Strasbourg, France, Mar 18, 2011 / 10:08 am
Updated on March 18, 2011 at 4:26 p.m. MST.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Italian public schools can continue to display crucifixes in classrooms, providing a final resolution to a case that had sparked concern about aggressive secularism on the continent.
The new ruling overturns an earlier judgment by a lower chamber of the same court, which declared in 2009 that the crosses violated students' human rights and represented a form of religious discrimination.
Seventeen judges of the Grand Chamber gave the 15-2 ruling on March 18, holding that there had been “no violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 (right to education) to the European Convention on Human Rights.” The protocol requires that state schools “shall respect the right of parents to ensure … education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.”
In 2009, a lower chamber ruled that the crucifixes violated that protocol, as well as another provision guaranteeing “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.” The court's new ruling also dismissed the challenge based on that statute.
The decision, which cannot be appealed within the European system, concludes a five-year legal battle that began in 2006. An Italian mother of two non-Catholic students had complained to the court that the crucifix displays were a form of involuntary religious indoctrination.
In a summary of the Grand Chamber's March 18 ruling, Court Registrar Erik Fribergh explained that the judges had found “nothing to suggest that the authorities were intolerant of pupils who believed in other religions, were non-believers or who held non-religious philosophical convictions.”
The registrar noted that the mother who brought the complaint on behalf of her children, had never cited any actual instances of religious indoctrination.