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. Joseph Jacob

    The crucifix WELCOMES any religion. If you don't want to be welcomed, don't remove the crucifix!

    The crucifix is a symbol of LOVE & GOOD. Why can ignorant people NOT understand that?
    Remove the crucifix, HATRED & BAD prevails! Do you want bad to happen to your child?

    June 30, 2010 at 1:56 am |
    • Lord Zedd

      Ah, so the crusades were done for love and good?

      June 30, 2010 at 6:43 am |
  2. Matt

    92% of the people in Italy are Christians. In other words, Italy should be allowed to put crosses any place they want since almost their entire population believes in it. This would be like the 3% of Iraqis who are Christian telling the 97% of Iraqis who are Muslin to get religion out of the courts, government, etc. They would get laughed at.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:52 am |
  3. understanding

    I'm am American and a Christian, and I definitely wouldn't mind a muslim displaing a muslim symbol. It should be their freedom to do so, as it should be my freedom to display a cross, or a catholic's freedom to display a crucifix, or a buddhist freedom to display a.... I could go on and on. If you are atheist, you should also have the right to display a symbol of your belief (of lack of) as well. (a poster dipicting rejection of belief in the existence of dieties?) Symbols encourage individuals to think and consider things that perhaps that wouldn't otherwise do. There is nothing wrong with consideration and knowledge of other beliefs.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:51 am |
    • Daws

      Would you want to pay for it though? If it was the only symbol in the classroom your kids went to, in every classroom in america?

      People can do what they want, yes, gov'ts can't. That's why we in america have the Bill of Rights, to protect ourselves from the gov't.

      July 2, 2010 at 12:19 am |
  4. Daniel

    Students go to school to learn language, math, science, art, and music. They do not go to school to learn religion; church is for that. Religious symbols do not belong in the classroom.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:41 am |
    • a


      June 30, 2010 at 1:42 am |
    • desert voice

      Students also go to school to learn to be more human! Without this knowledge, the math and science avails them to noth! Societies need humans, not criminals and robots!

      June 30, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
    • Daws

      @Desert voice, so include philosophy classes, ethics, critical thinking, not submission to religious authority. Talk about making robots, teach them to question the world for themselves.

      July 2, 2010 at 12:49 am |
  5. a

    great! take em' all down!

    June 30, 2010 at 1:40 am |
  6. Sarzac

    The religious aspect of this article aside, I think this illustrates the general weakness of the EU when it comes to the rights of a European state. Europeans have historically never gotten along well with each other (not that Americans have any room to speak, mind you) and I think it is just a matter of time before nationalism returns and washes the EU's power structure away.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:36 am |
  7. David A

    Plus, aren't crucifixions a Roman tradition? 😛

    June 30, 2010 at 1:34 am |
  8. David A

    I think it's cool they have St.John Vianney there. 🙂

    June 30, 2010 at 1:33 am |
    • Gabriel

      That's not St. John Vianney. That's St. John Baptist de La Salle.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:25 am |
    • dalis

      Of course, patron saint of teachers. 😀 (I was expecting a picture of Padre Pio)

      June 30, 2010 at 2:46 am |
  9. Rober

    Satan try to rule the world. Pray to hard.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:29 am |
  10. Edwin

    If only Americans were open-minded enough to have symbols of religion in public classrooms. But would the open-minded Christians on this board welcome Muslim symbols and the "Praise Allah!" that would accompany it? Let's be honest here: they would scream and shout about how terrible it is and demand it be taken down immediately.

    But perhaps in Europe they would be more tolerant? Oh, yes - that is where several countries have banned the right of woman to wear certain traditional muslim clothing, because Europeans think it looks oppressive.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:16 am |
  11. caitlin

    I am not religious.....but I respect all religions and faiths.... It wouldn't bother me if a cross was in my classroom.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:02 am |
    • tc

      Isn't it about time we all got over this silly religion thing. I mean come on.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:40 am |
    • Daws

      Would you care if they were taken down then? If no... then maybe that would be the safer way to go. As not everyone shares the belief that all religions and beliefs can all just get along, to many they are mutually exclusive and each ultimately wanting to dominate the world. For an example, read Deuteronomy 13 (Summary: "Kill all the non-believers promoting other religions than ours.")

      Since Italy is a secular state, let's not have people of other beliefs paying for the symbols of one they don't hold. Besides, if you really want to see a crucifix the Vatican is right next door.

      July 2, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  12. Daws

    The best case in it's favor seems to be made by this quote: "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?"

    Unfortunately it misses perspective, every religion will say the same thing about their own holy symbols. (Imagine switching it out in every classroom with the star of David, the crescent and star, the Om...) And it fails to see how others may see it... a distraction, an assertion against their own beliefs that is sanctioned by the state.

    The other argument is that of representing Italy's history, as if there are not other places it can be represented thus, as if it's not already all around. Are there such fights over displays of roman gods? The historical argument is parallel here, but the emotional difference points to something else at play: Roman polytheism is a dead religion, no one seriously expects it being espoused, it's symbols can only be historic in nature. Catholicism very much alive, and so it's symbols can be seen as having at least, additionally, a very real promotion of a certain religion, all with the sanction of the state.

    Lastly, to have it's advocates truly show their cards, ask them: what's the harm in taking these down?

    June 30, 2010 at 1:00 am |
  13. understanding

    If the woman wants to raise her kids as secular, then she should raise and teach her kids to be conscience of other's beliefs and to make their own decisions about religion or the option to not accept any as truth. I believe everyone should have the freedom to display symbols of the religion of their choice. Everyone in the presence of the symbol (whether it be the star of david, a cross, a crucifix, a buddist statue, etc) has the capacity to inquire into it, learn about it (if desired), and accept, dismiss, or ignore it's symbolism. Menorahs don't opress christians or shove judaism down their throats. And, I think most christians would be accepting of other religious symbols hung in classrooms, or other public spaces. I would want my future children to learn about all religions and have the ability to chose as they please, even if they chose not to accept any religion at all. Therefore, I see it as a good thing for any religious or non-religious person to display a symbol of their beliefs in public settings. Just because a child or person learns of a religion, doesn't mean they are going to follow its beliefs. But, they will better knowledgeable and compassionate for others' beliefs. Who wouldn't want that for their children?

    June 30, 2010 at 12:58 am |
  14. Oreo

    I have a neighbor that, every Christmas, puts out a giant crucifix in his front yard with a sign that says, "The first Christmas tree." With that thinking, wouldn't that make Jesus the first Christmas ornament?

    People need to really start reading the Torah. Jeremiah 31.30, "And everyone shall die for their own sins."

    June 30, 2010 at 12:58 am |
  15. JDD

    It was none other than Adolph Hitler who ordered crucifixes off the walls of German schools...he knew that Christianity was a threat to fascist paganism and socialist atheisim...

    June 30, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  16. Teodolito

    "How could someone not share such a symbol?" Because for many of us, a crucifix is just a creepy corpse on a stick. "There is no argument" You wish!

    June 30, 2010 at 12:44 am |
  17. Matt

    The desire to put up symbols of 2000 yr old Roman torture devices boggles the mind...
    Can we also put little murals of Dachau and maybe some iron maidens on the wall?

    June 30, 2010 at 12:35 am |
  18. john smith

    Sounds a little like the hate State of Arizona. Continue to boycott Arizona.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:23 am |
  19. Judy

    It seems to me that it is the woman with the two children-the one who wants to raise her children "secular"- who is the one imposing her beliefs on the majority. The crucifixes should remain, and that woman needs to "get a life" and stop trying to impose her minority beliefs on everyone else.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:15 am |
  20. Dee

    Michele, an American agrees with you on all counts.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:04 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
About this blog

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.