Italy's highest administrative court ruled on Wednesday that crucifixes should remain in the country's classrooms as a symbol of key Italian values. The judges explained that, as well as being a religious symbol, it was also a symbol of "the values which underlie and inspire our constitution, our way of living together peacefully".
In what could turn into a landmark decision, the 'Council of State' threw out a case brought by a Finnish woman who had asked for the removal of crucifixes in the Padua school attended by her children .
The Court said principles such as tolerance, respect and the rights of individuals, which were now pillars of Italy's secular state, had their origins in Christianity. "In this sense the crucifix can have a highly educational symbolic function, regardless of the religion of the pupils," they added .
Judges also argued that the concept of the secular state, in which the temporal and spiritual dimensions were kept separate, was interpreted and applied in different ways according to a country's history .
The crucifix is not mandatory in any public building, but in the case of schools, it is usually councils of teachers and parents who tend to decide whether they want crosses in the classroom .Similar arrangements are in place in other public buildings .
In the past few years the presence of crucifixes has begun to spark controversy .
Meanwhile, the militant Union of Italian Muslims (UMI) has been in the public spotlight for some time thanks to his campaign to have crosses removed from schools and hospitals .
In 2003, UMI leader Adel Smith won a court order for the removal of crosses at the school his children attended. The order was later reversed after a nationwide protest.