations in private last June, ruled that while the crucifix was a religious symbol, there was no evidence that its display on classroom walls had an influence on pupils.

There was no evidence of religious indoctrination in Italian state schools; the school environment was one opened to other religions.

Therefore, the Court ruled, Ms Lautsi and her children’s rights had not been breached.

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ said the court also recognized that each country should be granted “a margin of judgment concerning the value of religious symbols in its own cultural history and national identity, including where the symbols are displayed.”

Common sense won, thank God for small mercies.

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One Response to Of religious symbols in public places

  1. Pingback: Good News for Catholics, or is it?! « YOU DECIDE

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