Europe debates banning crucifixes in Italian schools


From the Associated Press. BRUSSELS — A European ruling banning crucifixes in Italian schools should be overturned, nine European governments said in an appeal Wednesday.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that crucifixes in Italian public schools violate religious and education freedoms last November. The case, part of a larger debate over the role of religious symbols in public places, has sharpened divisions between secular and religious advocacy groups.

Italian courts have previously ruled that the display of crucifixes is part of Italian national identity and not an attempt at conversion, an argument expanded by New York University legal scholar Joseph Weiler on behalf of the governments of Italy, Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, San Marino, Romania and Russia, who are appealing the ruling.

The decisions of the court — an arm of the Council of Europe, the continent's premier human rights watchdog — are binding on the council's 47 member states and therefore have an impact far beyond Italy.

"The democratic cohesion of society is dependent on the ability to uphold national symbols around which all society can coalesce," Weiler said. "It would be a strange (if Italy) had to abandon national symbols, and strip from its cultural identikit, any symbol which also had a religious significance."

Crucifixes are commonly displayed in Italian schools and public places.

In its Nov. 3 ruling, the European court said the crucifix could be disturbing to non-Christian or atheist pupils. It added that state-run schools must "observe confessional neutrality in the context of public education," where attendance is compulsory.

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