Court decisions against crucifixes in Italy’s public schools

November 3, 2009

Last week, a Muslim leader in an Italian province won a court fight to remove crucifixes from the public school where his children attend.

In a separate case brought by a self-described "secular" mother, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on November 3 against the use of crucifixes in classrooms in Italy . Read news reports at New York Times , CBS and the BBC

The Court applied Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights to this case.

Exerpts from this ruling:

The presence of the crucifix – which it was impossible not to notice in the classrooms – could easily be interpreted by pupils of all ages as a religious sign and they would feel that they were being educated in a school environment bearing the stamp of a given religion. This could be encouraging for religious pupils, but also disturbing for pupils who practised other religions or were atheists, particularly if they belonged to religious minorities. The freedom not to believe in any religion (inherent in the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Convention) was not limited to the absence of religious services or religious education: it extended to practices and symbols which expressed a belief, a religion or atheism. This freedom deserved particular protection if it was the State which expressed a belief and the individual was placed in a situation which he or she could not avoid, or could do so only through a disproportionate effort and sacrifice.

The State was to refrain from imposing beliefs in premises where individuals were dependent on it. In particular, it was required to observe confessional neutrality in the context of public education, where attending classes was compulsory irrespective of religion, and where the aim should be to foster critical thinking in pupils.

and then the court's concluding judgment:

The compulsory display of a symbol of a given confession in premises used by the public  authorities, and especially in classrooms, thus 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.