European Court bans crucifix from Italian classrooms

The European Court of Human Rights  yesterday ruled that  crucifixes should be removed from Italian classrooms.

The case was brought to the European Court  by Soile Lautsi, an Italian woman, after the courts in Italy had thrown out her case in a legal wrangle which began in 2001. Ms Lautsi  originally launched the action eight years ago when her children, Dataico and Sami Albertin, aged 11 and 13,  were attending a state school in Abano Terme near Venice, where crucifixes were on display in classrooms.

Using the precedent of a 2000 court ruling, which found crucifixes in polling stations were against the principle of secularism of the state, she said putting a  crucifix in a classroom restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions.
Displaying crucifixes also restricted the "right of children to believe or not to believe" and could be "disturbing for students" from other religions and ethnic minorities.

The European Court,  based in Strasbourg,  agreed with this view and ruled in her favour, ordering the Italian government to pay her $7,390.

The Holy See Press Office director, Father Federico Lombardi, said:  "The ruling of the European Court was received in the Vatican with shock and sadness."

It was "wrong and myopic" to try to exclude a symbol of charity from education, he added. Religion offered a vital contribution to the moral formation of people.

Describing the rulling as "abhorrent", Rocco Buttiglione, a former culture minister. said:  "It must be rejected with firmness. Italy has its culture, its traditions and its history. Those who come among us must understand and accept this culture and this history."

Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, said the court's decision had dealt a "mortal blow to a Europe of values and rights," adding it was a bad precedent for other countries.

In a statement, Italian Catholic Action said: “the Crucifix has always been a sign of God’s love, unity and welcoming for all humanity. It is sad that it might be considered as a sign of division, of exclusion or limitation of freedoms: this is not it; and it is not in the common feeling of our people”. 

The Italian government has said it intends to appeal the ruling.

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