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. anonymous61

    Why are the few allowed to dictate to the many this way?

    June 30, 2010 at 12:03 am |
  2. Sharon

    Atheism has become a religion. Atheists are preventing us from expressing our beliefs. Jesus is the way. There's no argument. Results don't vary. We spread the word so others won't be left out of the Book of Life. It is not our decision but Jesus'. I do not have atheists but feel sad for them and pray

    June 30, 2010 at 12:03 am |
    • Sharon

      meant to say I do not hate atheists

      June 30, 2010 at 12:04 am |
    • Woody

      "Atheism has become a religion." What an absurd statement. Theism is the belief in a god or multiple gods. A-theism is the total disbelief in any god or gods. Therefore atheism cannot, in any way, be construed as a religion.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:17 am |
    • Sharon

      Religion: the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices or something one believes in and follows devotedly. The Supreme Court also declared it a religion, for first amendment purposes. Either it is or it isn't. When you're fired for being an atheist, this would be considered discrimination based on religion. I'm not saying that would be ok, just that there is a reason I say atheism is becoming a religion. I do not believe in religion. I believe in Jesus and his ways not what a church or leader tells me.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:11 am |
    • Daws

      We're preventing you from building churches? I didn't know that, sorry 🙁

      July 2, 2010 at 12:35 am |
  3. Dee

    I'm not Christian, but this is a silly ruling. Unlike in the US people in italy don't usually run around trying to shove religion down your throat. It really is more of a cultural/historical thing.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:03 am |
  4. E

    Italy has the right to its own laws. Europe should stay out of it.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:02 am |
    • anonymous61

      Ah but they have the "European Union" now, just like the U.S. Federal Government can trample all over states rights.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:05 am |
  5. NMEast

    This is concerning schools. The ruling does not concern churches. If you have one religious symbol on the wall, you need to represent all religions. There should be a Star of David, a Buddha statue, or any of the world's other religious symbols. My god may not have died on a cross for my sins. I should not have to look at a dead body, dripping blood, on the walls of my school if I don't believe in your religion. A school is to teach about all things in life. Teach about the different religions in the world and maybe the next generation will be more tolerant of others.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
  6. BobWhoLikesBeef

    The cross doesn't really have an effect. In many Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh. and In Hindu/Islamic India they have many church schools. It never works. But i still am opposed to the cross being in a school or public place, it gives a minority discrimination..

    June 29, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
  7. Scott in NH

    What do you all think of the Indonesian system? The way it works there is there are 6 official religions, Islam, Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucianism. You are free to practice any religion you want, but those 6 get public holidays, etc. So everyone has Christmas and Good Friday off, you also get off for Idul Fitri (end of Ramadan), Day of Silence (Hindu), Buddha's Birthday, etc. Although the country is 80% Muslim there are large Christmas trees in every shopping mall and official government signs over the highways that say "Merry Christmas." Using this system, 98% of the public can have official recognition and get some holidays. The small percentage of people who don't fall into the six are still free to practice their religion, but they don't get to fight battles in court to have their symbol or holiday recognized in public places.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  8. Grace

    I feel very sorry that people just can't leave things alone. The crucifixes are not hurting anyone. Every person that mocks God will feel his wrath soon. Everything the bible speaks of is unfolding right before your eyes and you have yet to see it. Things will not get better with the economy and everything will get worse. Soon every knee will bend to God the Almighty!

    June 29, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
  9. S. Brown

    Isn't the crucifix kind of morbid? I mean, it's a image of death by torture.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
    • dalis

      It may seem that way to non-Catholics, but the crucifix is intended to evoke empathy and solace for those who suffer. For Catholics, it commemorates the sacrifice of Christ for the sake of mankind.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
  10. I.F.

    I think that Italy should remove all symbols of religion is public properties (court, class, hospital, etc) and leave it to the Church. Just to be fair, by the same token USA should remove the "In GOD we trust" from the Dollar bill, the "GOD" reference in the Pledge of Allegiance, the "BIBLE" from the Courts and from the President Swearing-In Ceremony...and why not from the "GOD bless America". Let's just keep politics and religion completely separate. Tradition and culture is one thing, respect for all is another.

    June 29, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  11. Dennis

    Seems that more than a few countries will have to make a decision about remaining in the "European Union." I find it interesting because long before the "European Union" there was the "Holy Roman Empire." It failed and so will the European Union ... The Holy Roman Empire failed because of religion. The European Union will fail because of the new religion, "secularism." The only real utopia is yet to come ...

    June 29, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
    • dalis

      Religion did not do in the Holy Roman Empire. The HRE was dissolved when it was conquered by Napoleon in 1806 and broken up into the puppet Confederation of the Rhine (later German Confederation, then Prussia) and Austria-Hungary.

      June 29, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
  12. Pat

    Why is this conversation even necessary? It is quite clear that hanging crucifixes in classrooms is a violation of an individual's right to freedom of religion. Not only that, but any hanging crucifix would discriminate against the followers of other religions, Muslims in particular. They would be forced to tolerate the symbols of other religions as their own are banned.

    June 29, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
    • Isauro

      why? I mean does the cross says "become Christian" not! just because is there it is not going to change their religion, and I mean who is discriminating them? They get the same education and everything, it's just like if you go to other country and it is full of flags of that country, you are not going to become Italian for example just because there is a flag of Italy. They are making just a big deal out of it. PLEASE ANTI-CHRISTIANS and ATHEISTS!! Think a little bit please

      June 30, 2010 at 12:58 am |
    • Edwin

      Isauro: are you seriously saying you would be okay with the symbols of Islam hanging in the same prominence, in your child's school? Because the symbols would not be saying "convert to Islam" after all...

      Give an honest answer: if you visited your child's school and saw Islamic symbols on the wall, would you *really* be okay with them?

      June 30, 2010 at 1:23 am |
  13. jeff

    Dead naked dude on a stick, keep that sick stuff in your churches.

    June 29, 2010 at 10:40 pm |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      LOL. Well when you think of it that way......

      June 30, 2010 at 1:02 am |
  14. jeff

    That thing scared the crap out of me when I was a child, I wouldn't allow my child to attend a school that had such a deplorable thing on the wall.

    June 29, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  15. dalis

    Speaking of religious symbols, are you CNN posters aware that the flag of the European Union (ring of twelve stars on a blue field) is a Marian symbol? After secularists rejected the cross, it was designed by Catholics Arsène Heitz and Paul Lévy consciously to reference the crown of 12 stars worn by the Queen of Heaven in the Book of Revelations 12. The flag was formally adopted on December 8, 1955 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception).

    June 29, 2010 at 10:31 pm |
  16. lilly

    I wonder what the religious beliefs were of the judge who ruled in her favor? Maybe he too is an atheist. If the cross comes down than the turbans, burkas, star's of david, and all other affiliated religious symbols should be done with. Why discriminate, ban them all.This way no one has anything to complain about.

    June 29, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
  17. 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 10:04 pm |
    • lilly

      how true, but this would not happen in isreal or any muslim country because it would be discrimination against their religious beliefs. I am sick and tired of everyones religious rights, what about the religious rights of christians?

      June 29, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
    • NMEast

      Are there no atheists in Italy? No Muslims, Buddhists, Rastafarians, etc.? Why do they have to conform to some Catholic idea about putting a cross on the wall? Why can't they have their religious symbols on the walls of the classroom too? Maybe if the teachers taught about all the world's religions, there would be more tolerance within the world.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:02 am |
  18. Seekster

    Amen Europe. I hope you get this ridiculous ban overturned.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
    • gatlin

      The woman should relocate to the North Pole and live with Santa Claus.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
  19. gatlin

    Can I sue for $7500 in damages because secular symbols like the Easter bunny or Santa Claus offend my children?

    June 29, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
  20. Marie

    When in Rome. Do what the Romans do.

    When you go to live in a particular country, you enter with the knowledge that you are going to be exposed to their values, cultures and even their peculiar social norms. No one has ever forced you to be in that society, but that you have freely entered into such. It would be arrogant for a visitor to impose his own beliefs on a society who may hold otherwise. Having said that, Italy has always been the seat of Christianity, which has its place both in the public and private spheres of Italian culture. This is not just their belief system, but this is who they are. And it woud be absurd for seculars to impose their "secularness" on Italy, and for other European countries (who have always been Christian countries) as well.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:45 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.