Once again we see Christianity under attack in Europe. The question is, will the pro-Christianity, anti-Islamic government of Italy, put up with this?
European court: No crucifixes in Italian schools
By ALESSANDRA RIZZO
ROME – Europe's court of human rights said Tuesday the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools violates religious and education freedoms, prompting an angry reaction from the Catholic Church and government officials in Rome.
The ruling could force a review of the use of religious symbols in government-run schools across Europe. Saying the crucifix could be disturbing to non-Christian or atheist pupils, the court rejected arguments by Italy's government that it was a national symbol of culture, history, identity, tolerance and secularism.
The Italian government immediately said it would appeal, with one minister saying the court should be ashamed and a conservative senator calling the ruling "absurd." Italian bishops said they were perplexed by the decision from the Strasbourg-based court.
"The multiple significance of the crucifix, which is not just a religious symbol but a cultural sign, has been either ignored or overlooked," the Italian Bishop's Conference said in a statement.
The court ordered the government to pay a euro5,000 ($7,390) fine to Soile Lautsi, the mother of two children who claimed public schools in her northern Italian town refused eight years ago to remove the Roman Catholic symbols from classrooms.
The seven-judge panel, however, stopped short of ordering Italy to remove the crucifixes, which are common in Italian public schools. The ruling can still be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights' Grand Chamber of 17 judges, whose decisions are binding.
Lautsi, who is of Finnish origins, had maintained that the crucifix violates the secular principles the public schools are supposed to uphold, and the right to offer her children a secular education. She filed her case with the European Court of Human Rights in July 2006, after Italy's Constitutional Court dismissed her complaint. Her efforts to rid public schools of religious symbols in a country that is predominantly Roman Catholic had not been welcomed.
In its ruling, the court said 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." It added that the presence of such symbols could be "disturbing for pupils who practiced other religions or were atheists."
The court said secular, state-run schools must "observe confessional neutrality in the context of public education," where attendance is compulsory.
Lautsi and her husband, Massimo Albertin, said they were satisfied.
"We believe the ruling is a positive signal from Europe to Italy, which seems to increasingly lose its secularism," Albertin was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency from his home in Albano Terme. "The crucifix creates discrimination."
Still, the government maintained the crucifix is a symbol of Italian and European history and tradition
"In our country nobody wants to impose the Catholic religion, let alone with a crucifix," Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini said. But she added that "it is not by eliminating the traditions of individual countries that a united Europe is built."
Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said he wanted to see the ruling and the reasons behind it before commenting.
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