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. JoBob

    Barbera, 1/2 of the founding fathers of the USA were Deists. Good christians who believed that god made the world and then leaves it alone without interfering. Therefore, they did not believe jesus was divine. So much for your founding father mentality. I dislike people who feel they know exactly what others felt hundreds of years ago. . . (my comment on their beliefs comes from the written word, of those same founding fathers). As for religious icons being hung in classrooms, for those folks who believe everyone should have their emblems hung, I truly do not believe there is enough room.

    .....and......Secularism Rocks ! ! !

    June 30, 2010 at 5:41 am |
  2. Matt

    Religion should be a hobby – something people do in their own spare time. Something they don't impose on others. Why is there a need for crucifixes in public schools? Why not muslim religious artifacts? why not hang a burka on the wall in a classrom?

    June 30, 2010 at 5:17 am |
  3. Jude

    did anyone think of the right of the italians as cathilics or christians to display their religious symbols?as long as they live in their own country.let them live in their own land peacefully.the woman who opposed never thought that she was helping fast growing muslim influence in europe.its a violations of rights of the italians.

    June 30, 2010 at 5:16 am |
    • Andrew

      Excuse me? You make it seem as though all Italians are christian. Why should Italian classrooms display crucifixes? Are all the students automatically Christian? Why not stars of david? Why not statues of shiva? Why not pentagrams? Why not a star and crescent? By fighting to allow crucifixes, you are fighting to promote one religion over others in a secular classroom, this isn't about a right of Italins, this is about how not all students are christian. The only real fair way to represent all different religions in a classroom is to have no religious symbolism, so that no group is given special treatment. THAT is what the EU ban is about. The Italians are trying to challenge that, trying to allow it so that one group is allowed more representation than others get.

      How is that even remotely fair?

      June 30, 2010 at 5:28 am |
  4. damn yank

    imo, the crucifix is the most horrible symbol ever conceived....it's about as 'holy' as a guillotine, hand gun, or noose. The crucifix is stained with the blood of innocent men, women, and children who died on the cross at the hands of oppressors. i don't for the life of me understand how such a violent object can become the symbol of 'love' and 'mercy' ...

    June 30, 2010 at 5:11 am |
  5. love

    it's just a symbol.........! 😀

    June 30, 2010 at 5:02 am |
    • Lord Zedd

      Then you won't mind hanging a satanic pentagram in every classroom as well. Its just a symbol after all.

      June 30, 2010 at 6:40 am |
  6. Whoa!

    My main concern is why is Italy taking it in the rear from the EU? Do any Italians care about their national sovereignty? This is Italy's problem, not some cheese eating Frenchmen's, or some tea drinking Englishmen's, or some brat eating German's problem! It is Italy's decision and no one else's.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:46 am |
  7. Mom of Three

    Pretty sure they should worry more about the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse!

    June 30, 2010 at 4:34 am |
  8. Mom of Three

    Let me just say that I am not religious–don't buy any of it. But there's something about a "European court" dictating to an ostensibly sovereign nation what they can do and can't. That aspect is more disturbing to me than worrying about whether the country that enfolds the Vatican itself wants to hang crosses on the walls.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:33 am |
  9. Matt

    Religion is soooooo stupid. When will people realize that religion was INVENTED for the sole purpose of controlling the masses??

    June 30, 2010 at 4:22 am |
  10. Mahmud

    In a few years there will be a picture of Muhamad in every class.

    June 30, 2010 at 4:21 am |
    • dalis

      Muslims don't allow depictions of Muhammad (google Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy), so no, that won't happen.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  11. DC

    I don't think this is for a "European" court to decide but rather the people of Italy. They're a democracy so put it to a vote – crosses in classrooms, yay or nay?

    June 30, 2010 at 4:04 am |
  12. dsavio

    Is it really so complicated to understand that the cross as a symbol has come to represent More than just the God who sacrifices himself for humanity and wants us to love and respect each other? That the history of the Church has corrupted the symbol?

    June 30, 2010 at 4:03 am |
  13. aersixb9

    Do not worship a false idol. Doing the right thing and being a good person is not about going to a building or worshiping a piece of wood and metal. It means more to be kind to those around you and to do things for the good of all humanity and not for only the individual than it means to wear a cross or to pay a man to read the bible to you and talk about nothing relevant. Understanding the human soul and body, and the similarities in souls and the differences in bodies is essential to having a good and happy life – to understand that the way you are is the way people are, and that each person knows right and wrong intrinsically, and does not need others to tell them how to be or what to do, by book or by law. In each important situation a person makes decisions, and each time they know if their decision is right or wrong, and what guides their decision making – sin or love.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:25 am |
  14. Niraj

    Those who are vehemently supporting that the cross be displayed in the schools, I bet they are the biggest hypocrites you will ever find. For a moment, just subject them to a class room where there is a picture of any Hindu symbols (Shiva/Ganesha) or a muslim symbol or a Buddhist symbol and just see their reactions, they will be opposing the same at the top of their lungs!
    Religion has no place in public sphere, keep it to yourself and don't impose on others!!

    June 30, 2010 at 3:22 am |
    • dalis

      You know, for someone who's supposed to be about individual rights, you sure do a lot of talking for other people.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:50 am |
  15. Wanda

    "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." OOPS...a Bible verse....I guess that now all of the atheist on this blog will suddenly come to believe in God....Just as that is very unlikely to happen... so is a cross hanging on a wall going to suddenly make someone desire to be a Christian? I am so very exhausted at the amount of hatred aimed at Christianity. I have read that Christians all have low IQ's, that we are all Republicans and that we are all intolerant....Who are the intolerant people on this board?
    I choose to believe that there is an existence after death...why does that threaten you so? Yes, bad things have happened under the guise of religion, but bad things have also happened outside of religion. Do you hate all Germans because of Hitler and what he did? Would you hate a murderers family because of his actions? I do not hate any atheist because he is an atheist, yet you hate me because I am a Christian? And I am the intolerant one? Burn all churches is what I recently read on another blog...does that make sense? Now who is spewing hatred?
    I choose to believe in what you say is a fairytale...How is that hurting you? You choose to believe in nothing and I say that that is your right. The only hatred I am reading on here is from the very people who say I am intolerant because I am a Christian...ironic, isn't it?

    June 30, 2010 at 3:14 am |
  16. Murray Mitchell

    Just make sure the the role of Religion in our history is also taught to our children. For example the extremes of all Religions in trying to dominate our society, the wars caused by Religions, their internal feuding, and political manuvering. Their covering up of their crimes against society. No problem with that at all.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:04 am |
  17. Mike

    The Crucifix, is obviously a symbol of love and pride to many christians, but it is also a symbol of atrocitiies commited in its name: the crusades, the hugueaut massacre, the inquisition, and the cruelty and torture prepetrated by pius christians – all in the name of their god and church. To some, it may be as abhorent as the swastika is to others.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:41 am |
    • dalis

      Is that necessarily a reason to remove the crucifix. I think this is what they'd call in education a teachable moment.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:48 am |
  18. Barbera

    I just drove by a church and saw a cross! OH NO!!!! WHAT NOW!!! THOSE CHRISTIANS!! Always pushing there religion on everyone!!! Oh my gosh having 2 crosses in a classroom!!! They sure are pushing that religion!!Giuseppe Alvaro is an ignroant idiot. If he had done his history and would READ QUOTES from our founding fathers, he would FIND that most were all strong believers in Christianity but agreed that everyone should have a right to their own RELIGION. Having 2 crosses hanging up isnt going to change anyones view on anything,

    June 30, 2010 at 2:16 am |
  19. love

    yeah! like banning of use of abaya in saudi arabi..freedom of religion!

    June 30, 2010 at 2:04 am |
  20. Oleg

    Hiding religion from children makes no more sense than hiding 5e)(uality from children. Both are important in every person's life – even humanism/atheism is a set of beliefs and morals, both have been used for great good and great evil, thorough understanding and acceptance of both is essential to thriving in today's multicultural world. Keep the crucifixes and explain what they stand for and how they have shaped Italian civilization. When these students graduate they will go into the world with many christian friends, employes and perhaps significant others/spouses. Puh-puhing the issue will not do them any good.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:01 am |
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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.