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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  1. Well said, Ralf Grahn.

    There's a place for you amongst the human race after all.

  2. I have been thinking about it some time already. The United States of America have a pretty motto: E pluribus unum (out of many one) - it hits the problem. We want Europe to be united to be strong but together with to be diverse. And Moravian baroque scholar John Amos Comenius said: "There is power in unity, there is freedom in difference, there is love over it all."
    We can be convinced that some issue need to be organized only in certain way which is the best for all but in some cases we must respect at the same time that the others can see it otherwise. On the other hand, there must be some number of basic rights which have to be valid all over Europe. The question is whether the crucifixes in Italian schools should be considered according to a right of religion freedom enforceable by a court or should be considered a thing specific to Italian culture and its society usance.

  3. WG & citizen of Europe,

    It seems to be easy for people to have strong opinions in favour of their own faith or beliefs, but the tricky part is finding universal rules, applicable according to the law of reciprocity (the Golden Rule).

    I would give less weight to a right not to be offended, than to the right to practice your faith.

    To take an example:

    There should be the same right to conduct an atheist bus advertismant campaign as one for the existence of God (as understood by the Church of X).

    I do not see it as legitimate, if bus drivers threaten to go on strike against either. Their job is to drive the bus, so that people can go to work.

    Protection for a 'right' not to be offended cannot go very far (cf. blasphemy).

    The Italian schools are an interesting case. If I understood correctly they are state run and defined as secular, but ordered to have crucifixes; a contradictory position leading to the contorted arguments offered by the state in the Strasbourg Court.


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