Court allows crucifix in classrooms


Crucifixes can be displayed in state school classrooms, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.

The ruling will be binding on all 47 countries that are members of the Council of Europe, the continent’s human rights watchdog.

In November 2009, the court ruled that the crucifix could be disturbing to non-Christian or atheist pupils.

Several European countries had appealed against the ruling, and the final decision by the court’s Grand Chamber came down today.

The case originated in Italy, and today’s final verdict was immediately welcomed in Rome. “The popular sentiment in Europe has won today,” said Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini.

The court said Italian state schools did nothing wrong by hanging crucifixes in their classrooms, in a case that divided Europe’s traditional Catholic countries and their more secular neighbours.

The final decision by the court’s Grand Chamber said it found no evidence “that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils”.

The 2009 decision was a victory for Soile Lautsi, a mother who complained that her children, aged 11 and 13, were exposed to crucifixes in classrooms at their school in northern Italy.

The Strasbourg judges agreed that the presence of religious symbols violated the children’s “right to education” and their “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, safeguarded by the convention.

She said the crucifix had violated the secular principles the state schools are supposed to uphold.

Massimo Albertin, Lautsi’s husband, said today that the family was disappointed and “disillusioned” by the ruling, saying it showed that the court did not respect the principles on which Italian society is built.

“Freedom of religion, freedom from discrimination, freedom of choice are fundamental principles and in this case they weren’t respected,” Mr Albertin said
from Abano Terme near Padua, where the family lives.

A self-described atheist, Mr Albertin said he did not think the family had any further recourse, saying the ruling showed “the Vatican is too strong for individuals.”

The case set up a confrontation between traditional Catholic and Orthodox countries and nations in the north that observe a strict separation between church and state.

Italy and more than a dozen other countries fought the original ruling, contending the crucifix is a symbol of the continent’s historic and cultural roots.