March 18, 2011
(Strasbourg, France) - The European Court for Human Rights has ruled Italy has the right to have crucifixes in the country's schools. The sentence passed by the Grande Chambre overturns the sentence dated November 3rd 2009, which had found Italy guilty of violating religious freedom, following an appeal presented by Sole Lautsi, an Italian citizen of Finnish origin. The judges established that there is nothing to prove that students are allegedly influenced by the presence of the crucifix in classrooms.
The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) was deeply involved in this case. As a third party in that case (amicus curiae), the ECLJ submitted written observations to the Court and also organised a seminar at the Council of Europe.
The following is reaction to today's ruling from Grégor Puppinck, Director of the ECLJ.
ECLJ: The Lautsi Crucifix Decision: A Great Victory for Europe!
By Grégor Puppinck
Director of the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ)
The Court ruled by 15 votes to 2 that the presence of the crucifix in the classrooms of Italian public schools is in conformity with the European Convention of Human Rights. This case signifies an end to the secularist tendencies of the Strasbourg Court and constitutes a shift in their approach. It reverses the previous decision unanimously adopted, which now seems like a historic error by the Court.
The Court correctly announced that Italian regulations conferred on the countries majority religion preponderant visibility in the school environment (…) was not in itself sufficient, however, to denote a process of indoctrination on Italy’s part and establish a breach of the requirements of the Convention. In other words, the Court ruled that “having regard to the preponderance of one religion throughout the history of a country the fact that the school curriculum gave it greater prominence than other religions could not in itself be viewed as a process of indoctrination.”1 The Court also highlighted the importance of respect for subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation which the States enjoy in religious matters.
The Court's decision is posted here.
The ECLJ notes with satisfaction that the Grand Chamber of the Court has adopted, with a few subtle differences, almost exactly the reasoning developed by the ECLJ in its written observations.
The ECLJ welcomes that the European Court has thus renounced the promotion of a radical conception of secularism. This decision is a victory for Europe, as Europe cannot be faithful to itself by marginalizing Christianity. This decision is more of a victory for Europe than for the “crucifix”; Europe refuses to deny its own identity by rejecting the suppression of Christianity in the name of Human Rights.
In fact, the Court recognised that in countries with a Christian tradition, Christianity has a specific social legitimacy which is distinct from other philosophical and religious beliefs and justifies the adoption of a differential approach where necessary. It is because Italy is a country of Christian tradition that the Christian symbol can legitimately have a specific visible presence in society.
This decision is very positive for Europe; it has a deep “unifying significance”. In refusing to falsely oppose human rights in Christianity, the Court preserved the deep unity and interdependence, bringing together spiritual and moral values on which European society is founded. This decision is true to Council of Europe Statute which affirms that the European States are “reaffirming their devotion to the spiritual and moral values which are the common heritage of their people and the true source of individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law, principles which form the basis of all genuine democracy”.
Marginalising Christianity in the name of human rights would have broken this unity of moral and spiritual value, splitting the identity of Europe.
The decision of the Court has a profound significance for unification of the people of Europe. Faced with the risk of losing the place of Christianity in Europe, more than twenty countries took a public stance in favour of the presence of the symbol of Christ in the public sphere; namely, Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, Romania, the Russian Federation and San Marino as well as Albania, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine. These countries, as well as signatories of the Convention, are, before the court, the primary guarantors. To a certain extent, the Member States not only have the power of “authentic interpretation” of the text, but also the sovereign power to amend or detach.
This unique collective movement is of great importance and reflects the fact that Christianity, beyond the political and religious divisions, is always at the heart of European unity. Furthermore, by respecting the visible presence of Christianity in society, the Court has reinforced the unity of European culture.
This strong political movement counteracts the attempts of radical secularists to use human rights against Christianity.
These radical secularists, by rejecting Christianity, utilize the culture of human rights to de-Christianize Europe in the name of respect and tolerance of non-Christians. Behind a discourse of tolerance, religious pluralism serves as a pretext to marginalize Christianity and could eventually impose on the European civilization exclusive secularism. The objective of this radical secularism is to introduce secularization of society in order to promote a certain cultural model in which the absence of value (neutrality) and relativism (pluralism) are values in themselves supporting a political project that is supposed to be both "post-religious" and "post-identity "; in one word "postmodern." This political project has a claim to a monopoly as a philosophical system.
A typical example of the exploitation of “religious pluralism” against European Christian identity is the school agenda published by the European Commission. This agenda, with millions of copies published, intentionally omitted the inclusion of Christian holidays, to officially promote a better knowledge of other religions and beliefs.
So far, it is mainly the argument of respect towards non-Christians which has been used to de-Christianise society; the fear of Islam is increasingly exploited and in fact similarly leads to marginalisation of Christianity. The fear of Islam is exploited to contest all religions, but especially Christianity.
Facing these attempts to marginalise Christianity, we must remember that Christianity – whether we believe in it or not – in the countries with Christian heritage, possesses a social legitimacy superior to that of other religious or philosophical beliefs. This undeniable legitimacy justifies the adoption of a differential approach where necessary. This differential approach can justify the presence of the crucifix in Italian classrooms.
In this regard, the Lautsi case is a victory for Europe. This case has presented an opportunity to show once again that the Christian roots of Europe foster the profound identity and the social cohesion of the European continent.
ECLJ Related documents
The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) is a Non-Governmental Organisation focusing on the protection of human rights and on the promotion of “the spiritual and moral values which are the common heritage of European’s peoples and the true source of individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law, principles which form the basis of all genuine democracy;” (Preamble of the Statute of the Council of Europe). 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.
1 As indicated in the Press Release