June 29th, 2010
03:57 PM ET

Italy fights for crucifixes in classrooms

Editor's Note: Click here for an update on this story

Italy will fight Wednesday against a European court ruling that crucifixes in classrooms violate students' right to freedom of religion.

The European Court of Human Rights found unanimously last November that the display of a particular religious symbol - such as the Christian cross - in a classroom "restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions, and the right of children to believe or not to believe."

But the court agreed in January to hear Italy's appeal. Ten other European governments, dozens of European lawmakers and half a dozen non-governmental organizations have also gotten involved in the appeal.

The original case was brought by an Italian woman, Soile Lautsi, who objected to the crucifixes on the walls in her two sons' classrooms.

She fought her way through the Italian legal system starting in 2001, arguing that she wanted to raise her children as secular, according to court documents.

Italian courts ruled earlier that the cross was a symbol of Italy's history and culture, prompting Lautsi to take her case to the European court in Strasbourg, France.

It awarded her 5,000 euros ($7,400) in damages in November.

The court does not have the power to force Italy to take down the representations of Jesus on the cross, but if its ruling stands and Italy does not comply, the door would be open for others to sue on the same grounds, court spokesman Stefano Piedimonte told CNN.

Leading Catholic figures expressed astonishment and anger at the ruling last year. The Italian Conference of Bishops called it "cause for bitterness and many perplexities."

"It does not take into account the fact that in Italy the display of the crucifix in public places is in line with the recognition of the principles of the Catholicism as 'part of the historical patrimony of the Italian people,' as stated in the Vatican/Italy agreement of 1984," the bishops said in a written statement.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re told the leading Italian daily La Repubblica he could not understand it, and that no one with common sense could have expected it.

"When I think that we are talking about a symbol, the crucifix, an image that cannot but be the emblem of a universally shared humanity, I not only feel

disappointed but also sadness and grief," he said.

"The crucifix is the sign of a God that loves man to the point of giving up his life for him. It is a God that teaches us to learn to love, to pay attention to each man ... and to respect the others, even those who belong to a different culture or religion.

"How could someone not share such a symbol?"

Seventeen judges will hear the appeal Wednesday and will issue a ruling at a later date.

The governments of Russia, Greece, Armenia, Romania, Lithuania, Malta, San Marino, Bulgaria, Monaco and Cyprus are also involved in the appeal, the court said.

The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Catholic Church • Education

soundoff (845 Responses)
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  3. John

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    August 9, 2010 at 3:03 am |
  4. steve

    Just curios. Does the Itailian government allow for all religions to display their symbols in the classroom? I think not. Why is it Catholics insist on forcing there religion on every individual. The classroom is not a place for preaching religion.

    July 6, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  5. That texas guy

    First, The bible states any one attempting to worship God to do so with out idols("from what is in the heaven or on the earth")! Second people wear this THING and believe in this THING yet have no respect for what it stands for. EVERY ONE HERE SHOULD LOOK UP " crucifixes" AND STUDY UP ON SOMETHING CALLED A STAKE! hint hint people where not hung on crosses.... they were hung on stakes(READ HISTORY BEFORE MAKING STUPID COMMENTS)! jeez the world is none thing but a mindless mob of followers!! lol

    July 6, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  6. Mike

    I am very deep in my Christian faith. I, however, feel that school is for learning to read, write, add, etc and that church (or similar) is for learning your religion. If one individual wants to express their religious views, then no one should deny that person of that right. If another person wants to not believe then no one should deny them of that right as well. If I choose to take to school a religious symbol, then it's because I want to, not to attempt to influence another.

    So to comment on the post by SPQR1. No religion should ASSIMILATE anyone. God gave humans the ability to choose, i.e. free will. People have the right to choose for themselves. If you believe, then believe. Allow everyone else to make choices for themselves.

    July 6, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  7. Jack

    All western civilization is based on the fact that at key points in history the people that believed in the Cross triumphed over the people that believed in the Koran or Marxism or the Swaztika – secularism is an illusion that creates a vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum – and something evil is always there to fill it – I salute the brave italian catholics fighting for Christ.

    July 6, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  8. Roberto

    OBSERVATION: Let's see now – if Christ was killed with a hangman's rope would christians wear hangman's noose? It's a pretty sick symbol to remember your creator by. If I was the creator – I'd wonder about the humans I created – it seems obvious they missed the point of the whole visit to planet. Such dogma continues its spread like a cancer of distruction spreading across the earth while the message of enlightenment is swept away like a cloud of insanity.

    July 5, 2010 at 10:23 pm |
  9. Ken

    In a world where there are agnostics, athesists, satanists, catholics, muslims,.....ad nauseum.......then to take each of their monies in the form of taxes and then only display one of those religious symbol in a place where all children of all faiths are educated is a slap to face of any fair minded individual. The fair solution is the one of our founders came up with....to separate church and state. To the ones who say the US was founded as a christian nation....do some reading.

    July 5, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
  10. gginsandiego

    Do you really want your young children looking at a dead guy hanging on a cross on a daily basis??? if you really want that, then do it in your own home not in our schools, offices, or public buildings. Frankly, I can instill values in my children without scaring them with a dead guy nailed up on a cross.

    July 5, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
  11. James

    In God I trust and believe.

    July 5, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
  12. Bill in Burlington

    "displaying a cross or crucifix is not imposing ones beliefs on another" It sure is, and by doing it in a school you're telling the kids from families who don't believe that "we're smarter then you, we're trying to educate you, you must be wrong," and by putting it in government buildings says the government supports THAT religion.
    If it didn't matter that it's in a school... TAKE IT DOWN... it doesn't matter.

    July 5, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
    • SPQR1



      July 6, 2010 at 10:49 am |
    • dalis

      @ SPQR1 Finalmente, qualcuno ha fatto una risposta in Italiano. L'Italia ha sempre avuto quelli che chiami stranieri – gli Ebrei, gli Zingari, i Turchi, gli Africani – a volte piu' lungo che l'Italia e' un paese e talvolta piu' di cristianesimo stesso. Come mai usi il crocefisso come un campo di battaglia per la tua causa xenofobo? Hai sputato su Gesu' e il suo atto d'amore che il crocifisso significa. In questo modo, si puo' vincere l'Italia per il cattolicesimo e perdere la salvezza eterna nel processo. Vergogna! Vergogna!

      July 6, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  13. Bill in Burlington

    "an image that cannot but be the emblem of a universally shared humanity..." Obviously this guy doesn't get it... at all. To many of us, it's a symbol of a group of people who forced their beliefs on others on threat of death for a thousand years. Murdering millions in Crusades, Reformations and Inquisitions and wars... And to others it a terrible device of torture and death. And how Christians see Jesus fast tracking to Heaven is a terrible thing... is beyond me. Isn't Heaven supposed to be much better place then here? Why would he want to be HERE instead of in Paradise? What sacrifice?

    July 5, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
  14. Justin

    You are all a bunch of religous nuts. Im all for you being able worship whoever or whatever you want, but why do you feel the need to push it on everyone else. As long as you go to heaven what do you care, do you want all the non-believers there just because you maybe were able to change their mind? A cross in a classroom, unless a catholic classroom, is not right. Do you want the Coran in classrooms? Do you want manoras in the classrooms? No you dont, and thats because you think you are right and no one else is, which is BS. You have faith and that is fine, but faith is not fact, and you cannot force faith on people so STOP TRYING. You are the reason for the falling numbers in the church, the world is changing and people are believing the same BS they were 20+ years ago. All you are doing is imposing yourself upon people and people dont like that, so cut it out.

    July 5, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  15. Beth Boyle

    The new world order is here. The secularists are persecuting the faithful.

    July 5, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
    • ThinkRationally

      Hyperbole much? Italy can do what it wants as a sovereign nation, but I have to take issue with over-the-top, alarmist comments like yours. Not displaying a cross in public schools is persecution? Maybe if someone forced you to remove your symbol and replace it with theirs I’d agree, but that’s not the case. What persecution are you talking about? Do you mean like burning witches and heretics? Do you mean converting native peoples by removing their children and forcing them into schools that indoctrinate them with a new faith? I guess the definition of “persecution” depends on whether you’re on the receiving end or the giving end, huh?

      The call for separation of church and state is NOT persecution. It is simply that a clear line needs to be drawn between the two. This sometimes results in seemingly innocent things changing, it’s true. I’m more concerned with the larger issues that affect law and policy. I would not want, for example, birth control to be banned because some feel that it goes against their religious beliefs, and I would fight against such stupidity. This is also generally in public/government spaces—you can fill your house or church with all the symbols you like.

      Crying “persecution” over minor things, which are really equalizers in any case, makes you sound overly sensitive or overly dramatic or both. The whole “new world order” bit is silly enough not to bother addressing, being nothing more than a melodramatic cliché when applied to this situation.

      July 6, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  16. JohnVA

    I went to Catholic schools through high school and there we expected to see all manner of signs of our religion, to include crucifixes. However, in a secular setting that's just inappropriate. I don't know anything about the laws in Italy but if they say a crucifix is OK then they need to OK all other genuine religious symbols.

    July 5, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  17. IgnatiusAMDG

    Interesting. In place of the cross the pagans in Italy want empty space. Sure, raise the kids on the moral relativism Europe is loving more and more. Abortions will continue to increase, materialism will be held as a God, and the nation will lose its soul.

    July 4, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  18. non-religious (highly spiritual)

    I do not believe viewing a man laying in agony on a cross is something one should witness unless they choose to. We have enough violence and misery in this world on a daily bases. I should not be forced to see this in a public place. That is why, here in America we have a separation of church and state. I can choose a religion that makes me feel good and not constantly remind me of the bad. I choose spiritual beliefs from all walks of religion because there is no one religion that is 100% accurate. If you are going to allow a cross in a public place, alongside it should be a pentagram, a statue of Buddha, the sun, the moon, and maybe even a cat for the ones who follow the ways of the Egyptians. Yes Italians need faith but, not one that someone a long time ago decided sounds good to them. That is like me telling you, you should not like vanilla ice cream or any other flavor because I like coffee and since I am in charge you have to like it or I will kill you. This it what has occurred for many centuries by many religions not just Christianity!

    July 4, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
    • JohnVA

      That's an interesting perspective. I've been a Catholic all my life and I've never looked at the crucifix and thought violence". I see forgiveness and resurrection. Go figure!

      To be sure, it was cruel and unusual punishment.

      July 5, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.