Lautsi v. Italy, best known as “the Crucifix case,” is a case of considerable importance. The importance rests not only in the political and legal aspects of the case, but also in the spiritual. Lautsi has become a symbol of the current conflict concerning the future of the cultural and religious identity of Europe. The conflict contains on one side proponents of the complete secularization of Europe, and on the other, those who desire an open Europe, one that is faithful to its identity and historical roots. Confronted with this attempt at a complete de-Christianization of Europe, 20 European countries joined in an unprecedented approach to reaffirm the legitimacy of Christianity in Europe.
The Lautsi case created turmoil throughout Europe following the initial condemnation of Italy by the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR” or “the Court”) and its bold pronouncement that the presence of Crucifixes in public school classrooms violated “human rights;” and, more precisely, that it violated the freedom of conscience of parents and their right to have their children receive an education that conforms to their philosophical beliefs. Previous to the Lautsi judgment, the Court considered such matters (religious symbols within public classrooms) to fall within the sovereignty of the member States, remembering that the Court was required to respect the culture and traditions of each particular member State. Moreover, the Court considered the only limit on educational matters to be that States were not permitted to submit students to indoctrination or abusive proselytism. However, after Lautsi, the Court retreated from this jurisprudence and held that the Convention requires European member States to be “areligious”. In other words, according to Gregor Puppinck, “in order for a state to be democratic, it must renounce its religious identity: this is pure secularization.”
Italy appealed the decision to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR and the Court recently heard oral arguments on June 30, 2010.
The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) was deeply involved in the preparation of this hearing and was officially third party with 79 European members of parliaments. The ECLJ submitted written observations (availablehere) to the Court.
The judgment will likely be issued this fall (before November). Three weeks after the hearing, it seems increasingly clear that a considerable victory has been won against the process of secularization. While Italy has not yet achieved a legal victory, it certainly has already secured a major political victory. Indeed, the fact that Italy has received official support from 20 European countries that have openly defended the legitimacy of Christian symbols in society, particularly within the classroom, is clear evidence of this political victory.
At the inception of the case, 10 countries entered the Lautsi case as “third party” (or Amicus Curiae). Each of these countries, Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, Romania, the Russia Federation, and San Marino, submitted a brief to the Court inviting it to overturn its first decision. It is important to note that these briefs not only contain a legal interest, but primarily are remarkable testimonies of their respective country’s culture and identity facing the imposition of a unique cultural model, that of pure secularization. Lithuania, for example, has not hesitated to analogize the Lautsi case to the religious persecution it suffered when it was forced to remove religious symbols from its country.
After the initial wave of ten, additional countries joined Italy’s side. The governments of Albania, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine have openly criticized the initial judgment and petitioned that the Court remember that it must respect the national identities and religious traditions of each of the 47 member States. Several governments insisted on the fact that religious identity is at the root of European values and unity.
Therefore, including Italy, almost half of the member States of the Council of Europe have openly opposed this attempt of forced secularization of schools and affirmed the social legitimacy of Christianity in European society. Behind the legal arguments made in the defense of identities, cultures, and Christian national traditions, these 20 countries have publicly affirmed and defended their faithfulness to Christ himself, reminding Europe that the presence of Christ in society is of great benefit to all.
This coalition, which comprises most of central and eastern Europe, highlights the permanent cultural division within Europe as a whole. It also demonstrates, however, that this division can be overcome, as shown by the level of support given to Italy by countries of the Orthodox tradition, whatever their political orientation may be at the moment. The level of support given by countries of Orthodox tradition comes in great part from the determination of the Moscow Patriarchate in his fight against the ever increasing threat of secularism. Putting into practice the demand of the Patriarch Cyril of Moscow and all Russia of “unifying the Christian Churches” against the advance of secularism, the Metropolitan (Bishop) Hilarion Alfeyev has proposed a Constitution “of a strategic alliance between Catholic and Orthodox,” aimed at defending together the Christian tradition “against the secularism, liberalism, and relativism that is prevalent in modern Europe” (Interview Inside the Vatican, 24th of April 2005).
This important phenomenon shows that the “democratic transition” in the East was not accompanied by the “cultural transition” as hoped for by the West. We see today an inverse movement in the return of the historical identity of Europe in the Orthodox model of the relationship between Church and the civil power.
Moreover, the large support coming from the East is likely to announce a change in the process of cultural construction of European unity. Indeed, it has always been thought that European unity would inevitably take place from West to East (a “conquest of the East”) through the expansion of economic and cultural liberalism. Eastern Europe, however, relying on Catholicism, is opposing to the West in favor of the defense of Christian culture and for a fair understanding of religious liberty.
As Gregor Puppinck, Director of the ECLJ, noted: “Ironically, there is a complete role reversal: the defenders of the freedom of the religions in society against the materialistic ideology are not where they used to be.”
The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) is an international law firm focusing on the protection of human rights and religious freedom in Europe and worldwide. The ECLJ is affiliated with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on protecting religious freedom in the United States. Attorneys for the ECLJ have served as counsel in numerous cases before the European Court of Human Rights. Additionally, the ECLJ has special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the United Nations, and is accredited to the European Parliament.