ROME, Mon Mar 21, 2011 ( – The Italian Supreme Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court of appeal, upheld the sacking of a judge who refused to hear cases because there are crucifixes in Italian courtrooms.

Judge Luigi Tosti had appealed to the Cassation Court after he was dismissed by the Supreme Council of Magistrates (CSM) last year for refusing to perform his judicial duties at the courthouse in the town of Camerino from May 2005 to January 2006, in protest over the presence of the cross displayed in the courtroom.

Tosti, who is Jewish, argued that the presence of crosses in Italian courtrooms was a threat to religious liberty, and that defendants have the constitutional right to be tried in secular courtrooms.

In its ruling on March 14, the Cassation Court said the CSM was wholly “correct” in its dismissal of Tosti and rejected the argument that the presence of crosses was a threat to freedom of religion. The court also reiterated that under existing law the only religious symbol to be displayed in courtrooms was the cross.

Even before the ruling was released, Tosti had indicated he would take his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

“I am ready to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg if I don’t get justice from the Cassation Court,” Tosti told ANSA news agency in February.

“One cannot be forced to submit to a demonstration of faith like the display of the crucifix,” he said. “I was hired to serve a secular court, not an ecclesiastic one. Should my appeal fail, my battle for secularity and freedom will continue in the appropriate courts.”

However, just last week, on March 18, the Grand Chamber of the ECHR overturned a 2009 decision by ECHR panel that sought to ban crucifixes in Italian classrooms.

In a 15-to-2 ruling, the ECHR concluded that the presence of crucifixes in classrooms “cannot be regarded as indoctrination on the part of the state,” and that the ECHR’s 2009 verdict in favor Finnish-born Italian citizen Soile Lautsi, who appealed to the ECHR to have crucifixes in Italy’s public schools banned, was in error.

The cross “is an essentially passive symbol” the ECHR ruled, and noted that, “the effects of the great visibility that the presence of the crucifix attributes to Christianity in schools” is counterbalanced by religious education not being compulsory in Italian schools.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini applauded that ruling.

“I welcome with great satisfaction the decision taken by the ECHR’s Grand Chamber to acquit Italy of the charge of violating freedom of thought and religion,” Frattini said. “Today the popular sentiment of Europe won, because the decision interprets the voice of citizens in defense of their values and identity.”

Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini called the ruling “a great victory for the defense of an essential symbol of our country’s history and cultural identity.”

“The crucifix encapsulates the values of Christianity, the principles underlying European culture and Western civilization,” the Minister told the media.

“It is a symbol that does not divide but unites and its presence … does not represent a threat to the secular nature of the State or religious freedom.”