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)
  1. mel

    In my opinion when we took God out of school it was just the start of a spiraling down fall of society. Poeple with no morals, no respect for authority, you can see that on the tv, in the news everywhere. People might think that this is not what caused it bt it had to start somewhere and it is the kids.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  2. mikeMazzla

    Good to see that the US isnt the only one with crazy religious people who still archaically believe in God.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:55 am |
    • Emmitt Langley

      Spoken like a true Socialist. When you don't have an intelligent argument...hurl insults. Why are you guys so afraid engage in rational dialog...since you claim to be so intellectual. Calling names is not rational, you know.

      Explain to me how you can believe the universe was caused naturally when the observable data clearly shows that:
      1. the universe had a beginning (expansion, proton decay, entropy)
      2. nothing that comes into existence, can contribute to it's own existence (the law of causality)

      Yet you believe that the universe popped into existence even though science says it can't have happened naturally because nature can't have caused itself.

      Yep...I guess if I were in your shoes, I'd resort to name calling too...

      June 30, 2010 at 9:07 am |
  3. James

    Why would anyone be offended if they visited China and saw statues of Budda? Or to a Muslim country and see the Koran in public places? Italy and many nations histories are based on Christianity. No one, no one, restricts you from raising your children a different religion. Why is that so hard to understand? I take the meaning of "freedom of religion" to mean a specific Christian religion such as Catholic or Protestant. It doesn't say "from religion".

    June 30, 2010 at 8:54 am |
  4. Glorifundel

    I am unfamiliar with the laws in Italy, but if they are set up so that government is secular than they have no right to promote religion in the class room.

    It is simple enough to understand that not everyone in the class room will be catholic (even if the vast majority is). Since that is the case, and it is a publicly funded school, public meaning secular and other denominations pay into the system, then you cannot expect someone who is secular or of another denomination to pay for promotion of catholic religious tenants.

    The cross with Jesus nailed to it is clearly a catholic symbol, anyone who says otherwise is being disingenuous. I would think that a catholic would be insulted if someone said the cross was not a religious symbol, just some non-descript object without any inherent religious meaning.

    Would it be ok then to place islamic or jewish symbols in a public school, funded by public money? I think not. Therefore it is not ok to post catholic symbols in a publicly funded environment.

    Put it on your house, if you own a private buisness go crazy, but government should not be in the buisness of promoting any particular sect of religion. Let religions advertise on their own merits and with their own money.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:54 am |
    • Sarcasmo

      I agree with you, but it's scary that Italy gave the power to make this decision over to the rest of Europe instead of choosing to govern its own people. International political unions are a ridiculous idea. Europe should dissolve all of its borders and become one nation if that's the way it's going to be.

      June 30, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  5. mrrealtime

    Putting a symbol of torture in front of children. Makes sense, since the catholic church is pro-child abuse. Religion adds nothing to the world, it only detracts. It uses fear to manipulate people into giving it money. Its truly the most abhorrent thing on the planet.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:53 am |
  6. eldude

    Do people really think (GOD) cares what we put up on our walls. With all the things going on in this world. REALLY? Some plastic figurine that depicts something that might or might not have happened. We should stop beleaving fairytales it's 2010 folks!! You might as well put up little statues of Unicorns, Fairies, and fight over that.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  7. OldSchoolUSA

    I never thought I would live during the self-destruction of mankind, but I am. The Bible is the only thing anyone on this planet ever needs to read. All that is happenning is written. And it is happenning everywhere, not just the USA & Italy, but everywhere. Good luck to all of you who have not found the true light....your going to need it. Actually, you will not need it because where you are going is very well lite in a color of volcanic orange.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  8. SJtR

    liberalism sticks its nose in yet another place its not welcomed

    June 30, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  9. Agnostic but not bitter

    Most of you dont seem to get it. I have read some good arguments on both sides of this issue, yet it appears none of you are going to change your personal beliefs or opinions. So why would you expect a cross on a wall to do that to your children?

    June 30, 2010 at 8:46 am |
    • Danny Boy

      Because they're children and they're impressionable? A jewish kid sitting there looking at a cross everyday thinking...hmmmm....are my parents wrong? Are they lying to me. Reverse it as well....a christian child looking at the star of david everyday.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
    • Winkyb

      @dannyboy please!!! The Star of David is not a contradiction to Christainity or Catholics: the Messiah has come...the prophecy has been fulfilled. Read the New testament the star that led the Magi and followed to Bethlehem was the Star of David.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
  10. aperson

    So, how about we just live work and play in places with white walls, nothing adorning them, so that we have no outside influence at all of anything. Oh, are white walls offensive now too?? So lets all live in a bubble then...

    June 30, 2010 at 8:45 am |
    • Agnostic but not bitter

      What color bubble? 🙂

      June 30, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  11. Chuck

    Almost every major religion has symbols for tolerance and sacrifice. If the purpose of the cross isn in the words of the vatican "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 to convey", then we should allow any symbol that has the same purpose (even if primarily associated with other religions) to be displayed in the classrooms. We should allow the Buddha to be displayed in every classroom, or Zorashtra, or Gandhi, or..........

    My point is, either allow all symbols, or no symbols at all. We cannot adopt different postures based on what our beliefs are.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  12. Matlex

    It's Roman Catholic, not Roman Muslim or Roman Jewish, Roman Catholic.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  13. Steve

    Interesting how Christians frame this about them having a right to display their religious symbols to vulnerable children. What does it say to Jewish or Muslim kids in the classroom? It says, that their religion is not deserving of recognition in the classroom – only the "real" religion gets to display their symbol. Of course all religions are man-made and all gods are simply mythologies. Given that there is no evidence for the existance of any gods, we should not display religious symbols in places of education. In public schools we should stick to reality.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  14. Jim

    God gives us freewill to say and believe what we want. I say that God does exist and Jesus Christ is his son. Whether or not there is a crucifix on a wall means nothing to me. It is my belief that the true words of God are written in a mans heart or soul. Why would God create man without a way to communicate directly with him? These repeated and more ferocious attacks on Christians is foretold and it will get worse. Much worse. I believe time is short. Be careful how you choose...

    June 30, 2010 at 8:43 am |
    • kapukane

      Oh Jim PLEASE, grow up. THis is a prime example of why we need to protect our children from people like this. Ignorance and childishness, nothing more.

      June 30, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  15. seaswept

    I understand that religion was a huge part of society in Italy (and any country) in the past, and that religious relics were common in public places. However, in this day and age, it's not the norm anymore. If it was a catholic school, then that's just gravy – they're allowed to do that. In a public school, it's just not the same. I know that, if I was sitting in a public school, I would prefer not to see a dead man hanging morbidly on a cross, nearly naked, in the front of the room. Every day. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way either, whether it's the US or Italy.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  16. Chad

    Let me say, I couldnt' be more happy that religion was taken out of our schools. In my school growing up, you could easily go to hell for not getting an A on your math test because "God hates failures" as was often told to myself and my peers. Religion on a large scale has no place in a learning environment. The problem we have now isn't that "god isn't in the school" as my fellow Christians would like to say. The problem is many parents refuse to be parents. Set limits for your children and we wouldn't have issues like we have now.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  17. sissy_sue

    Italy is feeling the effects of surrendering her sovereignty to the almight European Union. This is what happens when a nation lets outsiders determine what its culture should be.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  18. Pagan

    How about a compromise- take each crucifix, dip them in excrement and hang them upside down.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:36 am |
    • Geo

      Great idea, but I think it should be YOU who is dipped in excrement and hung upside-down.

      July 2, 2010 at 3:30 am |
  19. Just John

    What happen to the rights of those that , don't mind seeing symbols of God in public locations, hearing the words "God Bless", or other religion based phrases? They have been around since you were born and it didn't impose a huge feeling of guilt or remorse in your childhood did it? I doubt it did. What happen to the rights of those of us that actually BELIEVE in GOD? I hope my opinion,grammar,punctuation or lack of political correctness didn't offend anyone. No wait... I really don't care if it did. See you in court!

    June 30, 2010 at 8:36 am |
    • kapukane

      John: I believe in God but I would not want my child any where near this symbol.

      June 30, 2010 at 8:42 am |
    • seaswept

      Just John: That's why there are churches that stand in public places. And people can say "God Bless" to you, if they so choose. It's the simple fact that there are more and more diverse groups of people in this country, and any country, so it's not appropriate to smear Christianity all over everything. If you want to go do your thing, go to your church, or your home, or your family's homes. The public atmosphere needs to stay neutral.

      June 30, 2010 at 8:45 am |
    • SueK

      seaswept – so by that logic, I should be able to say F*** you, because that's what I believe, and it shouldn't matter that it's disrespectful to you ? WHen a person politely asks you to not force your God on them, and you STILL insist on doing so, what does that make you ? Did your God ask you to forcefully propagate your religion on to those whose believe in a different faith (or don't believe at all) ? Strange God, then. Why does a blank wall only "repress" Christianity ? I did not notice any othe religions say that the ABSENCE of a symbol is equal to repression or denial. Is your internal faith so weak that you need constant visual reminders of it everywhere, lest you forget ??

      June 30, 2010 at 10:26 am |
    • SueK

      I'm sorry, I meant Just John.

      June 30, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  20. saywhatyoumean

    Some of us think these images are disgusting and disrespectful to Jesus. If your dad or mom was hanged by a tree, would you make a picture and post it on the wall? That's just sick. Many people in this world just don't have a clue what Jesus is about. And forcing my kids to view these grotesque idols in their publicly mandated school is wrong.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:35 am |
    • seaswept

      saywhatyoumean: I agree with you completely. I think some of the symbols that are worshiped in his name are very disturbing, and I personally would not want my children seeing them either. Chances are, some of the children witnessing these symbols are far, FAR too young to comprehend what it means anyway.

      June 30, 2010 at 8:49 am |
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