Friday, March 18, 2011

Court rules: Christendom can keep its crucifixes

VATICAN CITY (AFP) — The Vatican on Friday welcomed as "historic" a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that said displaying crucifixes in schools in Italy did not breach the rights of non-Catholics. The Russian, Ukrainian, and Greek Churches were also vocally in opposition to the proposed crucifix ban; labeling it "Christianophobia." The European Court of Human Rights ruling is available here (PDF).

"It is an important and historic ruling," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement, adding that the decision "has been welcomed with satisfaction by the Holy See."

The European Court of Human Rights ruled earlier that displaying crucifixes in schools in Italy did not breach the rights of non-Catholic families, overturning a previous decision.

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini also welcomed the ruling on behalf of the government in Rome, saying: "Today Europe's popular sentiment won out."

The Strasbourg-based court initially ruled in November 2009 that displaying crucifixes in schools across Italy breached the rights of non-Catholics, drawing howls of anger from Church and political leaders in the staunchly Roman Catholic country.

In its ruling passed by 15 votes to two, the court said that "while the crucifix was above all a religious symbol, there was no evidence before the court that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils".
The Vatican spokesman said the court had recognised "that the exhibition of the crucifix is not indoctrination but the expression of the cultural and religious identity of countries of a Christian tradition."

It also recognised "that the culture of human rights must not be inconsistent with the religious fundamentals of a European civilisation in which Christianity has made an essential contribution," said Lombardi.

He said the ruling showed that "each country is guaranteed a margin of appreciation in the value of religious symbols in its own cultural history and its own national identity."

The case was brought by Italian mother Soile Lautsi, whose two children attended a state school near Venice.

She was unhappy crucifixes were present in every classroom and complained to the school.

After education chiefs refused to remove the crosses, she spent several years fighting the decision through the Italian courts before taking the case to the Strasbourg court.

In November 2009, the court had ruled that displaying the cross was contrary to the right of parents to educate their children in line with their convictions and to "the right of children to freedom of religion and thought."

But on appeal the judges voted overwhelmingly that "states enjoyed a margin of appreciation in their efforts to reconcile the exercise of the functions they assumed in relation to education and teaching, with respect for the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

"The Court therefore had a duty in principle to respect the states? decisions in those matters, including the place they accorded to religion, provided that those decisions did not lead to a form of indoctrination," it said.

The court said there was nothing to suggest that the authorities were intolerant of pupils who believed in other religions, were non-believers or who held non-religious philosophical convictions.

In addition, the applicants had not asserted that the presence of the crucifix in classrooms had encouraged the development of teaching practices with a proselytising tendency.

Catholicism has not been the state religion in Italy since 1984 but a decree dating from the 1930s Fascist area requiring the presence of a crucifix in schools was never revoked.

Staunchly Catholic Lithuania which had joined the case as a third party hailed the European court ruling.

Justice Minister Remigijus Simasius said it means "that the display of crucifixes in public places is not treated as a human rights breach in itself.

"I think it is welcome. It does not mean that crucifixes must appear in places where they had not been before. It is a personal issue, an issue for communities and a political issue in some cases," Simasius said.


  1. "The EU ruling is available here (PDF)."

    Minor correction but the ECHR is an institution of the Council of Europe, not the EU. The former even includes Russia and Turkey.

  2. Thanks for the heads-up. I've made the update.