European Court of Human Rights: Crosses can stay in Italy’s classrooms

STRASBOURG, France — Crosses will continue to remain in Italy’s classrooms as a result of a judgment issued Friday by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. The court reversed a lower chamber’s 2009 ruling in favor of an “offended” parent who wanted crucifixes removed from the country’s public schools but did not prevail in Italian courts.

In May, the ECHR granted the request of Alliance Defense Fund attorneys to allow 33 members of the European Parliament to intervene in the lawsuit. ADF, which represents MEPs from 11 different nations, argued in a legal memo that the lower chamber exceeded the European court’s authority over such matters within Italy.

“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. The Grand Chamber did the right thing here in choosing to reverse the lower chamber’s flawed decision,” said ADF Legal Counsel Roger Kiska, who was present at the court when the decision was issued. “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.”

The court held that there has been no violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and that, therefore, Italy was within its rights under the Convention to allow display of the crucifix in classrooms.

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 in November 2009 that crucifixes in Italy’s public school classrooms must go. The lawsuit, Lautsi v. Italy, was referred to the ECHR Grand Chamber in March 2010, and ADF submitted its motion for leave to intervene in May.

“A loss in this case would have meant, in essence, that it would be illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights to have religious symbols in any state institution anywhere in Europe,” Kiska added. “That would have set a dangerous example for the rest of the world. For instance, lawsuits that seek to tear down 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 this case, ADF wants to head off any opportunity for activists in the U.S. to cite foreign court decisions as patterns to follow. We will continue fighting that battle in all of the cases in which we are involved.”

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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