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. Tommy

    I am a christian raised with christian beliefs. I read a lot about Zen“Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.” Smile breathe and go slowly is a zen concept. Let all of us believe in our own religion and gain knowledge from other religions that can help us individually become a world wide people who do not judge each other for our religious beliefs. As for the cross in the Italian schools, many years of tradition will not be given up by the everyday Italian because of a court ruling. Italian people are pretty tolerant of new ideas, but when it comes to the cross that will be a slow change in their society. Having a court of law telling the masses that grew up with crosses in their class rooms and teach their children the same values that they were taught is not a short term change.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  2. Joseph

    Maybe there is some hope then for the EU?

    "This is the age in which thin and theoretic minorities can cover and conquer unconscious and untheoretic majorities."
    G.K. Chesterton

    June 29, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
  3. joey

    not only the flag of the eu but also the flags and symbols of many European states stem from Christianity!

    June 29, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
  4. joey

    ...and what about the beautiful, old frescos which include Christian symbols, painted by Christian painters of the past and are sometimes found in municipal buildings? shall we remove them just because an atheist mayor is occupying the building? don't think so

    June 29, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  5. Laura E.

    This was has so much hatred for a religious symbol that not only symbolizes Christianity but it is also a huge part of Italian culture that she would go as far as taking the matter to court...why is her opinion, her feelings more important than the opinion and feelings of the rest of the Italian population?
    I wonder how she would feel about seeing the cross in her son's classroom if this were the only place her son's were being fed a decent meal or only meal of the day and if they were being clothed by the generosity of the same establishment and so on. I think she would not object then to the cross...she does not even realize that obviously the man on the cross has been very good to her and her family if she has so much time on her hands to spend on this cause instead of sacrificing every minute trying to find a way to bring food and shelter to her family.
    How sad!
    We grew up in the Italian public schools and religion was not shoved down our throat, neither was any political affiliation and there was a photo of the current president hanging there too...maybe she can sue to have that removed too, least her son's should feel intimidated by the party he represents.
    Sad! Pathetic!

    June 29, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
  6. lilly

    good point. I think all these countries with religious symbols on their flags should have to remove them as not to offend anyone. All countries with a cross on their national flags will have to make changes, Fins, greeks, ets, as will the Jews with the star of David, and well lets not forget the muslim countires. I think were on to something here. So people, where do you draw the line?

    June 29, 2010 at 8:49 pm |
  7. Chris

    Here's a question...

    Are there any madrassas in Europey? Oh yeah, there are tons. Those are schools too. I dare you Europeans to tell the Muslims they have to take the symbols of Islam out of all the madrassas over there. You won't though because they'll say no, claim you are discriminating against them, and you guys will cave to them like you have been for a decade now.

    These cowardly Europeans who hold christians to a different standard than muslims need to grow a pair.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  8. lilly

    face if, Italy along with Greece, Cyprus and other European countires will not take down their crosses. This is nothing more than discrimination against Christians. Imagine that, telling a catholic nation to take their crosses out of there schools because atheists find it offensive

    June 29, 2010 at 8:41 pm |
    • Pijerona

      It's already happened in Spain...

      June 30, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  9. joey

    What about the flag of Finland? It has a the Nordic cross on it....which is a symbol of Christianity. Why didn't the Finish women start from that.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:41 pm |
  10. Maestro

    I have to agree that arguing over the simple display of a religious whatnot does seem rather petty. As long as students aren't being made to participate (or avoid participation) in school-sanctioned religious observances, it seems pretty harmless to me. That said, I wonder how Christians would react if they noticed pagan Roman symbols on display in the classrooms instead of crucifixes? Afterall, weren't they also an important part of Italy's historical heritage?

    June 29, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
    • joey

      Pagan Roman symbols are found everywhere in Italy. Go to public spaces in Italy and you'll find them eg; Trevi fountain in Rome. It is a completely pagan fountain with Neptune at the centre of it and it was constructed by Catholics under the blessing of the Pope.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
    • dalis

      That already did happen in Italy under Fascism, which employed the Roman symbols of il duce (dux), the imperial eagle, and the fasces.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
    • dalis

      Also, the flag of Sicily has the Trinacria on it, which is a Gorgon's head with three bent legs. That's a Greek symbol for the island and is displayed in every Sicilian classroom (or room for that matter).

      June 29, 2010 at 8:49 pm |
    • dalis

      Italy's euro coins contain images referring to Roman pantheism (10¢ Botticelli's Birth of Venus), the Roman imperial cult (50¢ Equestrian Marcus Aurelius), and Catholicism (€ Raphael's portrait of Dante Alighieri).

      June 29, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
  11. MS

    This is absolutely ridiculous! "she wanted to raise her children as secular" ... then move out of Italy? Christianity and the cross symbol is rooted in Italy's history and culture. The crucifix is found everywhere you go, on top of churches, in many cafe's and certainly is the endless monuments displayed everywhere. The crucifix displayed in a classroom is extremely similar, as crosses in the street seem not to offend her that much, or affect how she wanted to raise her children. So long as the educational system remains objective with no religious influence upon the schools' curriculum and books, and the cross continues on not speaking or trying to convert her children to Christianity, then the cross symbol in schools seems to be not a problem.

    In fact, removing the cross shall offend many others and seem to conflict with the way they wanted to raise their children? How about they claim against not having a cross? It would only be fair. The floodgate of cases for and against this jurisdiction would be endless, and when a person is not happy with the customs and culture of the country he/she residing in, then leave!

    June 29, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  12. Ladislav Nemec, Big Bear, CA

    No religious symbols have place in a public school classrooms. Very appropriate, however, in Catholic (Muslem, Jewish) private schools. That's all what is to it.

    The Italians often defy the Vatican but, in this case, the 'tradition' is apparently too strong. I just hope that the European Court will be at least as strong as our Supreme Court on this issue.

    Good luck to the Europeans! In this rare case they seem to be behind us. It is fortunate that we have here a strong Jewish minority that is not ready to be overwhelmed by the Christian majority. Not the case in Europe, too many European Jews were killed there...

    June 29, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
    • Michele Patrone

      Are you all serious? Italy is 90% Roman Catholic. Lets make an analogy. Try and go to Israel and remove every Star of David, menorah, or kippah from classrooms. It's not only unreasonable, but illogical. The cross is not only a religious symbol, but for Italy is a historical one as well. Italy is NOT America, and does not have to conform to everyone that whines to get their way. Please stop trying to impose your values on a culture that is not your own. As an Italian, I find it repulsive that American athiest ideals are being forced upon our culture.

      June 29, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
    • Paul


      That Israel comparison makes absolutely no sense. Israel was founded specifically for the Jews. It is a Jewish country by nature.

      Logic failure.

      June 30, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  13. Joseph

    It is the same reason that Christans refused to have a statue of Christ placed next to the statue of Pan, Appollo, and others.
    We do not follow those.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
    • JT

      That's all well and good, but if having a cross up on a wall does no harm to the others around...surely the other symbols should be just as innocent.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  14. Eric R. Dorton

    The truth and what really matters shall surely be revealed, my friends. For some, however, that revelation shall be received
    at the black hole's horizon.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
  15. Douglas Trindade

    I meant Iran is a country rules by the Shariah. lol

    June 29, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
  16. sheetiron

    When will people learn that Europe doesnt believe in freedom?

    June 29, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
  17. Will

    In 10 years British schools will allow crescents to be hung in their classrooms with "Death to Infidels" inscribed below them in Arabic – fact

    June 29, 2010 at 8:20 pm |
    • JT

      Unlikely that would happen if there are strict laws against religion infiltrating our government run systems. If that's something you're truly concerned about I would think that you'd be all for separating the church from state....

      June 29, 2010 at 8:40 pm |
    • mike

      Most Muslim conuntries don't have any religious symbols in their classrooms – fact!

      June 29, 2010 at 11:34 pm |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      And my vote for worst liar goes to.......

      June 30, 2010 at 12:47 am |
  18. JT

    If a cross must be displayed – why not display all the other religious symbols as well? I wouldn't have a problem with that (though it'd take up a lot of space). It'd be a fair compromise...because that's what this argument needs – a compromise.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
    • dalis

      I'd support that.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      I'd support that too. But it wouldn't work, they wouldn't let us. 🙁

      June 30, 2010 at 12:46 am |
  19. Douglas Trindade

    I think it is very complicated to establish limits between law and religion or even between law and culture. When secularists argue that crucifixes are instruments of symbolic opression they do not realize that maybe their conception of state is a form of oppression for people with different beliefs. We should not forget the Switzerland case. Their State has an official religion and stilI, democracy is respected and minorities are protected. Secularists are destroying culture in the name of their atheist ideas. They are the ones who are trying to impose their beliefs to society as a whole. I understand that maybe being a defendant in a Tribunal in Iran where a Half Moon stands behind the judge might be oppressive, since many violence acts are committed in the name of Islam, a country ruled by the Shariah. However, it is totally different the situation of the use of crucifixes on secular countries traditionally catholic. Let us not compare the use of Nazi symbols to a crucifix. We are all intelligent enough to realize that while one symbol represents intolerence the other represents love.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
  20. Serge Crespy

    A generic religious symbol endorsed by all religions might just be the answer ..... Create your own design and forward it to the CNN panel of Judges.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
    • dalis

      happy happy happy.....everybody's happy....

      June 29, 2010 at 8:15 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.