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Victory in Italian Crucifix Case

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In a significant victory for Christian freedoms, a European court has ruled that crucifixes are allowed to remain hanging on the walls of Italy’s classrooms. The ruling came after the original decision to ban crucifixes from classrooms was appealed by the Italian government.

In 2009, a non-Christian mother from Finland won her case against the Italian State, claiming that the practise of having crucifixes on classroom walls breached the human rights of her children. The European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) ruled that the publicly displayed crucifixes conflicted with a child’s right to freedom of religion and a parent’s right to educate their child in accordance with their own convictions.

After the appeal by the Italian government, this decision has now been overturned by the ECHR which in its ruling last week stated that it found no evidence “that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils”. It also said that it was up to each individual European state whether it banned or allowed the public display of such religious symbols in schools.

Reasoning

Reasoning in the judgment affirmed that arguments based on freedom of religion cannot be used to remove religion from the public sphere.

Judge Power said that: "Neutrality requires a pluralist approach on the part of the State, not a secularist one. ... secularism (which was the applicant's preferred belief or world view) was, in itself, one ideology among others. A preference for secularism over alternative world views—whether religious, philosophical or otherwise—is not a neutral option."

Judge Bonnello said that "Freedom of religion is not secularism. Freedom of religion is not the separation of Church and State. Freedom of religion is not religious equidistance – all seductive notions, but of which no one has so far appointed this Court to be the custodian. In Europe, secularism is optional, freedom of religion is not."

The ruling has been hailed as “a sign of common sense, wisdom and freedom” by Cardinal Peter Erdo of the Council of the Bishops Conferences of Europe. He went on to affirm the Christian heritage of Europe and that to consider the public display of crucifixes as being against human rights would be to “deny the very idea of Europe”.

Roger Kiska, of the Alliance Defense Fund, said: “A loss in this case would have meant, in essence, that it would be illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights to have religious symbols in any state institution anywhere in Europe”.

Christian Legal Centre Response

Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, said:

“We welcome the decision of the ECHR in this case.  Itpreserves the right of Italy to continue to display the crucifix in Italian schools and the Court also recognised that it has no right to impose secularism throughout Europe. In the UK, secularism is often seen as neutral, which is completely false. It is a belief system in itself and is often the vehicle used to curb religious freedom and freedom of speech. We hope that Judges in Britain will take notice of the reasoning used in this decision.”

UK Law 

Some Christians in the UK have been denied the right to publicly display the cross as a symbol of their faith. Shirley Chaplin, a nurse in Devon, was told that she had to either hide or remove the cross that she wore around her neck if she wanted to continue working on hospital wards. This policy was upheld when she took her case to an Employment Tribunal. It was claimed that she was not discriminated against on religious grounds, whilst the hospital continued to allow adherents of other religions to wear symbols of their faith, such as headscarves for Muslim women.

Sources:

Times of Malta

Daily Mail

Related Resources:

Christian Concern: Religious Freedom

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