Italians demand crucifixes remain in schools

Leaders from across the political spectrum, religious leaders and even some Muslims have joined together in a rare consensus to demand the crucifixes not be removed from Italy's public schools, despite a controversial court ruling on the issue.

The debate on the presence of crucifixes in public school classrooms erupted last week when Adel Smith, president of the political party Muslim Coalition of Italy, brought a lawsuit against the Antonio Silveri public elementary school in Ofena, alleging the continued presence of a crucifix in the school violated the religious  freedom of his two children.

After last Thursday's ruling by Judge Mario Montanaro ordering the crucifix to be removed, the public outcry was so intense the country's leaders were forced to comment on the ruling. 

The Minister of Justice, Roberto Castelli, has ordered an investigation into the ruling in order to determine "if regulations were not respected or if current laws were ignored," since there are current laws on the books and past rulings by the Constitutional Court permitting the presence of crucifies in public classrooms.

Italy's president, Azeglio Ciampi, said that "the crucifix in schools has always been considered not only a distinctive sign of a particular religious creed, but above all a symbol of the values that are at the foundation of our identity." 

Vice President Gianfranco Fini said the judge's decision not only violates the law and Italian tradition, "it offers arguments to those who deny the possibility of peaceful coexistence and of respectful integration (of Muslims) into our society."

Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu, declared, "I am offended as a Christian, and as a citizen.  The crucifix is not only a symbol of my religion; it also is the highest expression of 2000 years of civilization that belongs to the Italian people.  This ruling threatens to alter the sincere willingness to dialogue that exists between the  great majority of Churches, communities and religious groups in Italy."

The Education Minister has said he will continue following the legislation of 1923, which still is in force, and which permits the presence of crucifixes in schools and court houses.

Surprisingly almost all political parties in the country have signed a resolution in the Italian Parliament declaring the crucifix to be "the oldest and most powerful symbol of freedom for all, as well as the symbol 'laicity of the State'," and demanding that the government ensure "effective respect" of the law that permits the presence of crucifixes in schools.

The resolution also requests that the government prepare an educational campaign for schools "to explain to all why the crucifix represents our national, European, and Western identity." 

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, President of the Italian Bishops Conference, said the crucifix "expresses the deepest soul of the country and should continue to be a sign of national identity."  At the same time the Secretary General of the Bishops Conference, Bishop Giuseppe Betori, recalled that the ruling " contradicts a state law that no Parliament has ever modified.  The crucifix is not only a religious symbol; it is also an image in which the Italian people recognize the roots of their civilization."

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