ADF files motion to intervene after European court oversteps Italy’s decision on crosses in schools

STRASBOURG, France — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a motion to intervene Wednesday on behalf of 32 members of the European Parliament from 11 nations supporting Italy in a forthcoming appeal of a ruling from the Second Section of the European Court of Human Rights.  The ruling overruled Italy’s courts and ordered the removal of crucifixes from the predominantly Catholic nation’s public schools. ADF attorneys argue in a legal memo that the ECHR ruling last year in favor of an “offended” parent exceeded the European court’s authority over such matters in Italy and counters existing law and traditions throughout Europe.

“The European Court of Human Rights shouldn’t overstep its authority and force a member nation to abandon traditions and beliefs that it has a sovereign right to protect if it so chooses,” said ADF Legal Counsel Roger Kiska, who is based in Europe. “An outside judicial body demanding that a nation must forsake and discontinue how it handles millennia-old traditions is a step towards an authoritarian system that no country anywhere on the globe should welcome.”

Soile Lautsi, a Finnish and Italian citizen, requested that the council of the public school her two children attend–in northeastern Italy’s province of Padua–remove crucifixes from its classrooms. After her request was refused, Lautsi appealed to the Regional Administrative Tribunal, which also dismissed her case. She then appealed the decision to the ECHR, which ruled last November that crucifixes in Italy’s public school classrooms must go. The lawsuit Lautsi v. Italy was referred to the ECHR Grand Chamber in March.

ADF attorneys contend in a legal memorandum that the ECHR’s decision is problematic and warrants appeal because it: 1) inconsistently applies previous ECHR judgments and decisions; 2) incorrectly and inconsistently addresses concerns regarding parental rights in education; 3) erroneously disregards the principle of respect for the cultural sovereignty of member states; 4) marginalizes the far-reaching consequences the ruling has on many member states with symbols of their Christian heritage inside their public schools; and 5) wrongly awards moral damages to the parent when no real damage was suffered.

“If this appeal is lost, future rulings could have disastrous consequences for member states and set a dangerous example for other countries to follow,” Kiska added. “For example, lawsuits seeking the tearing-down of religious symbols simply because one person says he or she has been ‘offended’ are very common in the U.S. In addition to the concerns directly related to the facts of this case, ADF wants to head off any opportunity for activists in the U.S. to cite foreign court decisions as examples to follow.”

In an American case involving a seven-foot memorial cross honoring World War I veterans, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that the cross could stay, saying, “The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm….  The Constitution does not oblige government to avoid any public acknowledgment of religion’s role in society.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.


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