The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled Tuesday (11/3) that Italy’s display of crucifixes in public schools was in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights’ protection of the rights to education and freedom of religion.
The applicant, Ms. Soile Lautsi, petitioned the Court after Italy had rejected her requests to take down crucifixes that were prominently displayed in her children’s classrooms in accordance with Royal Decrees dating from the 1920’s. Responding to Italy’s argument that crucifixes had become a symbol of secular Italian history and culture, the Court relied on its former holding in Buscarini et al. v. Saint-Marin that the social and historical meaning of a text used in oath-taking did not deprive the text of its religious character. The Court noted that the crucifixes could easily be interpreted as religious signs and that children could feel that their school environment was Catholic; this point was further aggravated by the fact that Catholicism was the majority religion in Italy. As students could not avoid the classrooms without undue hardship, the Court found that the presence of the crucifixes thus interfered with the right of parents to educate their children in accordance with their convictions, and the right of children to believe or not to believe.
The Court awarded the applicant 5,000 euros for moral damage, considering that a mere declaratory judgment would not be sufficient as Italy had not expressed its readiness to review the relevant Royal Decrees.
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