Saturday, 7 November 2009

Freedom from religion and crucifixes in the classroom

Sometimes you are confronted with a dilemma, and you find that you lack firm answers.

The Vatican regards the Strasbourg court’s ruling as short-sighted and wrong-headed, reports Corriere della Sera (4 November 2009).

The Catholic Church would hardly have reacted as clearly, if the crucifix was only a state symbol (in Italy).


Lautsi v Italy

Many have reacted without reading the judgment.

European Court of Human Rights, press release on Lautsi v Italy, 3 November 2009. The whole judgment is available in French (application 30814/06), in doc format.

(Note to English media: The European Court of Human Rights was set up in Strasbourg by the Council of Europe Member States in 1959 to deal with alleged violations of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. They are not European Union institutions.)

For a comment, see the ECHR blog: Crucifix in the Classroom Judgment (4 November 2009).


Feelings, not law

The Lautsi v Italy case has caused uproar, from the Vatican, from Italian politicians and many believers.

On the other hand, there is satisfaction for the defenders of the secular state (“laïcité” as they say in France).

I have to admit that I feel torn, and I have no desire to analyse the judgment from a legal standpoint, but it makes me ask something about how humans are meant to live side by side.

Generally, I prefer the state and the public sector more broadly to be secular and non-discriminatory, but I think that tolerance is sometimes more valuable than a stubborn application of principle.

The judgment raises questions about Nativity plays, Christmas, hymns, carols, state funerals, national flags with crosses, as well as headscarves etc. if enforcement of unitary standards is sought from above.

The Council of Europe joins 47 countries, with vastly varying cultural and religious traditions. I wonder if it would not be better to let individuals and (local) societies evolve at their own pace, as long as they avoid real discrimination.

Religious symbols might be an area, where the principle of subsidiarity, originally from Catholic social teaching (and adopted by the European Union) could be applied, in a spirit of tolerance, allowing room for individuals and local communities.

Often the best politics is not to meddle, but are there any good universal solutions?

What do you think?

Ralf Grahn

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