Wednesday, November 04, 2009

European Court Says Crucifixes In Italian Classrooms Violate Human Rights Convention

In Lautsi v. Italy, (ECHR, Nov. 3 2009) [judgment in French], the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that crucifixes in public school classrooms in Italy violate the European Convention on Human Rights' protections of thought, conscience and religion (Art. 9) and the right of parents to educate their children according to their convictions (Protocol 1, Art. 2). The Court's press release on the decision recounts that the challenge was brought by a mother who wished to raise her children as secularists. It summarizes the court's conclusions:

The presence of the crucifix ... could easily be interpreted by pupils of all ages as a religious sign and they would feel that they were being educated in a school environment bearing the stamp of a given religion. This 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 freedom not to believe in any religion (inherent in the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Convention) ... extended to practices and symbols which expressed a belief, a religion or atheism.... The State ... was required to observe confessional neutrality in the context of public education, where attending classes was compulsory irrespective of religion, and where the aim should be to foster critical thinking in pupils.
The court awarded damages of 5000 Euros to plaintiff. According to Zenit yesterday, the Italian Bishops Conference issued a statement saying that the decision:
ignores or neglects the multiple meaning of the crucifix, which not only is a religious symbol, but also a cultural sign. It does not take into account the fact that, in reality, in the Italian experience, the display of the crucifix in public places is in harmony with the recognition of the principles of Catholicism as part of the historical patrimony of the Italian people, confirmed by the Concordat of 1984.
AKI reports on the court's decision, giving additional background. [Thanks to Dott. Pasquale Annicchino for the lead.]

UPDATE: According to CNA (Nov. 4) , Italy's Minister of Education, Mariastella Gelmini, rejected the ECHR decision, saying: "Nobody, much less a European court that is steeped in ideology, will be allowed to strip our identity away."

UPDATE 2: The Nov. 7 Christian Post reports that Italy plans to appeal the ruling of the 7-judge panel to the ECHR's 17-judge Grand Chamber.