Shift of ECHR finally acknowledges the diversity of approaches in Europe regarding religious symbols in the public square
COMECE welcomes the sound judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the case Lautsi vs Italy. The Grand Chamber of the ECHR stated on 18 March 2011 that the presence of crucifixes in Italian State-school classrooms is not contrary to the right to education. This decision clearly refutes the previous 2009 judgment of the ECHR Chamber. COMECE sees in this decision an acknowledgement of the legitimate place of Christianity in the public square as well as the recognition of the diversity of cultural traditions in Europe.
It is a fact that all over Europe, there is a variety of models ruling the question on how to deal with religion and religious symbols in public schools and public life. This diversity results from the Member States’ different traditions, identities and histories, and within the context of different Church-State relations. The court rightly acknowledges that the absence “of a European consensus on the presence of religious symbols in State schools” has to be taken into account to assess this case.
The presence of a crucifix in schools does not hinder the conveying of the curriculum in an objective, critical and pluralistic manner. The presence of this particular religious symbol aims rather at conveying basic moral values in public schools.
In view of the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, COMECE shares the view of the Court that the most appropriate level at which such matters, which are deeply rooted in the tradition of a particular country, can be sensibly assessed is the national one.
The crucifix symbolizes the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians from all denominations therefore see in the cross the symbol of God’s comprehensive love for all mankind. To believers from other religions and even to non-believers, the cross can be valued as a symbol for non-violence and resistance to retaliation; its public display reminds all human beings of the respect for human dignity, a principle from which all fundamental rights are derived.
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