Wednesday, November 4, 2009

European Court Bans Crucifix From Italian Government School

Crucifixes are a quintessentially Catholic symbol - and are also part of the cultural heritage of many European nations. All of them, if they decide to remember what things were like before Martin Luther.

A woman who was born in Finland moved to Italy and became an Italian citizen. In 2002, she decided that a school in Abano Terme, Italy, shouldn't display crucifixes. She had a perfectly good reason, by contemporary standards: that's the school her children went to, and she didn't want crucifixes there.

When the school wouldn't do what she wanted, she went to court.
"Vatican denounces European ruling against crucifixes in schools"
Catholic News Service (November 4, 2009)

"The Vatican said it experienced 'surprise and sorrow' when a European court ruled that the crucifixes hanging in Italian public schools violate religious freedom.

"The European Court of Human Rights ruled Nov. 3 that the crucifixes hanging in every public classroom in Italy were 'a violation of the freedom of parents to educate their children according to their own convictions and of the religious freedom of the students.'

"Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, reacted to the decision saying, 'The crucifix has always been a sign of God's offer of love and a sign of union and welcome for all humanity. It is sad that it is being considered a sign of division, exclusion or limitation of freedom. That is not what it is and that is not the common feeling of our people.'..."
I feel sorrow, too, at the European court's decision. But surprise? Not so much. I've lived in America all my life, and equating a crucifix with 'divisiveness' is the sort of daft decision I've gotten used to.

Government schools here in America have been pretty well sanitized: I suppose there may be a few with a Bible in the "religion" section of the library, and the more "inclusive" Americans haven't succeeded in outlawing those morning recitations of the pledge of allegiance, with that 'divisive' "under God" phrase in it.

Being as familiar with American culture as I am, I think I can understand the European court's notion that a crucifix is 'divisive:' and isn't the sort of thing impressionable children should be subjected to. A crucifix is, after all, a reminder that there are authorities higher than national governments and teachers' associations.

Besides, kids who see a crucifix might get some really counter-cultural ideas.
"...Father Lombardi said it was particularly serious that the European court wants to remove from educational institutions 'a fundamental sign of the importance of religious values in Italian history and culture.'

"Religion, he said, contributes to the moral education and growth of individuals and is 'an essential part of our civilization.'

"Father Lombardi said it appeared that the court was trying to deny 'the role of Christianity in the formation of European identity, which has been and remains essential.'..."
I think Father Lombardi may have identified one of the reasons that the European court decided to banish crucifixes from that school. Religion does, arguably, contribute "to the moral education and growth of individuals" - and so is contrary to some of the most cherished values of contemporary Western culture.

For example, France, a self-recognized leader of culture, is sheltering a child rapist: according to French authorities, because he is a really good movie director. (September 28, 2009)

I can see how allowing children to be exposed to conventional moral standards might be seen as a threat to Europe's contemporary secular culture.

As for children being exposed to a (shudder) crucifix in a government school: I understand the argument that it could be regarded as a tacit state sponsorship of religion.

And, although in this case it would be the Catholic Church that's supported, I am not comfortable with 'state religions.' State support of a religion can have unintended consequences - which is is another topic.

Related posts: In the news:
A tip of the hat to CatholicNewsSvc, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

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