Friday, March 18, 2011
European court allows crucifix in public schools
The case was brought by a Finnish-born woman living in Italy who objected to the crucifixes in her children's classrooms, arguing they violated the secular principles public schools are supposed to uphold. The debate divided Europe's traditional Catholic and Orthodox countries and their more secular neighbours that observe a strict separation between church and state.
Initially, the Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Human Rights sided with the mother. Italy appealed, supported by more than a dozen countries including the late Pope John Paul II's predominantly Catholic Poland, and won.
Friday's reversal has implications in 47 countries, opening the way for Europeans who want religious symbols in classrooms to petition their governments to allow them.
It was not immediately clear how the ruling would affect France, a traditionally Catholic country with a strictly secular state that does not allow crucifixes or other religious symbols in public schools, including the Muslim headscarf.
The court's Grand Chamber said Italy has done nothing wrong and it found no evidence the display of such a symbol on classroom walls "might have an influence on pupils."
"The popular sentiment in Europe has won today," said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
The Vatican, which had unsuccessfully sought include mention of Christianity's role in Europe in a European constitution, hailed what it called a "historic" decision.
It said the court recognized that crucifixes weren't a form of indoctrination but rather "an expression of the cultural and religious identity of traditionally Christian countries."
Spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi 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."
The ruling overturned a decision the court had reached in November 2009 in which it said the crucifix could be disturbing to non-Christian or atheist pupils.
The case was brought by Soile Lautsi, a Finnish-born mother who said she was shocked by the sight of crucifixes above the blackboard in her children's public school in northern Italy.
Massimo Albertin, Lautsi's husband, said Friday the family was disappointed and "disillusioned" by the ruling, saying it showed that the court didn't respect the principles on which Italian society is built.
at 5:16 PM