Europe screws up, allows crucifixes in classrooms

March 18, 2011 • 12:08 pm

According to the Associated Press, the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France, has just given Italy the okay to keep crucifixes in public school classroom, overturning its own decision of two years ago.

Friday’s final decision by the court’s Grand Chamber said it found no evidence “that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils.”

Friday’s ruling focused on Italian public schools, and does not automatically force other countries to allow crucifixes in the public schools, according to the court.

But it’s [sic] decisions affect all 47 countries that are members of the Council of Europe, the continent’s human rights watchdog. Citizens in other Council of Europe countries who want religious symbols in classrooms could now use this ruling as a legal argument in national courts, or governments could use this as a justification to change their laws about religious symbols.

The Vatican, of course, is overjoyed:

The Vatican hailed the “historic” decision, saying it showed that crucifixes weren’t a form of indoctrination but rather “an expression of the cultural and religious identity of traditionally Christian countries.”

“It recognized that, on an authoritative and international judicial level, the culture of man’s rights must not be put in contradiction with the religious fundamentals of European civilization, to which Christianty has given an essential contribution,” said a statement from the Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Similar “cultural tradition” arguments are used in America to justify similar acts, like putting the Ten Commandments in courtrooms.  But religious as the U.S. is, the Supreme Court would never allow crucifixes in public school classrooms.  Well, maybe the new court would . . . .

You can download the press release (in English, Italian, or German) and get further details, at the Court’s website.

Aren’t you Europeans supposed to be savvier than Amerians about this?

Here are the justices, all but Malinverni (Switzerland) and Kalaydjieva (Bulgaria) who voted to affirm:

Jean-Paul Costa (France), President,

Christos Rozakis (Greece),

Nicolas Bratza (the United Kingdom),

Peer Lorenzen (Denmark),

Josep Casadevall (Andorra),

Giovanni Bonello (Malta),

Nina Vajić (Croatia),

Rait Maruste (Estonia),

Anatoly Kovler (Russia),

Sverre Erik Jebens (Norway),

Päivi Hirvelä (Finland),

Giorgio Malinverni (Switzerland),

George Nicolaou (Cyprus),

Ann Power (Ireland),

Zdravka Kalaydjieva (Bulgaria),

Mihai Poalelungi (Moldova),

Guido Raimondi (Italy)

71 thoughts on “Europe screws up, allows crucifixes in classrooms

  1. The Vatican hailed the “historic” decision, saying it showed that crucifixes weren’t a form of indoctrination but rather “an expression of the cultural and religious identity of traditionally Christian countries.”

    If by traditional, you mean the past 1700 years, OK. But I’m pretty sure there was no Jesus in the 4.5 billion years before that. Seems to me that earth should be “traditionally” atheist.

  2. No, it appears we’re not.

    Actually, Europe has a mixed record with secularism. It’s both a good and a bad thing. For instance, I live in a nominal theocracy – but the state church has also stifled most religion into a mostly harmless ritual form.

    Only mostly harmless though, so it’s a very mixed blessing.

  3. Does that mean all icons are OK? Can one hang a Star of David? An Islamic crescent moon and star? A vampire’s skull with blood? A swastika?


    1. Sorry,
      it’s only about “traditionally Christian countries”.
      However, this isn’t a clear exclusion of swastikas, except if they are used as symbols of the sun…

      Oh, well, swastikas are just a variant of the cross isn’t it? And the guy Mithra was the sun, right? And very much the same history as Jesus no?
      Well, maybe swastikas are OK.

      1. In that case I suggest Italy should put the symbols of the Roman pantheon back up. I’m sure the people here in the Netherlands have no problems with the symbols of the Germanic gods showing up in public schools either.

    2. Actually, the Swastika is quite popular in Indian shops: it is hard to find many without one.

      Of course, it has got nothing to do with Nazism. It is just considered a nice looking symmetrical symbol of good luck.

        1. That’s got nothing to do with the Swastiks: The Swastiks in India have been around for much longer than Nazism(here longer.

          Further, the article is an epitome of shoddy journalism: The only evidence it provides for the correctness of its title is that “Several said the surge in sales was due to demand from students who see it as a self-improvement and management strategy guide for aspiring business leaders, and who were happy to cite it as an inspiration.” This is supposedly “bolstered” by quoting the opinions of a bookseller on why his customers buy his book.

          1. The last parenthetical statement in my first paragraph above was left incomplete. It should have have been

            (here longer is on the order of perhaps millennia).

            Further, if you were trying to impute any semblance of the existence of Nazi anti-semitism in India, you should bear in mind that India has had a significant Jewish population since at least the first century CE, and yet there has never been any anti-Semitism in India. Especially in light of such history, such heinous allegations should not be bandied lightly.

              1. That is indeed true: at least one well known leader of the Indian freedom movement, Subhash Chandra Bose, tried to enlist the help of Japan in ousting the British. In recent times, though, I would argue that there might be more of a somewhat hidden fascination with Fascism in some outfits such as the RSS than with Hitler per se. The RSS, which is also one of the largest and most efficient NGOs in India when it comes to relief work, looks perilously close to being a Fascist organisation: with his historical revisionism, a longing for a mythical Golden Imperial Age, and fixed uniforms, compulsory martial art trainings and elaborate rituals for all its members.

  4. It would be interesting to find out how many of this list of judges belong to Opus Dei. I enjoyed Catholic education, but one of our teachers, not someone wearing a black dress, would pick off the wall a crucifix whenever he saw one, and throw it out of the window. Slowly the crucifixes disappeared from the school, to the great astonishment of the priests, who probably saw it as the hand of the devil.

  5. Friday’s final decision by the court’s Grand Chamber said it found no evidence “that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils.”

    Then what’s it there for?

  6. So, naow can haz star of David, cross w/o corpse (for Protestants), Jesus-fish (for evangelicals who want to make clear that they’re the Real True Christians, unlike those damned “nominal” ones), crescent-and-star, big atheist “A”, that funny squiggle the Baha’i use, etc, etc, on the wall next to the crucifix? At the request of any pupil, parent, or teacher? They can’t possibly rule against those, without admitting that the crucifix proclaims official preference for the Vatican cult.

    There’s more than one way to do this secularism thing — let’s see which way they’re willing to play the game.

    (And if they want “traditional”, I’m sure there must some ancient euro-pagan symbols that could be tossed into the mix. Screw these upstart Christians….)

    1. No way, in Italy it is not possible to expose other symbols a part the cross in a public office or in a state school. Last 14 march the Supreme Court of Cassazione in Italy ruled that against a Judge, Luigi Tosti, that requested a jewish symbol, the Menorah, to be placed near the cross in the tribunal were he was working. That decision is based on the fact that there is no italian law allowing the presence of religious symbols in a public office. The Jewish Judge is now fired, he’s no more a judge, because he refuted to celebrate the trials in the absence of the Menorah, or, at least, in the absence of any religious symbols.
      Unfortunately, this is the country where I’m living.

  7. Aren’t you Europeans supposed to be savvier than Americans about this?

    Nope, that’s what an American may think, but it doesn’t often fit reality.
    Ask Luigi Tosti about that.
    Explain bishops in the House of Lords.
    Read the Greek constitution, “In the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity”…

    I’m not whining, the situation is far better than the one you experience, but we are far from a really acceptable laicity.

  8. Yeah, a “cultural tradition” that tells the children who to suck up to if they really want to access to power. This decision reflects the same sort of limp, intellectually dishonest blather the US Supreme Court bleats when using so-called “ceremonial deism” to get around the obvious Establishment Clause problem posed by the Pledge of Allegiance, the “In God We Trust” national motto, opening prayers at sessions of Congress, etc., etc., etc.

  9. I’d be cool with a crucifix so long as it was hung between statues of people being hung, in a guillotine, in an electric chair, being drawn and quartered, burned at the stake, and so on. Bonus points for extra gruesomeness, same as with the traditional crucifix.

    Will the ones in Kindergarden classes be painted with bright colors? After all, ya gotta make an impression early.

    <wondering how anybody can take seriously Christians and their wacky notions />



    1. Yes – & a burning stake for all the poor ‘witches’ they murdered. I can think of a use for the crucifix that involves the pope but I won’t go into that here…

    2. In fact they are making things easy: just tell the kids, “Look, God died 2000 years ago…”

      1. In fact, we should create a poster depicting a crucifix with corpse, and in big letters:

        GOD DIED 2000 YEARS AGO!

  10. the austrian vice-chancellor (christian conservative) wasn’t even ashamed of bringing the earthquake in japan into play, saying that a desaster like this should remind us of how religious symbols can be a comfort to people. which is quite a non-sequitur, i thought.
    also it was a matter of freedom of religion,of course.
    so don’t think we live in secular heaven around here^^

  11. Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy is under investigation for abuse of power and prostitution of minors. Yet the Vatican will not so much as give a hint of displeasure at him. He has been an ally of the church for decades. Too precious an ally, as evidenced by this case.
    This organization only gets more corrupt with time.

    1. Yes, the Vatican did! Probably they didn’t like it that the Bunga Bunga parties involved girls and not boys…

  12. [It was] a case that divided Europe’s traditional Catholic countries and their more secular neighbors.

    Hint: If people’s opinions on a matter correlate with whether or not those people are religious, that probably means you have a religious bias operating, and you should pay more attention to what the secularists are saying.

    Parenthetically, I wonder if this case would’ve gone better if the plaintiffs had use the “it offends us” defense. It seems to work for the religious.

  13. This reminds me of the old joke about a Jewish kid whose parents sent him to a Catholic school because of their reputations as offering better education. Almost immediately, the lad became a straight-A student in math, which had formerly been his weakest subject. His mom asked him if he could explain the improvement, and he said, “Well, when I saw the statue of the guy nailed to a plus sign, I figured they meant business…”

  14. What is the difference between “a form of indoctrination” and “an expression of the cultural and religious identity of traditionally Christian countries” on a classroom wall?

  15. ?? They’re not the same at all.

    The former is how you make sure those who are already in the preferred group stay that way. The latter is how you say “Fuck you, scum!” to those in the out-group.


  16. This is so wrong. I want to cry into my Friday night beer! My first thought was the same as NewEnglandBob – why not allow anything on classroom walls. The European court is now widely despised in the UK for various reasons you can find by searching the web.

    Heavy sigh.

  17. “The Vatican hailed the ‘historic’ decision”

    Isn’t the Vatican’s wholehearted approval strong evidence that crucifixes are indeed religious appliances that play a role in a cult’s dream of world domination?

    “it found no evidence that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils.”

    Then for what reason is it there? The light switch, the thermostat, and the clock all have a purpose. And the crucifix?

    1. They have interesting aerodynamic properties when flying out of a window, just like a boomerang. So watch out, sharp nails…

  18. looking at the pic…

    I’m thinking kitteh is just about to use his back claws to make Jesus a eunuch.

  19. An unfortunate decision indeed. But another thing Europe has shown is that in the presence of state-endorsed religion, many become inured to it.

    Perhaps in the long run it will be better to let the crucifixes hang on the walls, being ignored, than to stir up continual protests from relgionists who thrive on “persecution.”

    As an atheist who once had a kid (also atheist) in a Catholic school, I seemed to be the only one noticing the ubiquitous crucifixes…

  20. Although I don’t know the case of Italy in particular, many European countries have established religions, so it would not be surprising if symbols of the established religion would be lawful in public buildings. Maybe not wise, but lawful.

    The US is a little unusual in having explicit, constitutional, separation of church and state.

    1. At the same time, AFAIU US is a little unusual in not having comparative religion explaining exactly what those symbols stand for in all their stupidity. Or at least, that is what I have come to understand.

      Having a crucifix up on a school wall would not be different from having a poster on abortion practices up: it would be demonstration material.

  21. Aren’t you Europeans supposed to be savvier than Amerians about this?

    Nope, we are supposed to be democratic.

    We have to distinguish between the postwar CoE along the UN democratic tradition, and the economical and political EU along the US federal tradition. CoE is a common area of conventions, EU is a specific area of negotiations.

    EU is the political entity, CoE is the idealistic entity. You do the math…

  22. I don’t get it. How is this a screw up? Jesus was not the first or last person to be crucified. A lot of people wear necklaces with a crucifix who are not religious, I presume they see it as a kind of good luck charm. So why the outrage?

    1. Jesus was not the first or last person to be crucified.

      strangely, I’ve never seen a cross sold, or met a person wearing one that suggested it was for some OTHER crucified guy.

      I can only hope your argument was intended to be inane.

    2. A lot of people wear necklaces with a crucifix who are not religious, I presume they see it as a kind of good luck charm.

      Or they got it as a present or even an heirloom from someone who was religious.

      But even if you were right about it being merely a “good luck charm”, you’re crazy if you think the cross isn’t really a religious symbol.

      1. What’s more, it isn’t even about a “generic” cross. It’s specifically about the Catholic crucifix, with a figure of a little man nailed to it. One has to be either blind, dumb or incredibly hypocritical to pretend that isn’t a religious symbol

  23. Since no one has yet brought this up, I’ll repost what I just did at Ophelia’s, after first bringing it up on Marc Alan Di Martino’s blog:

    “One way of looking at today’s news is that the ECHR delivered a judgement regarding the symbol of an organisation that has become notorious not only for child-rape but for organised attempts to conceal it, cover it up and protect and repeatedly re-enable the perpetrators. The ECHR’s decision regarding the symbol of the organisation that does this is that nobody may legally object to its being displayed on the wall of every classroom in an entire country.”

  24. The Vatican hailed the “historic” decision, saying it showed that crucifixes weren’t a form of indoctrination but rather “an expression of the cultural and religious identity of traditionally Christian countries.”

    Obvious fallacy. “an expression of the cultural and religious identity of traditionally Christian countries” can still be a form of indoctrination. Duh. Albeit I’m skeptical of the way the quote is worded. But it does sound like something “the Vatican” would make all confused and muddle-headed with cheesy fallacies.

  25. OK, I’ve now read the full decision. It seems that the basis for allowing the display of crosses was the opinion that the presence of the crucifix itself within an environment that respected non Christian beliefs would not necessarily lead to indoctrination of the students. They write that mere presence of the crucifix is a minor issue compared to active teaching of religion. When active instruction in Catholicism is absent then the crucifix cannot be seen as something that will inevitably lead to indictrination.
    I don’t have any experience of Italian state education but it looks like the Italian government argued that children whose parents don’t wish them to be taught Catholicism have their wishes respected and they are not forced to participate in these classes.
    The ruling was specific for Italy. I know from the experience of growing up in Ireland that the same ruling could not be given for the Irish situation where there is little or no opportunity for avoidance of indoctrination during school lessons. Active instruction in the ‘truth’ of catholicism is part and parcel of Irish state education.

    1. Yeah… only problem is that in the Dahlab case a teacher was not allowed by the court to wear a headscarf because that would influence the children too much. I think the court’s judges are a little biassed…

  26. I am curious if they are going to allow the “Om” symbol, the Star and Crescent, The Sickle and Hammer, and the Red A(or the Greek word αθισµ).

  27. “Aren’t you Europeans supposed to be savvier than Amerians about this?”

    It’d be nice to think so.

    I looked up Bratza ( the UK justice ) on wikipedia.

    Well, well, we are greeted with a picture of him with one Bishop George Stack, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, at Red Mass, 1 October 2010 and looking very pally indeed. One would hope he’s professional enough to discount what appears to be a very close relationship with the Catholic church…

    More pictures on Flickr. What looks to be official Diocese of Westminster pics. So, very pally indeed.

  28. Apparently some Catholics feel a powerful urge to affix crucifixes on as many public walls as possible. In Italy they do it not only in classrooms, but also in courts of justice and town halls. In the Netherlands there are parks and walking areas were lots of crucifixes are affixed to trees along public footpaths.
    The Vatican rationalizes this form of behavior as “an expression of the cultural and religious identity of traditionally Christian countries”. This is a ridiculous statement. For obvious reasons many Europeans do not like to be associated with the catholic church and its lugubrious logo. One even gets the impression that there is at present an inverse relationship between the number of crucifixes in public space and the number of believers.
    Crucifixes form an interesting object of study for art historians and the like. And I am certainly not the first point to its relevance for human sociobiology and behavioral biology.
    This “crucifix-affixing behavior” can be described as a form of human territorial behavior (and human dominance behavior)- as an equivalent of the scent-marking by urination or defecation common in (for example) dogs and cats. These marks signify: Watch out! This territory is mine!
    One could say that a crucifix is a “visual scent-mark”: Watch out! This territory is catholic – it is ours!
    The word territory should be taken in a broad sense: actual territory and ‘mental’ territory, the minds of the citizens.
    And is it not plausible that the urge to spraying catholic visual scent-marks increases as the catholic influence decreases?

    1. On their plus side there have been zero incidents of vampire attacks in Italian state schools!
      You can’t say the same for non crucifixed US high schools (the ‘Twilight’ series was a documentary, wasn’t it?)

  29. Was it Hitchens, Dawkins, Stenger or Dennett that said, ‘If Jesus was really real and “came among us” in the 1920’s, these people would be voting to allow replica’s of electric chairs to be “hung” in classrooms?’

  30. “Aren’t you Europeans supposed to be savvier than Amerians about this?”

    The things is, when it comes to human rights issues, there isn’t necessarily a “European” practice, but a variety of different practices in different European countries.

    In this case, the ECHR found that there wasn’t an over-riding set of European rules that dealt with the presence of a religious symbol in a classroom. This meant that Italy was free to set its own rules (provided that it didn’t breach the European wide rules about indoctrination).

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