STRASBOURG, France, March 17, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Displaying crucifixes in schools does not violate the rights of non-Christian students, ruled the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) today.
The court said that there was no evidence “that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils.”
Italy’s foreign minister welcomed the decision. “The decision underlines, above all, the rights of citizens to defend their own values and their own identities,” Franco Frattini said, according to Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
“I hope that following this verdict Europe will begin to examine issues of tolerance and religious freedom with the same courage,”
The Vatican also welcomed the decision. It is “an important and historic ruling” said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.
The high-profile case began when Soile Lautsi, a Finnish-born Italian citizen, requested that the council of the public school her two children attend, in the Italian 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.
Lautsi then appealed the decision to the ECHR, which ruled in November 2009 that crucifixes in Italy’s public school classrooms must go.
That decision sent shockwaves through the predominantly Catholic country, with numerous politicians expressing their outrage at the perceived slight to Italy’s sovereignty and strong Catholic tradition. In reaction to the decision, several towns passed measures to mandate the display of the crucifixes, which before had only been customary.
However, Italy appealed the 2009 decision, and the lawsuit was referred to the ECHR Grand Chamber in March 2010.
Today the Grand Chamber overruled the ECHR’s previous ruling, and found that there has been no violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
A top attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, which had been actively involved in the case, today emphasized just how much was at stake in the case.
“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,” said ADF Legal Counsel Roger Kiska, who was present at the court when the decision was issued.
“That would have set a dangerous example for the rest of the world.”
Kiska said that the Grand Chamber did “the right thing.” “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,” he said.