Crucifixes in classrooms

    Recently, on November 3, 2009, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, in response to a complaint filed by the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics, based on a claim from an Italian couple that was allegedly annoyed that their children should see this religious symbol of the Catholic Church, issued a decision stating that, “the crucifix in classrooms is a violation of religious freedom.”

    Notwithstanding many and various other considerations which might be raised in this regard, I will expound my view, strictly based on legal grounds. First, a distinction should be made between public and private schools. In private schools, with their ideology determined by the School foundation and management, nobody has a right to prevent the manifestation of any collective and personal religious symbols the institution may deem appropriate, and parents are free to take their children so that they may receive the teaching provided by the School, or else send them to a different school which suits them better and matches their moral and religious beliefs.

    Now let’s focus on public schools or teaching institutions, with a plurality of students born to parents of various religious creeds, cultures, customs, etc., or simply atheist or agnostic. Here the State is responsible for determining the appropriateness of displaying religious symbols according to the tradition, culture, customs and laws of the country, and if it fails to do so out of neglect, calculation or shrewdness, the students’ parents—whether they are believers or non-believers—must in each case, that is, in every institution, democratically establish by majority vote whether the exhibition of such religious symbols should be allowed or not.

    As Pope John Paul II said, the truth must impose itself as such, it cannot be imposed from outside. God does not impose His love on human beings, but tries to persuade them from His sacrifice on the Cross, always respecting their freedom.

    Now then, parents play the most important role in their children’s education, and some or many of them may want to see their own moral or religious principles govern what is taught in public State classrooms; then, following good democratic logic, they have a right to propose and agree on the establishment of any religious symbol they may choose. A Court allegedly seeking to defend the right of some parents to resist what the State or the majority of parents in an institution has decided is falling into error or committing a breach of public duty, as it threatens religious freedom and this is of course a fateful way to contribute to building the European Union in peace and justice.

Roberto Grao

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