Italy unites to condemn crucifix ruling

Italian political leaders of left and right united on Wednesday to condemn a European court ruling that crucifixes displayed in schools are a breach of human rights.

The Italian government, the Vatican and Catholic right wing parties quickly attacked the European Court of Human Rights ruling in response to a case brought by an Italian mother opposed to the hanging of crucifixes on classroom walls.

But even Pierluigi Bersani, head of the main left wing opposition Democratic Party, joined the assault on Wednesday, saying “common sense has become a victim of the law”. The liberal Italy of Values party said the ruling was “an erroneous response”.

The Strasbourg court found that the right of parents to educate their children according to their own beliefs, and childrens’ right to freedom of religion, were breached by the crucifix in classrooms.

Crucifixes in classrooms could also be “disturbing for pupils” from other religions and ethnic minorities, the court found, saying that there was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Italian bishops’ conference denounced the court as “partial and ideological”. Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi said the Church reacted “with astonishment and regret”.

“The crucifix has always been a sign of God’s love, unity and hospitality to all humanity. It is unpleasant that it is considered a sign of division, exclusion or a restriction of freedom,” he said.

Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini said the cross was part of Italian tradition.

“No one, and certainly not an ideological European court, will succeed in erasing our identity,” Gelmini said. “The presence of the crucifix in classrooms is not a sign of belief in Catholicism, rather it is a symbol of our tradition.”

The government has said an appeal will be made.

Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolinio, said the ruling aimed to “wipe out our Christian roots”.

The case was brought by Soile Lautsi. Italian judges threw out her case after years of legal wrangling, ruling on more than one occasion the crucifix had become as much a symbol of Italian national identity as of Catholicism.

But the European court ruled in Lautsi’s favour on Tuesday and awarded her €5 000.

Lautsi launched the action eight years ago to defend her children, Dataico and Sami Albertin, aged 11 and 13, who went to a state school in Abano Terme near Venice.

Taking the case up to Italy’s Constitutional Court and council of state, she used the example of a 2000 court ruling which found crucifixes in polling stations against the principle of secularism of the state.

The Corriere della Sera newspaper said the Strasbourg court had carried out “a little miracle, creating almost national unity to defend the symbol of Christianism”.

Commentator Massimo Franco wrote in the newspaper that the outrage in Italy went beyond “political and even religious membership” but warned that the court could also boost more fundamentalist tendencies inside the Roman Catholic Church.

But La Stampa newspaper said that “if a religion is strong, if it has faith in its ability to create faith, then it does not need special protection”.

Some right wing politicians have said that Italy’s Christian roots should be enshrined in the country’s Constitution.—AFP

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