Italy’s cross to bear

Government to appeal ban on school crucifixes

Editorial Staff
November 19, 2009

A recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) banning crucifixes in Italian classrooms has sparked fierce criticism across the country.


The Vatican immediately slammed the ruling, arguing it was ‘wrong and myopic' to exclude the symbol from education.

The majority government said it would appeal the ‘unacceptable' decision, though if turned down, the verdict would become effective in three months.


Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said the sentence was ‘disrespectful' and could not be enforced in Italian schools: ‘The decision is absolutely disrespectful of a Catholic country like ours...Our country can only be described as Christian. Even an atheist has to agree with this,' he told reporters.


The postwar constitution ordered a separation of church and state, and Catholicism has not been Italy's official state religion since 1984. Although crucifixes are not mandatory, it is customary to find them in public buildings across the country. However, the presence of crosses in schools across Italy is disparate, and not all Italian schools adorn them on their walls.


The new ruling by the Strasbourg-based court upholds a legal suit filed by a Finnish immigrant and mother with Italian citizenship who acted against the presence of crosses in her children's state school in Padua.


The court found that crucifixes in Italian classrooms were a violation of parents' rights to educate their children according to their principles and also violated children's freedom of religion. The court also ordered the Italian government to pay the woman 5,000 euro in 'moral damages.'


Some 90 percent of Italians are self-declared Catholics, and politicians and believers across Italy are defending the presence of the long-standing Christian and cultural symbol in classrooms. The municipality of Grosseto has moved to impose a 500-euro fine on those who remove crosses in local schools. An entrepreneur from Varese spent 1,200 euro on a six- by three-meter cross and erected it in front of his company in Gavirate to demonstrate his ‘indignation' over the EU ruling.


The mayor of Vicenza also says he will oppose the removal of the crucifix from schools and public places in the city, while members of the Northern League party in the province of Venice have advanced a motion to counter the ruling and keep crucifixes in local public places, including schools.


What do you think about the ECtHR ruling? Do you consider the crucifix a symbol of Italy's heritage and national identity or a sign of religious affiliation? Let us know by writing to

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