It’s our identity, stupid!

Italians are not happy.

Pope Benedict for years has ben writing and speaking about the loss of identity of Europe.

But this is what happens when people lie down too long, allowing what is precious to be tarnished by malice and neglect.

Italians outraged as European court rules against crucifixes

By Nick Squires Nick Squires   – Tue Nov 3, 4:00 am ET

Rome – Italians reacted with outrage on Tuesday after a European court ruled that displaying crucifixes in the country’s schools violated the principle of secular education.

Italy’s education minister condemned the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, saying that the Christian cross was a symbol of the country’s Roman Catholic religion and cultural identity.

Mariastella Gelmini, a member of the conservative government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, argued that "no one, and certainly not an ideological European court, will succeed in erasing our identity," said

Other ministers said they were appalled by the ruling, calling it "absurd," "shameful" and "offensive."

Generations of Italian children have grown up studying in classrooms in which a wooden or metal crucifix looms above the blackboard. But Italy has been transformed in the past two decades from a country that exported migrants to one that has accepted around 4.5 million economic refugees and asylum seekers from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The influx of foreigners has led to deep-seated tensions, particularly with Roma gypsies from former Eastern bloc countries and Muslim immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East.

Schools in Spain, France, and Britain have also debated whether crucifixes should be allowed in public schools. The landmark ruling could prompt a Europewide review of the use of religious symbols in state-run schools.

Europe losing its identity?

The decision was handed down by a panel of seven judges at the court in Strasbourg. They said that the display of crucifixes, which is common but not mandatory in Italian schools, violated the principle of secular education and might be intimidating for children from other faiths.

"The presence of the crucifix could be … disturbing for pupils who practiced other religions or were atheists, particularly if they belonged to religious minorities," the court said. "The compulsory display of a symbol of a given confession in premises used by the public authorities… restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions," it added.

Crucifixes were an undeniable symbol of Catholicism, the court ruled, and as such were at odds with the principle of "educational pluralism."

‘Moral damages’

The court upheld a complaint filed by Soile Lautsi, a Finnish woman who lives in Italy and has Italian citizenship, [She could go back to Finland?] who complained that her children had to attend a state school in a town near Venice which had crucifixes in every classroom.

The court awarded her €5,000 ($7,400 dollars) in "moral damages," which will have to be paid by the Italian government unless it is successful in an appeal. The judges stopped short of ordering authorities to remove crucifixes from all state-run schools, and the long-term implications of the ruling were unclear.

The judgment sparked anger in predominantly Catholic Italy, with ministers and the Catholic Church saying the crucifix was an integral part of Italy’s national identity.

Foreign minister Franco Frattini, speaking during a visit to Morocco, said it was an attack on Italy’s Christian identity and that the government would appeal the decision.

"At a time when we’re trying to bring religions closer together, this is a blow to Christianity," he said.

The agriculture minister Luca Zaia, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League, a key ally in Mr Berlusconi’s bloc, called the judgment "shameful." Mario Baccini, a senator in Mr. Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, said the court had "gone adrift in paganism."

The newly-elected head of the main opposition Democratic Party, Pierluigi Bersani, commented that the ruling lacked common sense. "I think a longstanding tradition like the crucifix can’t be offensive to anyone," he said.

Italian bishops protest

The powerful Italian Bishops Conference said in a statement that the ruling was based on a "biased and ideological view." The Vatican said it wanted to study the exact wording of the ruling before issuing a response.

Mrs. Lautsi first brought the case eight years ago when her two children went to a state school in the spa town of Abano Terme near Venice. She asked for them to be taken down but education authorities refused. She then spent several years fighting the decision through the Italian courts.

A court in the Veneto region where she lives rejected her arguments, prompting her to take the case to Strasbourg.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    How does a camel get into the tent, first it is only it’s nose, before long the camel is inside.

  2. Oleksander says:

    that woman must have lots of hate, even demons have faith, to spend years to do this

  3. FrCharles says:

    May God bless their outrage and purify it. Even at the institution of Catholic theological education where I studied for the priesthood, we did not have crucifixes in the classrooms. And there was no outrage.

  4. Seraphic Spouse says:

    Here we go. The E.U. is blatantly interfering with the indigenous culture of a sovereign nation for the sake of one of that nation’s few immigrants who shares the E.U.’s secularising prejudices. Just wait until people notice that there are crosses all over European flags and start demanding that those flags be altered. Already the English flag, featuring the cross of St. George, has been demonised as a “racist” symbol. Will the crosses of St. Andrew and St. David be next?

    It is well and good to protect ethnic minorities from actual harm (like the harm Christians suffer in majority Muslim countries), but I don’t see why ethnic minorities (like Finns in Italy) should be able to do away with the rights and customs of the majority–or, indeed, go wailing away to foreign courts to make them change.

  5. TNCath says:

    Well, it’s about time they started reacting to something! I’ve been going to Italy regularly for 20 years and have noticed how more and more secular (aka American) their culture has become.

  6. The Astronomer says:

    How far is it from banning the displaying of a crucifix in a classroom to ‘secularists’ taking offense at the wearing of a crucifix? (After all they will claim that act is creating an intimidating social environment)

    When and if this comes to pass, as it likely will using the above-cited ‘camel nose in the tent’ analogy…how long until faithful Catholics are officially ‘Enemies of the State”???

    Jes’ askin’, yall….

  7. Jack Hughes says:

    This article demonstrates why I think that General Franco ought to be cannonized – he recognized that the state should recognize the truth of the Catholic faith and defend it to the last, with force if needs be unlike the sissy’s in ‘nominally’ Catholic Countries today.

  8. moon1234 says:

    Everyone is missing the big picture here! A sovereign nation is being dictated to, even fined by, an international court with no respect for the laws or soverignty of the individual nation. This European Court business is VERY scary. We need to be watchful in the Americas that we never allow something even close to this type of super-national ruling body to have any say or influence in the internal affairs of our country.

    Europe should have it’s ruling monarchs put back in place. The mob rule that has risen up over there will be their undoing.

    If we are not vigilent we will have “One World Government” that will trump the laws of a soverign nation whenever it suits their political or business motives.

  9. Gabriella says:

    I’m Italian and yes, I’m not happy :(
    I would like to ask this Mrs. Lautsi what has she planned to do about the cross on her country’s flag.
    Thank God for Berlusconi’s government! It certainly will not accept such a ruling!
    Amazing how only the newly-elected head of the main opposition party commented weakly that the ruling lacked common sense – all the others are silent!
    TNCath @ 10:31 am is right! Italy is completely secular notwithstanding beautiful churches round every corner!

  10. Tominellay says:

    Privatize the schools!

  11. haleype says:

    Not to worry…the time will come, and perhaps not too far off, when Christ Our King will reign Glorious and Immortal over all the earth and those responsible for this insult will receive their just recompense. If I were those “Judges”, I’d be shaking in my boots.

  12. Rob Cartusciello says:

    The EU Court vs. Legions of Italian grandmothers. This should be good.

  13. mattmcg says:

    The problem is that the countries of the EU have bound themselves to this monstrosity. It is very hard to defy such a decision, or to back out of the arrangement. Now that Italy and the others have surrendered this sovereignty, it is only a matter of time until their countries are much more homogenized. It’s astounding that a sovereign nation would put itself into such a situation – to be dictated to by foreign bureaucrats. And there is little reason to suggest that any EU nation will back out of this situation. What a shame.

  14. Roland de Chanson says:

    Moon1234 raises a crucial point. As the Vatican “studies” the wording of the decision, it should do so in the context of Caritas in veritate and Benedict’s discernment of an “urgent need of a true world political authority”. Presumably such an authority would conform itself to the moral principles both of subsidiarity and solidarity and thus recognise Italy’s right to display the crucifixes.

    Or would it? After all, if Benedict’s call for Turkish admission to the EU is heeded, there will undoubtedly be many more than the current lone Turk not only on this court but in all policy making institutions of the EU Leviathan. The first blow has been struck by the dictatorship of atheistic relativism; the final one will be struck by the tyranny of Mohammedan sharia. St. Peter’s will be the next Hagia Sophia; the Vatican the next Phanar.

    As the Teutonic Hammer yielded to the Roman Cross, so will the Cross yield to the Saracen Crescent.

  15. Agnes says:

    (Fr Z, your freudian slip is showing: “Pope Benedict for years has ben writing …”)

    I would not mess with those Italian Moms and Grandmoms. Didn’t they refuse to feed the council until they decided to declare the Immaculate Conception? Certainly there is enough of a remnant to move schools to hang a simple crucifix.

    Dismal culture loss all over. Cling to your faith because it is who you are!

  16. asperges says:

    Under the recently signed Treaty of Lisbon into which both Ireland and the Czech republics have recently been pushed into acceptance (and on which in the UK none of us has voted at all..), we will see a spread of this sort of nonsense. It isn’t difficult to put all this under “diversity” (only works one way) or political correctness. I believe there is a concerted and definite movement against anything Christian, but of course no-one will admit this.

    There was a famous case here regarding a Christian employee of British Airways who was disciplined for wearing a very small cross in 2006. She was re-instated and BA changed their uniform rules (a minor victory) but her claim for compensation for discrimination etc was thrown out of court. See It has to be said that there was much public sympathy for her original stand.

    Any offers to stand as new EU “El Presidente?”

  17. So… what if somebody’s religion is against chairs and desks? Do they make all the kids sit on the floor all day?

  18. taximom says:

    I left Italy over twenty years ago but still visit it regularly, since most of my family still lives in Rome. My outrage at how much my ‘home country’ has changed for the worse has been building up with every visit, every piece of news I read, every comment I hear when I go back, aimed at criticizing the Pope and the Church. The country has been a ‘refugium peccatorum’ for so long. I am not at all surprised that it has come to this. Only a couple of years ago, a Muslim had the audacity to remove a crucifix from the wall and toss it out the window in an Italian hospital where his little boy was being cured. Nothing happened. In a typically Italian fashion, the outrage was confined to the dinner table, but everybody kept quiet in the piazza.

  19. JosephMary says:

    “If we are not vigilent we will have “One World Government” that will trump the laws of a soverign nation whenever it suits their political or business motives.”

    Might want to keep an eye on the upcoming “Treaty of Copenhagen” on December 15th then…

  20. Joseph says:

    The ‘Roma gypsies from former Eastern bloc countries’ bit is misleading. Those two groups tend (I believe) to be predominantly Catholic groups.

  21. Eric says:

    How is this ruling enforced? Sanctions?

  22. Jordanes says:

    Everyone: this was a decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which is not a European Union entity.

    Furthermore, the decision is unenforceable. Italy has ignored rulings of this court in the past, and will no doubt ignore this one. (The article talks of the ruling being “appealed.” Appealed to whom? It’s not like the European Court of Human Rights answers to anybody, or has any authority to enforce its decisions. Perhaps it just means the Italian government will seek to have the court reconsider its ruling.)

  23. DerJimbo says:

    I believe President Andrew Jackson once summed up my response to this decision. He objected to a ruling of the US Supreme Court and remarked, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” It would do Europe no harm should Berlusconi decide to publicly thumb his nose at the Court in Strasbourg.

  24. Steve K. says:

    I was thinking exactly the same thing, DerJimbo. Simply don’t obey the ruling. How would the ECHR hope to enforce their will in the face of that?

    And if “Europe” went after Italy on that, Berlusconi wouldn’t have to worry about re-election (or prosecution…) again. That might be the only thing that saves the old crook…

  25. jerzm says:

    By the way – could you explain me what is the situation with religious symbols in public schools in the USA? Are crucifixes common in schools?
    Is there any legislation on religious symbols in public places?

    And more general question – are the USA more religious and less secular than European countries (in comparison with France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovakia)?

  26. Tradster says:

    “Just wait until people notice that there are crosses all over European flags and start demanding that those flags be altered. Already the English flag, featuring the cross of St. George, has been demonised as a “racist” symbol. Will the crosses of St. Andrew and St. David be next?”

    The first flag the EU would love to wipe clean of any religious symbolism is its own, which is the circle of twelve stars on a blue field:

    The flag’s designer, Arsène Heitz, has acknowledged that the Book of Revelation (which is where the twelve-star halo of the Virgin Mary was first mentioned) helped to inspire him. Revelation 12:1 is cited to explain the symbolism: “A great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (a crown of stars can be interpreted as a “Crown of Immortality”). It has been noted that the date the flag was adopted, 8 December 1955, coincided with the Catholic Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a feast decreed in 1854 by Pope Pius IX.

  27. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    Meaning no disrespect or error, Father Zuhlsdorf and everyone else, but isn’t a public school by definition non-religious in orientation? Maybe it’s the public-school education I’ve had, but it’s not as if they’re banning wearing crucifixes or something – and I don’t think they’re acting against Catholic schools, just government ones.

  28. romancrusader says:

    Here’s what the liberal left wants to do:

    shrink the membership of the church until it gets significantly smaller. Then take out the Church with one swift stroke! The left isn’t stupid! They know the Church doesn’t approve of same-sex unions, killing children and of marxism. That’s why they want the whole world to embrace their ideology.

  29. Virgil says:

    Be it known that I am as much against this decision as the rest of those posting! It has been a hard day at the office, listening to my colleagues discuss the story.

    Although the politicians of all parties here in Italy have denounced the decision and vow appeal, the cosmopolitan, secular masses (at least those in my office) are very much supportive of the decision. Two reasons, according to my colleauges anyway.

    1. Most Italians are secular, and they feel every bit as “oppressed” by the ubiquitous crucifix. They are just sad that it was a foreigner who had to go to bat for them.

    2. She, the woman who sued, was an immigrant from the Veneto. Everyone in Italy knows that the Veneto is the bastion of the anti-immigrant Lega del Nord party. Umberto Bossi and his stormtroopers (against the pleadings of the Vatican, by the way) often use Catholic symbols as a way to make immigrants feel unwelcome.

    Now, as a vocal “non-secular” I LOVE the fact that the crucifix is seen everywhere. And I love the fact that local bishops come to our factories to bless our workers and machines.

    And as an immigrant, the crucifix actually makes me feel quite welcome. It’s a reminder of home.

    But the Italians I know just don’t understand their weird Catholic American friend.

    Va pensiero…

  30. Jon says:

    Perhaps we could bring back Hilaire Belloc?

  31. ray from mn says:

    It won’t be long before Ireland and Poland will come under that same rule.

    This is what prosperity does, folks.

    The road to Hell is smooth and wide and comfortable.

  32. Rachel says:

    Francisco, I think I see where you’re coming from, and it’s true that in American and other countries, public schools have developed to become non-religious, partly because of court orders such as the one in the early 60’s that got rid of prayer of in public schools. But I would answer that a public school is most definitely NOT non-religious by definition. When they were first founded in the US and Europe, they were as religious as the culture and taught religion along with other subjects. In some countries there were Protestant public schools and Catholic public schools and parents could choose their religion. I think that’s the best you can do, if you’re going to require the public to pay through taxes for free schooling for all children. To require that all public schools be practically atheist is to discriminate against the religious parents who have to fund those schools and still get their own children taught some other way.

    Regarding taking down crucifixes in classrooms, here’s a great short story from Peter Kreeft.

  33. Sandy says:

    So much for the illusion that these rulings only happen in the U.S. There has been criticism from the Vatican before that the E.U. was ignoring its Christian roots in writing the Constitution. Sometimes we have to be quite trampled upon before we wake up (we can only hope that’s happening in our own country – waking up). Maybe this type of thing will awaken the Europeans to the loss of faith and heritage.

  34. Glen M says:

    A crucifix does indeed violate secular education. The solution is to maintain and grow proper Catholic schools.

  35. shane says:

    The EU is irrelevant to this case. The European Court of Human Rights is an apparatus of the Council of Europe, nothing to do with the European Union.

  36. Seraphic Spouse says:

    Shane’s quite right. My error. The European Court of Human Rights is more like the Canadian Human Rights Commission currently censoring unpopular speech back home.

    Meanwhile, secularism IS a religion: don’t let anyone tell you different.

  37. terryprest says:

    The decision of the The European Court of Human Rights is not a decision of little importance

    If the decision is not successfully appealed, the decision wil have to be applied in 47 states in Europe (not just the EU countries). It does not just affect Italy


    Some countries like the UK have incorporated the European Convention of Human Rights into domestic law.

    By the Human Rights Act in the UK, all State action (widely defined to include any administrative act of any government body) must adhere to the Convention and legislation is interpreted in accordance with the Convention.

    All UK Courts and tribunals routinely refer to the Convention and decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in their decisions as they are obliged to pay due regard to its decisions.

  38. Sid says:

    Mrs. Lautsi’s Tin Pacifists

    Also he [Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all “progressive” thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and the avoidance of pain. In such a view of life, there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children paying with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t want only comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarized version of Socialism.

    — George Orwell, review of A. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 21 March 1940

    The term “democracy”, as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike — it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.

    — T.S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society, 1939

  39. Mitchell NY says:

    Everything once untouchable and sacred is now touchable and up for scrutiny and grabs..As ridiculous as it may now sound someone, sooner or late will be offended by seing a crucifix atop a Church overlooking a town and demand it taken down or removed from sight. Laugh now but the day will come. Flag comments, right on target..Somehow, someway, this can be connected to the idea that the faith and symbols are all subject to change and it is OK to brutalize the Catholic Church. Close of an unmentioned Council allowed this idea to flourish. For any good it may have brought, the perception of weakness followed.

  40. Agnes of Prague says:

    It’s amazing to an American, but in Italy, the post office, the airport offices, have crucifixes on the wall. Rachel’s comment about public school not being the same as secular is correct, I believe.

    Jerzm, in America the public schools are really SECULAR schools. Religious symbols in the rooms are a no-no. Every year there are debates about it. In the South in some places there are optional Bible classes–probably supposedly as history/literature–but I think all that kind of thing is mostly Protestant-initiated. Public buildings (courthouses, libraries, public offices) are the same way, usually no religious symbols, except the phrase ‘One Nation Under God’ perhaps, which is part of the Pledge of Allegiance to the US Flag. Some judge wanted a stone set of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and there was a big hullaballoo.

  41. Gail F says:

    They have a “European Court of Human Rights”??? And it can tell schools in Italy what to do???

    And they are about to get a President of Europe. What could go wrong?

  42. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    “They have a “European Court of Human Rights”??? And it can tell schools in Italy what to do???”

    Not if every major Italian party has something to say about it…

  43. markomalley says:


    The next goal is to get rid of Catholic schools. After all, we can’t allow the childrens’ minds to be polluted by religion now, can we?

  44. wmeyer says:

    I had begun to think that there was nothing sacred to Europeans, in their relentless pursuit of secularism and death. Nice to see even a glimmer of hope.

  45. Francisco Cojuanco says:

    “By the way – could you explain me what is the situation with religious symbols in public schools in the USA? Are crucifixes common in schools?
    Is there any legislation on religious symbols in public places?

    And more general question – are the USA more religious and less secular than European countries (in comparison with France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovakia)?”

    Since the US has always been a majority-Protestant country, crucifixes have never been common in the public schools. Furthermore, several court rulings prohibit overtly religious symbols in government buildings and/or municipal land (say, a cross on the courthouse lawn). There are some exceptions (e.g. a historical site).

    As for your second question, in some degrees yes (more people state they believe in God) and not really (only some 40% attend worship services on any given week). Of course, regional and other demographic variations exist (for example, immigrants IIRC tend to be more religious than those born in-country)

  46. spesalvi23 says:

    The European psyche is more complex than it may appear.
    The continent has been scarred and torn by centuries of war, ethnic conflicts and nationalism.
    The idea of the EU was good and needed. If the founding fathers -> Adenauer, de Gasperi and Schumann could see the state it is currently in, they’d instantly cancel membership!
    But, as the rest of just about everything in Europe, the Union has been taken over by the endlessly discussing, politically correct, soft washed, and, at the same time, extremely intolerant leftist elite.
    It will take some time to take it back!

  47. Supertradmom says:

    State education does not have to been secular education. In face, many Catholics misunderstand the Church’s teaching on state and church relationships. It is the duty of the State to protect religion and to protect the Church. This does not mean a “theocracy”, but the recognition that the Holy Catholic Church is the one true Church, and that all religions are to be tolerated, but not necessarily encouraged, except the one, true, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. Read the encyclicals of the Popes in the last one hundred and thirty years and see this theme over and over again with regard to education, labor relations, war, etc.. The Catholic Church has a special place in Europe and all Western nations, which were created by the virtues and ideas of nationhood and freedom, as taught through Catholic schools, monasteries, etc. reaching back to the Magna Carta and even before.

    State education can be religious and does not by definition have to be anti-God or anti-Catholic. This is the great lie of the twentieth-century. Even in America, where the founding fathers did not want a national church, there was no understanding that religion would be entirely excluded from the public sphere, including education.

  48. Agnes of Prague says:

    Actually, this is very interesting: Rorate Caeli has an article that argues the crucifix is actually part of ITALIAN heritage per se, almost like the Italian flag:

    Before the Constitutional Court, the Government argued that such a display was natural, as the crucifix was not only a religious symbol but also, as the “flag” of the only Church named in the Constitution (the Catholic Church), a symbol of the Italian State.

    The court held that the crucifix was both the symbol of Italian history and culture, and consequently of Italian identity, and the symbol of the principles of equality, liberty and tolerance, as well as of the State’s secularism. By a judgment of 13 February 2006, the Consiglio di Stato dismissed the applicant’s appeal, on the ground that the cross had become one of the secular values of the Italian Constitution and represented the values of civil life.

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