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. stevie68a

    A "crucifix" is a voodoo doll. Before you scoff at this, take a close look. You will see a figure of a man with pins stuck in it.
    Now the question: Who does it really represent?

    July 4, 2010 at 8:28 am |
  2. Flex

    Christianity is insane! Down with that wood! The Pope is a disgusting human!

    July 3, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Sorry, Flex, but the Pope has NOTHING to do with Christianity....PERIOD!!

      July 4, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  3. DanW

    I could understand a court ruling like this in a secular state like the US, but most European nations, Italy included, are officially ang legally Christian nations. I cannot understand why this is illegal. How can they say, "We are a Christian nation," and then ban the symbol of that religion?

    July 3, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
    • senor obvious

      when theres trouble you call d w

      July 3, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
    • Flex

      Why are christianists wholly closed off from criticism?

      July 3, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
  4. Gary

    We send our two children to a Catholic private school. My wife is a devout catholic and I am agnostic. My dtr is going to be very devout and can tell my son is more of a doubter like me. He ask me who made God when he was 3 years old. I think the christian schools teach great values, and have more challenging cirriiculms than public schools. They teach the bible. I think some of the bible is an accurate history book. As an agnostic I am sick of politcal correctness,trial lawyers and stanch atheists taking religious symbols out of all public places. Our founding fathers included judo christian symbols and many quotes from the bible in our constitution declaration of independence and other writings.

    July 3, 2010 at 11:08 pm |
  5. LET IT BE.

    Growing up catholic in a strict family I do not remember much since I was adapted very young, but I do remember a large crucifix we had in the kitchen and dream of it quite often.

    July 3, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
  6. Robert Meek

    Well, that's one thing we have not so complicated, here. In the public school system, run by government, supported by tax dollars, you do not put them up, because that is the government "choosing" one religion over another, and the "separation of church & state" are paramount to things working out at all, here, as poorly as they do. Private Christian schools, however, can put up anything anyway they want to, on their own property.

    July 3, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  7. dalis

    Hey, you guys, the issue here is a separation of church and state, yet I notice how quickly this devolves into massive bashing of Roman Catholicism as a religion and its specific beliefs. This is shameful and unnecessary. Is the problem here establishment of state religion in general with you people or is it that you just have a personal beef with the particular religion being displayed?

    July 3, 2010 at 3:27 am |
    • dalis

      How many people commenting here are Italian? How many have been to Italy? I've lived there – in university towns and little villages. I've seen patron saints' festivals presided over by town mayors. Most of the national holidays are Catholic holy days of obligation, and yeah, there are crucifixes, madonnas, shrines, etc. in offices, stores, parks, roadsides, medians, alleys, hilltops, you name it. Some have been there since last week, some have been there for centuries. Where Italy is provincial monoculture, this makes sense. They see little need for separation of church and state. The first amendment was not a moral absolute; it was a solution to the exigency of a diverse population. As Italians have to confront demographic change, they have to find their own mutually beneficial solution. It may not be created in America's image.

      July 3, 2010 at 3:28 am |
    • dalis

      I oppose the approach the Finnish woman chose to pursue by litigating away the crucifix. It unnecessarily antagonizes Catholics. You know, Italian Catholics read the prejudicial statements of anti-Catholics and they become more resolved not to give up the crucifix. They interpret this as a personal attack on them and their faith; will they be proven right? If you could really extend yourselves to show them some respect, you might get somewhere with them. The Italian people need to understand that their public institutions must accommodate all Italians, including traditional other-groups (Jews, Turks, Roma, Albanians) as well as the new immigrant wave (Europeans, Africans and Middle-Easterners), and, yes, nonbelievers. But, Italian Catholics need to be included in this national dialogue, not dictated to and insulted.

      July 3, 2010 at 3:30 am |
    • Flex

      Are you having a nice CONversation with yourself? What have christianists done to receive this negative attention?

      July 3, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
    • dalis


      July 4, 2010 at 1:39 am |
    • dalis

      flex No, I'm not writing to myself; I had to split up the message in order to post it all. To answer your question (which I'm sure will draw another mocking response), define "christianist" and I can tell you.

      July 4, 2010 at 1:47 am |
    • JohnVA

      Does Italy ascribe to separation of Church and State?

      July 5, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  8. Mark

    They hate Christianity but embrace Islam.

    July 3, 2010 at 12:45 am |
  9. Gil T

    The only absurdity bigger than two entities, state and court, fighting over the symbol of the cross would be Christians who have lost their focus on the meaning of being crucified with Christ. If push came to shove how many Christians would resort to just a bit more. Push leads to shove which leads to striking which leads to death, _ over a relic or symbol neither of which Jesus ever gave his disciples? One of the key points of distinction between what Jesus taught his disciples versus other leaders, faiths is that he never commanded his disciples to lay down our lives or worse to take a life over a relic, symbol or territory.

    July 2, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  10. Scott G.

    I refuse to believe that displaying the image of any ONE religious figure is NOT coercive. Put 'em all up why don't you? Right, see? Coercion.

    I also do not agree with below opinions that displaying political figures is any sort of religious coercion. This is about religion, not politics. But, I don't mind people pushing the envelope, really I can-not begrudge them, that's how America was formed.

    Unfortunately this is Italy, home of the Pope. Basically it is to be expected, but that does not mean it should be tolerated.

    July 2, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
  11. Gary

    As an agnostic ,I agree political correctness,trial lawyers,civil right pigs,and certain atheist pigs have gone too. far. Judeo/christianity is a core tradition and foundation of this young nation....Having some religious symbols in public places dosnt bother me one bit.

    July 2, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • Flex

      Go tell it to the mountain, bigot!

      July 3, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  12. lili

    I find it interesting to note that some (such as Roger and Dalis) people try to attack an opinion and different points of view with insults. Rather than give facts to try to establish their point. I wonder if these individuals are associated with any religion since they argue the need of a cross in a class, and if so I doubt it is very respectful and according to the bible not very nice, now is it ...in any case since I don't believe in the bible I suppose it is irrelevant anyhow.

    July 2, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
    • dalis

      lili Do you have an example of me doing what you're accusing me of? Also, I have never once on this board argued for the placement of the crucifix in the classroom; I simply refuse to engage in or abide Catholic bashing. If you think that places me on a certain side of this debate, I think that says more about you and it does about me. Also, do you think that Catholicism and a belief in a separation of church and state are mutually exclusive?

      July 3, 2010 at 12:45 am |
  13. MsMHS

    Christianity and Judaism were the first "religions" known to mankind - unless you seculars want to consider the "God Worship" of sun, moon, rain, etc. The crucifix and the Star of David should never be taken as offensive and with that said, I hope the crucifix remains in the schools in Italy and possibly throughout the world along with the Star of David. It amazes me that people get upset when they see these religious symbols. Yet these same folks don't get upset when they see a Muslim wrapped in their religious garb. Go tell!!!

    July 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
    • Gary

      MsMHS...correct I think native americans had a much better to insight of God .....sun,rain,nature,moon than any middle eastern hateful religion...

      July 2, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  14. texokie

    When some people see a religious symbol, they cry "Don't try to force your way of thinking on me !" The trigger for this anxiety is in the person, not the symbol. No one goes down the streets, sees the Golden Arches, and complains "They're trying to cramb their food down my throat.!" People are scandalized by a cross as God is intended. With the cross, God turned the "wisdom" of man against him.

    July 2, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  15. Sergio

    There is no place for crucifixes nowadays, anywhere, but for a far right extremist like Berlusconi it is a great way to keep the people contained even if frustrated.

    July 2, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
    • DanW

      Italy is legally and officially Roman Catholic. As such, there is no contradiction, legally speaking. They broke no law. It is the court and the one woman who brought the suit that are trying to impose their beliefs on others.

      July 3, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
  16. LRoy

    Just another example of taking God out of the picture, in a more secular society. I fear the same will happen in the US. IF it's a Catholic school, no question the crucifix needs to stay.

    In some religious communities, a simple cross-no Corpus-is displayed so that (as I understand it) YOU are on the cross as was Jesus; that you are uniting His pain and suffering with your own. I believe that this would be an acceptable "compromise" as it were.

    And all students should proudly be able to wear a crucifix on their persons.

    July 2, 2010 at 10:06 am |
    • TexinVA

      YOUR version of God out of the picture. Not everyone shares your fairytale beliefs. Private schools such as Catholic schools can do whatever they want. It's state supported schools that have no business promoting religion.

      July 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  17. Kerry Berger

    The Pope is now establishing a department within the Vatican to try to purge "secularism" in Western Europe, another case of attempting to turn the clock backwards. Religious symbols have NO place in the public education system either in Italy or in any other democratic society. The lesson of the Wars of Reformation is that separation of Church and State affairs is critical for maintaining the proper checks & balances in democratic and pluralistic societies. I think the decision taken in France to remove religious jewelry and any symbol from the classroom was appropriate and should be cascaded to other nations. Extremist religious beliefs threaten the existence of Democracy. We see that in the Islamizing of many European nations. We don't need Christian Churches following the same lunatic fringe act now, do we?

    July 1, 2010 at 11:09 pm |
  18. Winkyb

    [ JMJ ]@all of y'all I'm outta here...but not before I give you all a blessing:

    1st: May the Peace of Christ be with you all especially the people of Italy. Peace be with You!Amen.

    2nd: For the conversion of sinners: Immaculate Heart of Mary pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

    3rd: For the forgiveness of sins: O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell
    and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those souls in most need of your Mercy. Amen.

    keeping you all in prayer! Adieu!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:04 pm |
    • Geo

      @Winkyb-Thanks for your insights and your blessings!

      July 2, 2010 at 3:53 am |
  19. truth777


    Well Joseph it seems you just read those verses and didn't do your research. You think they made an Ark because they wanted to? Nope. God commanded them to build it according to his plan,measurements n such. and regarding the Temple of the Lord God told David to build him a temple, but David would not be the one to build it but his son Solomon. So as you can see they made these things because God commanded them to not because they decided to. There is a big difference between God commanding you to do something than Man-made ideas saying to revere or worship the cross. So your argument holds very little weight. Like I said last time If you can find any evidence in the bible that God accepts the practice of making an image or idol for worship then please show me.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:59 pm |
    • Joseph

      Truth 777
      What is said about idols? In today's world think about this.
      The I phone, BMW, plasma screens. These can be idols, very much so.
      For they can be substuted for God.
      The cross, symbols of saints, remind one of Who we are to worship.
      Just as a picture reminds one of a close friend we honer the person not the image.
      We look to the cross just as we look beyond it for the eternal life.
      And if we are to pass faith down how do we visualy represent God without showing the cross?

      July 2, 2010 at 8:36 am |
    • truth777


      Anything that gets in betwen you and God is an idol. Yes any object in this world can represent an idol only if it gets in between us and God. So if someone is too into let's say watching T.V or playing video games 24/7 then yes it is getting in between us and God which is something we already understand God does not like. Same goes for the Cross or worshipping Mary. If you are revering and worshipping these idols then it is getting in between you and God. Again this is something God does not like. We do not need to be reminded who we need to worship. Once again you set about false discrepancies in your argument. You say that the cross, mary, and the saints remind you of who you need to worship. Are you worshiping God if your worshipping the cross or mary or the saints. Once again your argument does not present any concrete evidence that God is OK with doing this. We do not need Idol's or images to remind us who we need to worship because if you truly believe in God your faith and your actions will help remind and help remind others around you. So please do some research into the bible study it and then tell me if you can find anything that says its ok to worship idols. We do not need idols to be between us and God or remind us about God. So like i said for the third time If you can find anything in the bible that says worshiping idols is OK then show me. Stop answering with the mind of a man but find the true answer in the book written with the word of God through his many prophets the bible.

      July 3, 2010 at 1:03 am |
  20. John

    I wonder how many would feel the display of religious symbols is OK in schools if one of them was a swastika?
    Regarding that swastika:
    "It occurs mainly in the modern day culture of India, sometimes as a geometrical motif and sometimes as a religious symbol. It remains widely used in Indian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism."

    July 1, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
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