March 21, 2011

Italy wins right to display crucifixes in schools

by Jan Harris

Italy has won the right to display crucifixes in school classrooms, and the ruling will also apply to all 47 countries that are members of the Council of Europe.

The right of state schools in Italy to display crucifixes was challenged by Soile Lautsi, a Finnish-born mother of two children who attended a near Venice.

After the school refused to remove the crucifixes she mounted a legal battle, resulting in the European court ruling, in 2009, that the crucifixes should be removed under the European Convention of Human Rights, because they violated the children’s right to secular education and religious freedom.

Following an appeal against the ruling by the Italian government, a higher chamber of the Strasbourg-based court has overturned the earlier decision.

It found 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 ruling has been welcomed by the Vatican, whose spokesman said: the ruling recognises that “human rights must not be placed in opposition to the religious foundations of European civilization.”

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said: “The popular sentiment in Europe has won today.”

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