The European Court of Human Rights ruled today that displaying crucifixes in Italian classrooms violates parents’ rights to secular education for their children.
The Strasbourg court found that, “The compulsory display of a symbol of a given confession in premises used by the public authorities … restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions.”
“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,” the court said in a statement, adding the presence of such symbols could be “disturbing for pupils who practiced other religions or were atheists.”
The seven judges ruling on the case added that crucifixes in the classroom also restricted the “right of children to believe or not to believe,” according to the statement quoted by AFP news agency.
The case was brought to the Human Rights Court by Soile Lautsi, a mother of two from Abano Terme, near Padua, on the grounds that her children were being influenced by having to attend a school that had crucifixes in every room.
Ruling that this contradicted the separation of Church and state in Italy the court awarded her 5,000 euros (7,400 dollars) in damages.
The court did not, however, order the Italian authorities to remove the crucifixes, and the Italian Government said that it would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber, according to the ANSA news agency.
The ruling has sparked an uproar throughout the country, with religious leaders and politicians condemning the ruling using words such as “abhorrent,” “offensive,” “pagan,” and “spineless.”
“This is an abhorrent ruling,” said Rocco Buttiglione, a former culture minister.
“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,” he said.
Mariastella Gelmini, the Minister for Education, said that the ruling was “an offence against our traditions.”
“The presence of a crucifix in the classroom does not signify adherence to Roman Catholicism, rather it is a symbol of our tradition,” Gelmini told the ANSA news agency. She pointed out that, “The history of Italy is marked by symbols and if we erase symbols we erase part of ourselves. No one, and certainly not an ideological European court, will succeed in erasing our identity.”
“It is not by eliminating the traditions of individual countries that a united Europe is built,” Gelmini stated.
Mario Baccini, a senator in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government, said the European Court of Human Rights had “gone adrift in paganism,” while Pierferdinando Casini of the opposition Union of Christian Democrats party said the ruling showed that the European Union’s institutions were “spineless” in their failure to acknowledge the continent’s Christian roots.
Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said he wanted to see the ruling and the reasons behind it before commenting, whereas the Italian Bishops Conference said that the verdict was “one sided and ideological,” and “evokes sadness and bewilderment.”