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. ManicZorbian

    Sorry, but seeing a representation of a man being tortured is disgusting, even more so if it's in a school. Do you want your kids to see violence like that in school? Do you let your children watch television shows depicting violence and torture? Just because you wrap it in a nice religious interpretation does not make it right for children to see.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:19 am |
  2. Matt

    Too many people today are in the:
    "Look! I'm a Christian!" bunch rather than the "I know in my heart I'm a Christian".

    June 30, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
    • Tim

      I disagree...we see legalized same sex marriages, that involves bringing up kids with same sex parents; we see all these controverisal things happening and now a sign of Christ is being attacked to be taken down...sure, that sign of Christ and what it stands for is bad for children, but passsing around condoms to 1st graders, and saying its perfectly normal to have same sex parents is ok. What am I missing here?

      June 30, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
  3. William B

    As long as ALL symbols of every belief are allowed, I don't see the problem. It might take up a bit a bit more of the wall, though.
    I doubt the "christians" would be pleased with a symbol that was contrary to their beliefs.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
  4. CubanMom

    Wow..... some of the comments by "Christians" make me wonder what Bible you have been reading! First of all, this issue is taking place in Italy, a Roman Catholic country. Italy has been Christian (Catholic) since after the death of Christ. I sincerely doubt, that God cares about whether a Crucifix hangs on a wall. Please! Our actions, the way we treat others, the way we love is what makes us Christians, NOT "symbols"! Christian who want to shove their beliefs down others throats are not practicing what Jesus taught. He never forced anyone to believe! I am a Christian, have been all my 57 years of life, and sometimes I am ashamed at the behavior of some of my Christian brethren. We, Christians, do not need the Crucifix displayed IF we carry Christ in our hearts and live His commandment, of "Love one another as I have loved you."

    June 30, 2010 at 10:39 pm |
    • Geo

      To CubanMom: The problem with your statement is that by taking away christian symbols, you allow others to dictate how we observe our own christianity. First it starts with taking away our symbols, next they take away our books, then they take our churches. Can christianity survive with just keeping it in our hearts?

      Even Jesus had to mix spittle and dirt in his hand then apply it to the blind man's eyes in order to heal him and to exhibit to other people that he had been healed by His touch. You might ask why he couldn't just command the affliction to be gone quietly in his own mind. Certainly, he could have but the point is Jesus needed to make a physical connection between Himself, the blind man and God. Symbols are needed so that we may SEE the connection between God and man. In other words 'seeing is believing.'

      July 1, 2010 at 4:00 am |
    • Geo

      If we can't even defend the symbols of our faith then how can we defend our beliefs?

      Even Jesus had to throw the money-changers from the Holy Temple (a symbol as well as the House of God)

      July 1, 2010 at 4:05 am |
  5. Margaret mc gowan

    With respect to the mother who is taking the court case againist the Crucifix being displayed in her childs school she has no need to go to court it seems so Stupid all she has to do is send her to child to a school that does not display the Cruixfix,This is just another attack on the Catholic Church ,she must really hate the Catholic Church to have to gone to such an extreme .Does this women not know the History of Italy and the crucifix it goes back to about 2000 Years to the time of Jesus . The country she is living in has honored the Crucifix for almost 2000 and this woman thinks she has some kind of right to rid Italy and the Rest of the world Of the right to display the crucifix Europe was founded on Christanity which is the Love and Peace of Jesus Christ .May God Proctect Our Christian Faith And may All Christians in the world to- day stand up and be counted for Jesus Christ who Hung on That Cross For Love Of All Of Humanity.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
    • CubanMom

      You are missing the point. So I will explain, if you live in the Mormon state of Utah, for example, and you are a Christian you would not want the Book of Mormon taught to your children, would you? No. It matters not that Italy has been a Christian nation for over 2000 years, what matters is that if you are a non-believer, you deserve to have a public school not display religious symbols. I wonder, are we, Christians, so insecure that we must insist on displaying symbols? Why? I am a Roman Catholic, I am grateful that the U.S. does not require religious symbols to be displayed in public schools, it would be uncomfortable for Jewish children, Muslim children, etc. Again whether the Crucifix is displayed or not, matters not, its what we carry in our hearts and how we, Christians, behave that makes a difference and honors our Savior!

      June 30, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
    • Bill

      If longevity counts Italy has had Jews for 3,000 years.

      July 1, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  6. Reality

    The crucifix is a symbol used by the RCC to keep us on their 2000 year old guilt trip that says some simple, illiterate preacher man died for our sins wherein fact he did not. He simply got too zealous in the Jewish temple, was captured by the Roman guards and crucified. There was no last supper, no trial and no resurrection. As with all rabble-rousers in the Roman Empire, he was nailed to a tree and later buried in shallow grave with the rest of the rabble who broke the Roman peace. Bottom line- post the work of hard working students on the walls not some archiac guilt symbol.

    June 30, 2010 at 8:05 pm |
    • Joseph

      Reality last post was not based there!

      June 30, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
  7. Margot707

    It seems to me that most people here are missing the point that displaying a religious symbol in a secular setting is inappropriate. Regardless of the country's religious heritage, Italy is not a Theocracy. It's citizens are not required to recognize or practice Catholicism. And I'm not saying that religious symbols or themes in art or historical architecture should be banned or destroyed.

    June 30, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
  8. QPhunk

    It's just a lowercase "t" with a little dead guy on it.

    June 30, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
    • Joseph

      The secularists have so much more blood on their hands to be claiming not to be intolerant.
      The Reign of Terror (France)
      Pol pot and the killing fields.
      Mexico 1920-1940
      Communist Albania.
      Spanish Civil war.
      The Soviet Union.
      Red China today.

      June 30, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  9. Ismael

    Funny how secularists preach about tolerance and they are the first who try to force their view of things of people. Quite hypocrite, I must say.

    Also funny: how many secularists point the fingers at ‘believers’ stating they are ignorant or dumb while showing their own ignorance and stupidity at the same time and ignoring many intelligent and cultured people who are religious.

    If I read many of these comments it seems to me that secularism is just another ‘hip trend’ for people who refuse to think for themselves… ironic isn’t it?

    June 30, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
  10. Mark

    I'm not aware if their have a system similar to america's public/private schools, in which (government-funded) public schools are typically secular where private schools can be religious. I'm think it's more important to focus on what the schools actually teach. My high school had mandatory religion classes and they didn't care if you followed christ or not.

    The earth isn't flat, it's not 6,000 years old, witches don't exist, disease isn't caused by sinning, weather patterns aren't influenced by ritual sacrifices...personally I don't think religion has a place in any school.

    June 30, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  11. Bill M

    I have to say, I can not see the image of a near naked man hanging in torment from a device of torture as uplifting, benign or beautiful. It is what it is. I've not perused all 167 (as of this posting) comments, but I'd be willing to bet someone has pointed out that images of Buddha, Vishnu, Thor, or a nice Star Baphomet would probably not be met with the same cries for tolerance from the Christian commentators...

    June 30, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
  12. Kevin, Ohio

    Secular zealots strike again! How can someone be so paranoid as to think that a religious symbol with deep cultural significance is the equivalent of imposing religion? If your child isn't smart enough to determine what they believe because there is a cross on the wall...they may need some special tutoring attention. This applies to the parent(s) as well. Democracies embrace freedom OF religion because religion is an important part of society; freedom FROM religion is not.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
    • JörmungandrsPeople

      Put your children in a private religious schools if it's important to your 'culture'.

      The most preposterous notion that H. sapiens has ever dreamed up is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of all the Universes, wants the saccharine adoration of his creatures, can be swayed by their prayers, and becomes petulant if he does not receive this flattery. Yet this absurd fantasy, without a shred of evidence to bolster it, pays all the expenses of the oldest, largest, and least productive industry in all history. – Robert A. Heinlein

      June 30, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
  13. Thor

    Being a Christian, or religious in general, is a state of mind! Not something you define with crosses and other things. Scary crucifixes images and big churches were used to oppress the simple people in the medieval times, and to impose on them the omnipotent power of the Church. Or so the Church hoped!
    Well, no longer! Wake up Italy! The way the crosses are used in schools is simply appalling! It is a symbol of fear, a symbol of how the Church is above all others. Well, we all know they did some pretty big mistakes, you know, the Earth being flat and what not. And it's the Church with its Holy Inquisition, that has almost stopped the progress of the human kind for several centuries. So I say, the Church just needs to shut up, and accept that it is no longer a factor in our lives. Not in the way it behaves or teaches anyway! Their arrogance is staggering!

    June 30, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
    • Joseph

      "The sort of man who admires Italian art while despising Italian religion is a tourist and a cad."
      G. K. Chesterton.

      June 30, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
    • Winkyb

      [ JMJ ]@Joseph–babey!!! Tell it like it is...

      July 1, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
  14. davec

    Having as a religious icon a guy nailed to an instrument of torture is barbaric. As Lenny Bruce once said, if Jesus were killed today Catholics would wear little electric chairs (or lethal injection gurneys) around their necks.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
    • Tom

      That is probably a true statement because before any human can even begin to think about Christ prevailing, you must see the instrument of death and suffering the He had to go through for our sins. Thanks for highlighting this point for us all!

      June 30, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
  15. texokie

    I would be in favor of any or all religious symbols being displayed in secular schools. That way, students could contemplate that Something is bigger than they and transcends them. This would free them from that little box called science where everything MUST be measured in test tubes, telescopes, or mathematically, and then judged according to the great mind of the individual man.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  16. Mark

    I wish all it took to convert some to christianity was to look at a cross on a wall

    June 30, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
    • texokie

      That would be my wish, too, Mark.
      But people don't know the meaning of the cross because they don't understand the condition mankind is in.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  17. Redford

    Do not deprive those to whom it means something of the symbols of their values. If it means nothing to you simply ignore it. That's true liberal tolerance.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
    • Phredd

      @redford: Why can't anybody see that? It seems that those that wish to tear down all things symbolic are being the ones that are being intolerant. To quote a famous black man in LA 'Can't we all just get along?'

      July 1, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  18. understanding

    How about being tolerant of all religions? As a christian, I wouldn't mind a jewish teacher displaying a star of David, much like I wouldn't mind a buddhist displating a buddhist statue in their classrooms. Now, that is tolerance. I want my children to be exposed to all beliefs (even atheism), that way they will become knowledgeable of all religions and can choose which one they want to believe in. A crucifix on the wall is a symbol, no one is preaching to them.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
    • Thor

      Quote: "A crucifix on the wall is a symbol, no one is preaching to them."
      No one is preaching to them? Are you serious?! Those kids are just forming their minds and beliefs and value systems. With a big scary imposing crucifix hanging over their heads! Children are naturally curious, they are impressed very easily. That's why we go to school when we are young – to learn. A crucifix on the wall – that most definitely would have impact on anyone! And I don't think it'll be any positive impact to speak of.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  19. No God \ Gods

    people were make to believe in the church for fear of going to hell (neat invention hey) and everytime someone questioned the church's authority they were burned at the stake, how nice. It all hinges on the point that we dont know what happens after we die, what if its just total oblivion? does the fly go to fly heaven or hell? give me a break

    June 30, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
    • texokie

      The Catholic church teaches that hell exists. It does not teach that anyone is in there. I've never known the Church to even speculate as to whether any person is there.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  20. Joesph

    I was refering to Christ making calling himself "I Am" The Jews knew he was refering to back Moses. My reply was not saying that they were there together. You lost the intent like when you turned your back on the church of the old testement is refering to the new testment.
    BYTW I am a praticing Catholic.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
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