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Recent Court Ruling Allows Crucifixes to Remain in European Classrooms

By Vicki Belstadt
The Digest, Associate Editor

The European Court of Human Rights recently decided a case, which allows crucifixes to be displayed in classrooms. This case was originally brought by a Finnish mother whose two children attended a school near Venice, Italy. These children objected to the crucifixes in the classrooms but the school refused to take them down.

At issue were the rights of non-Catholic students. The crucifix is widely recognized as a religious symbol. However, according to the European Court of Human Rights, the crucifix will not influence the students. Judge Bonello says that the crucifix in the classroom is “essentially a passive symbol.” He believes that it is not as important as the teaching in the classroom. Part of this argument is valid. Teaching and learning in the classroom is the most important part of attending school, much more important than what may be on the walls. However, a symbol that may relate to the Catholic religion may be offensive to some students.

The court looked at the preference of the individuals. They found that the majority of people wanted to keep the crucifix as a visible symbol in schools. In addition, they ruled that the crucifix itself is not just a religious symbol, but also a historical and cultural symbol, which may be interpreted by individuals in different ways.

This case overturned the previous ruling in favor of freeing the classroom from religious symbols to further children’s education without any violation to their rights. Italy did not agree with this ruling and appealed.

This ruling is binding in all of the 47 countries that are member of the Council of Europe.

Although viewing crucifixes as historical rather than religious may be far-fetched, similar behaviors can be seen in other countries. For example, in the United States of America, the phrase, “in God we trust,” can be seen on all currency. In addition, the American pledge of allegiance contains the phrase, “One country, under God.” Although this may be offensive to some Americans, it probably will not be changed any time in the near future.

For more information, please see:

The Telegraph, "Crucifixes can be Displayed in EU Schools," 18 Mar 2011.

The New York Times, "Crucifixes and Diversity: The Odd Couple," 28 Mar 2011.