Schütz disagrees with Vatican re Crucifixes in Classrooms

There. I thought that would get your attention. But before you hawl me out to burn me at the stake, let me say that I am all in favour of crucifixes in classrooms – and just about everywhere and anywhere else too, public or private. My disagreement is concerns what the crucifix is and stands for.

The story to which this opening gambit relates is this from Zenit:

Vatican “Regrets” European Court Ruling on Crucifix: Spokesman Defends Symbol of Italian Culture, Identity.

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 3, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican expressed “astonishment” and “regret” at Tuesday’s decision from the European Court of Human Rights that crucifixes in public school classrooms are a violation of freedom. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, gave a brief statement today to Vatican Radio in response to the decision.

“The crucifix has always been a sign of God’s offer of love, of union and of welcome for the whole of humanity,” the spokesman said. “It is to be regretted that it has come to be considered as a sign of division, of exclusion and of limitation of liberty. It is not this, and it is not so in the common feeling of our people.”

The Italian government protested the ruling, having contended that crucifixes — often hung in Italian public schools — are national symbol of culture and history. Father Lombardi echoed this idea. He called particularly grave “the desire to set aside from the educational world a fundamental sign of the importance of religious values in Italian history and culture.”

…”It is astonishing then that a European court should intervene weightily in a matter profoundly linked to the historical, cultural and spiritual identity of the Italian people,” the Vatican spokesman stated.

I stand four-square with Fr Lombardi, the Vatican the Italian government and anyone else who wishes to display a crucifix in a public place of education. They could add a stone plaque of the Ten Commandments while they are at it. The European Union is obviously dead set intent upon removing all religious symbols from the public square. This intention should be opposed for all it is worth – even to the point of civil disobedience.

So what is my disagreement? I disagree with the Vatican taking the Italian Government’s stance that the Crucifix is “a national symbol of culture and history”. If we allow the crucifix to become this, we are treating it no differently than the person who asks for a “cross with the little man on it” at a jeweller’s shop.

St Paul said that the Crucified Christ is a “scandal” and “foolishness” to those who are not believers and the “power and wisdom of God” to those who are (1 Cor 1:23-24). Of course the image of the Crucifix is “a sign of God’s offer of love, of union and of welcome for the whole of humanity,” but not to those who hate it and hate Christ. To them, a Crucifix is about as in-your-face as you can get. It is no surprise they want it banned.

We should not sugar-coat the shocking reality of the depth to which Jesus was willing to be humiliated for our salvation (cf. Phil 2). Nor should we ever argue that the Crucifix is “just” a cultural symbol, even as a tactic to keep it legal to display it publically. It is the price paid for our salvation. We love it, because we believe it and have experienced God’s wisdom and power through it. But to them it is foolishness and a scandal.

We can “regret” the decision of the EU court, but we should not be “astonished”.

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “Schütz disagrees with Vatican re Crucifixes in Classrooms

  1. picric

    You say: “Nor should we ever argue that the Crucifix is “just” a cultural symbol, even as a tactic to keep it legal to display it publically.” But nowhere in the article you cite does anyone say that the crucific is “just” a cultural symbol. In fact much more is said with which you agree. What you don’t agree with is somethingbthat has not been said. Moreover, the fact is that Catholic Christianity has shaped Western culture, albet that that culture is now in retreat in face of the secular onslaught. BUT … culture is crucial, and values, beliefs, practices, and symbols define the nature of culture. The European Court is yet another example of the use of law by the secular elites to rub out of human consciousness, as far as they can, the reality that the crucifix proclaims. I hope la bella Italia defies the secular totalitarianism of the European elites with their agressive atheism and denial of Europe’s Christian heritage. Cherub

    • Yes, I hope the same, Picric. Welcome to the SCE blog. I truly hope you will visit often and join in the conversation. We have a little idea here at SCE that joining in the comments is like sitting around a table sharing a bottle of port after dinner. Cigars optional! Cognac could be served if a bottle is brought along by the commentar who requests it!

  2. Clara

    David, I think you misunderstand Fr Lombardi. He is trying to point out the role of Christianity in shaping Italian history and culture. He is not reducing the crucifix to cultural symbol!

  3. Fr Ronan Kilgannon Erem.Dio.

    Are there remnants of the protestant ‘either this or that’ thinking in Mr Shultz? The Catholic tendency is to consider both/and. Clara is right. As Fr Lombardi SJ says: ‘The crucifix has always been a sign of God’s offer of love … etc.’ and in Catholic Italy it has also been ‘a national symbol of culture and history’. Perhaps it is precisely because they are a ‘scandal’ that the totalitarian European Court of (selected) Human Rights want them removed.

  4. I know that Clara. I don’t accuse Fr Lombardi of trying to “reduce” the Crucifix to a “cultural symbol”. I don’t even think he would personally think of the crucifix as “a cultural symbol”.

    The “crucifix as cultural symbol” may be a useful legal argument to put up against the courts who would deprive our public spaces of crucifixes, but I think that in playing this card, we ourselves are being a bit dishonest.

    It certainly isn’t for cultural reasons that we want to display crucifixes. For believers, a crucifix is always a (fairly pointed) proclamation of the Gospel.

  5. Peregrinus

    The European Union is obviously dead set intent upon removing all religious symbols from the public square.

    It’s very far from obvious that the EU is dead set intent upon removing all religious symbols from the public square.

    Nitpick, but an important one: this is a decision of the European Court of Human Rights, an institution with no connections to the EU. The Court, and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which it administers, both predate the EU by a number of years. Plus, they involve a much larger group of states than the EU does (though that group does include all the EU member states).

    More substantially, though, this case involved not the “public square” but the state schools. There is a world of difference between the display of religious symbols in the public square, and their display by the state in state-run educational institutions.

    You’ve been to Italy lately, David; you know that Italian public squares (in the literal as well as the metaphorical sense) very frequently include conspicuous religious symbols. If you know of a single case in which the ECHR (or for that matter the EU) has come anywhere close to removing any of those symbols, now would be a good time to point to it.

    Does this distinction matter? Yes, hugely. To say that not displaying crucifixes in state schools is the same thing as “removing all religious symbols from the public square” is to say that the state which does not institutionally endorse and promote religion (or a particular religion) is repressing the general freedom of religious expression and practice. This is (a) false, and (b) silly enough that it will bring the cause of religious freedom into ridicule and derision. And we wouldn’t want to do that, would we?

    Now, having said all that, I completely share your views about what Fr Lombardi has said. If we reduce the crucifix to “a national symbol of culture and identity”, then whether or not it is displayed by the state in state classrooms, or indeed by anyone who cares to in the public square, is a matter of no real importance.

    But it’s the only basis, it seems to me, on which we could argue for the state to display the crucifix. The more powerful it is as a proclamation of uniquely Christian faith, the more it is a “fairly pointed proclamation of the Gospel”, to borrow your own words, the weaker the case for saying that a secular state should display it.

    Hence I would have been much happier to see the Vatican saying no, this is much, much more than a national symbol of culture and identity, even at the cost of conceding the issue at stake in the [i]Lautsi[/i] case, which is whether it is appropriate for the state to display the cross in its schools.

    • “this is a decision of the European Court of Human Rights, an institution with no connections to the EU”

      Thanks for that clarification, Perry. I wasn’t aware of that. Good nitpik.

      But when you say “case involved not the “public square” but the state schools” – bad nitpik.

      The “public square” includes all our public institutions, not just the literal “public squares”. Schools are definitely “in the public square”.

      Nor am I saying “that the state which does not institutionally endorse and promote religion (or a particular religion) is repressing the general freedom of religious expression and practice”. This action was not taken against the suggestion that crucifixes be placed in schools (as a new initiative – something I don’t think even I would have had the gumption to suggest), it was against the existing practice of having crucifixes in school class rooms. At least in so far as it was an established practice, Lombardi is quite correct to say it was “cultural”.

      My point is that although the practice could be called “cultural”, the actual symbol itself cannot be called a “cultural” symbol. It is unashamedly (or shamedly, depending on how you look at it) religious.

      So, yes, I agree that “The more powerful it is as a proclamation of uniquely Christian faith…the weaker the case for saying that a secular state should display it.”

      So two things:

      1) We must name the crucifix for what it is: not a cultural symbol, but an intensely religious symbol
      2) We must name the secularist agenda of the European Court for what it is: activism directed against the Christian religion.

      • Peregrinus

        Hi David.

        The “public square” includes all our public institutions, not just the literal “public squares”. Schools are definitely “in the public square”.

        Sure, state schools are part of the public square, but they are not the whole of it. A decision not to display crucifixes in state schools is not a ban on crucifixes in the public square. It’s only a decision that (1) the state shall not display crucifixes in (2) state schools. There are obvious considerations with respect to the state as actor, and with respect to state schools as institutions, which cannot be generalised to all actors, and to the public square as a whole. I think it is disingenuous – to put it no higher – to say that this decision shows that the Court is “dead set intent upon removing all religious symbols from the public square”. It shows nothing of the kind.

        This action was not taken against the suggestion that crucifixes be placed in schools (as a new initiative – something I don’t think even I would have had the gumption to suggest), it was against the existing practice of having crucifixes in school class rooms. At least in so far as it was an established practice, Lombardi is quite correct to say it was “cultural”.

        I’m afraid I can’t see the significance of your new display/continued display distinction. Sure, an existing practice may well be a manifestation of culture – even, as I think is argued in this case, of an essentially secular culture – but so what? The state is not the nation. The nation’s culture can combine both (a) a religious tradition or heritage (or indeed a religious faith) and (2) a tradition or commitment to freedom of religious practice, and religious neutrality on the part of political institutions. And of course the nation’s culture can change or develop. How that culture should shape the institutions of the state and be reflected in their actions is a prudential matter, but I don’t see that “we’ve always done it this way” as a cultural value necessarily trumps any appeal to freedom of conscience and freedom of religious practice as cultural values

        We must name the secularist agenda of the European Court for what it is: activism directed against the Christian religion.

        I hate to speak plainly but, to speak plainly, this strikes me as wildly overblown. You say that that the court has a :”secularist agenda” of “activism directed against the Christian religion.”. But you’ve only mentioned one decision. You don’t say how you infer an “agenda” from a single decision. You make no attempt to show that the decision is “activism”, in the sense of one which goes beyond the intend of the legislation being interpreted and applied. If you have read the provision of the European Convention which the Court is applying here, and feel that their application is unreasonable or distorted, you do not bother to say so. And, although the particular symbol in this case – the cross – is a Christian one, you have offered no evidence at all that the decision was “directed against Christianity”. Would the decision have been different if the symbol concerned were a Star of David or a cresent?

  6. Paul

    I agree that it would be better to say that the display of a crucifix is a serious statement and it would be better to not have it in a state school, while at the same time allowing Scripture classes in those schools for parents and students who want it.
    The alternative, of treating the crucifix as a mere ornament to be worn by, for example, a pop singer like Madonna, is bordering on blasphemy.

    I used to live in Belgium, and there are churches and crucifixes everywhere in the “town square”, but there are few people who think much at all about what it means.

    Another way of looking at it is to have a look at the websites of big non-denominational private schools in Australia. You often read a statement like “the school community follows a Judeo-Christian ethic”. That is another way of reducing a crucifix to a symbol of many other things, apart from our salvation.

    • Peregrinus

      Catholic religious education is provided in Italian government schools, during the school day. It’s optional. Last time I saw any figures, about 90% of students took it. There was no challenge to this practice in the Lautri case. Ms Lautri presumably felt her children’s rights were adequately protected by the right to opt out, and/or was advised that a challenge would not succeed, because of the right to opt out.

      • Paul

        I didn’t know that there is so much SRE in government schools in Italy. Do you know why so many (90%) take it?
        I read that religious education has just been made compulsory in Russia, although it has restrictions and sounds a little like cultural studies.

        This is a little off-topic, but I was interested to read that in the NSW HSC (the final exam of high school), Studies of Religion is the 5th largest and fastest growing subject. It is not RE, but an academic study of religions. This either means that there is a real desire for religious studies or it is seen as an easy way to HSC marks (or probably, a bit of both)

        • Peregrinus

          I didn’t know that there is so much SRE in government schools in Italy. Do you know why so many (90%) take it?
          Why wouldn’t they?

    • “bordering on blasphemy”

      Well, in so far as indifference can be blasphemy.

  7. Picric

    Peregrinus says: “Does this distinction matter? Yes, hugely. To say that not displaying crucifixes in state schools is the same thing as “removing all religious symbols from the public square” is to say that the state which does not institutionally endorse and promote religion (or a particular religion) is repressing the general freedom of religious expression and practice. This is (a) false, and (b) silly enough that it will bring the cause of religious freedom into ridicule and derision. And we wouldn’t want to do that, would we?”

    The school is a part of the public square. All public institutions are. If Italy, as a sovereign state, sees the display of the crucifix as part of its cultural patrimony it is not something which should be the concern of the ECHR. Separation of Church and State means that the Church is to be protected from State interference not the other way around. And if the Italian people wish to express their religious convictions in this way what is wrong with that? It is neither “false” nor “silly” to see this intervention for what it is, part of the process to expunge religion from public sight. A person objects to the crucifix in schoolrooms. Well what about the many, many more who will be offended if they are forcefully removed. Why does a minority get to dictate the vast majority of Italians. Beware of creeping European secular totalitarianism. The inheritors of the Enlightenment like persecuting those they consider not to be enlightened, cf the European experiments with communism and national socialism. Now we have secularism. When will trhe European elites get over their neurotic desire to impose themselves and their beliefs on everyone else, effectively denying centuries of cultural and religious heritage?

    • Peregrinus

      “The school is a part of the public square. All public institutions are. If Italy, as a sovereign state, sees the display of the crucifix as part of its cultural patrimony it is not something which should be the concern of the ECHR. Separation of Church and State means that the Church is to be protected from State interference not the other way around. And if the Italian people wish to express their religious convictions in this way what is wrong with that? It is neither “false” nor “silly” to see this intervention for what it is, part of the process to expunge religion from public sight. A person objects to the crucifix in schoolrooms. Well what about the many, many more who will be offended if they are forcefully removed. Why does a minority get to dictate the vast majority of Italians. Beware of creeping European secular totalitarianism. The inheritors of the Enlightenment like persecuting those they consider not to be enlightened, cf the European experiments with communism and national socialism. Now we have secularism. When will trhe European elites get over their neurotic desire to impose themselves and their beliefs on everyone else, effectively denying centuries of cultural and religious heritage?”

      Look, the crucifixes are not being “forcefully removed”, except in the sense that they were “forcefully erected” in the first place. They were erected as a matter of public policy; force was used only in the sense that drills, screws and screwdrivers were required. They will be removed (assuming the appeal against this ruling is not successful) as a matter of public policy. Screwdrivers will no doubt be involved again, but that’s the extent of the force involved.

      So why the ludicrous overstatement? What is at stake here is not the use of force, but the less dramatic (but perhaps more important) question of how public policy is formed. You ask

      “Why does a minority get to dictate the vast majority of Italians.”

      It’s a good question, and worth examining.

      Bear in mind what we have here is the involvement of the European Court of Human Rights. Park for a moment the emotive and unjustified use of the term “dictate” – someone who brings a legal proceedings in a court does not “dictate” anything; rather they submit themselves to the rule of law, which is pretty much the exact opposite of what dictators do.

      Why is the European Court involved? Well, because Italy – democratically, voluntarily, and with cross-party consensus – negotiated, signed and ratified a series of international agreements setting out standard of human rights, and giving the European Court, with other bodies, the role of adjudicating disputes about how those rights were interpreted and applied in Italy. (It’s probably worth pointing out in passing that this network of treaties and institutions is widely regarded as one of the crowning achievements of European Christian Democracy, not as “creeping European secular totalitarianism”, which is the kind of language that usually only comes from the loonier fringes of American neoconservatism.)

      Why is the European Court handing down a judgment which the majority of Italians probably dislike? Well, courts quite often do that. There role is not to find the most popular answer, but the legally correct answer. Would you have it otherwise?

      And bear in mind that this is the European Court of Human Rights. Human rights courts, more than most, find themselves giving unpopular judgments.

      And the reason is not hard to see. Majorities, political establishments and their clients, those who are popular and those close to power rarely need to have recourse to the courts to defend their interests. Other political institutions usually do this quite effectively, especially in a democracy. We do not see white, middle-class men going to court to defend and vindicate their rights of association and rights of free speech.

      So, why is the European Court “dictating” to the vast majority of Italians? Because that’s their job. You don’t believe that courts should do that? Then you don’t believe in human rights, or the rule of law. Best to be honest with yourself and admit that.

      But is this decision a proper vindication of human rights on the part of the Court? In David’s post on this subject, and in all the responses, there’s been a great deal of heat, but very little light. I haven’t seen a single poster admitting to actually having read the provision of the Human Rights Convention being applied here (which says nothing about separation of church and state, by the way). I haven’t seen anybody arguing [i]why[/i] the ruling was wrong. They simply assert that they don’t like it – fair enough – and that it is the outcome of an anti-Christian agenda, a secularist elite, creeping totalitarianism, etc – not so fair, when unsupported by any analysis or evidence. The possibility that the ruling might be the outcome of what the Convention says doesn’t seem to have crossed anybody’s mind. Nobody criticising the decision seems to think it necessary to explore the idea of freedom of religious practice, and what it might require of us in relation to those who do not share the majority religious view. Bizarrely, people seem to feel that the fact that the cross has historic and cultural significance in Italy means that freedom of conscience and freedom of religious practice are unimportant, and can be dismissed without examination. Secular culture trumps all. How can any Christian believe this?

      There’s a huge irony in reading this thread in contrast with the adjacent thread about atheists. Almost every accusation which is made against atheists in that thread is mirrored in behaviour exhibited in this thread – hyperbole; anger; stoking misunderstanding; knee-jerk blaming of the enemy for anything they don’t like. And a fair spread of the behaviours of which atheists accuse religious believers – obscurantism, intolerance – are exhibited here too. Time to take a deep breath, people.

  8. Picric

    Peregrinus says: “Look, the crucifixes are not being “forcefully removed”, except in the sense that they were “forcefully erected” in the first place. They were erected as a matter of public policy; force was used only in the sense that drills, screws and screwdrivers were required. They will be removed (assuming the appeal against this ruling is not successful) as a matter of public policy. Screwdrivers will no doubt be involved again, but that’s the extent of the force involved.”

    You have missed the point. I meant use the word “forcibly” rather than “forcefully”. Anyway, something that is removed pursuant to a court order is forcible removal. References to screws and screwdrivers in this context is just “silly”.

    Peregrinus: ” The possibility that the ruling might be the outcome of what the Convention says doesn’t seem to have crossed anybody’s mind.” How do you know that? It has certainly crossed my mind. I am very familiar with the Human Rights Convention as it happens. And Article 9 is the relevant article. I have also read the case judgment and can see no relation between that judgment and ARTICLE 2 of Protocol 1: “No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions” even when taken in conjuction with Article 9: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
    Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

    Peregrinus you should not assume what other people have read or have not read.

    Why did the Court priviledge the rights of secularists in their interpretation of these articles? Catholic parents are also covered by the First Protocol which speaks of the state respecting “the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions”. The forcible removal of crucifixes from classrooms in a predominately Catholic country is safeguarded by the very articles abused by the Court in privileging the desires of secular parents. And Perigrinus, for those of us who have lived in Europe and have become very familiar with the performance of these bodies, we know that the misunderstood doctrine of separation of Church and State together with the interpretation of freedom of religion to mean freedom from religion is very much the received background which makes sense of this perverse judgement.

    • Picric

      Whoops! I said: “The forcible removal of crucifixes from classrooms in a predominately Catholic country is safeguarded by the very articles abused by the Court in privileging the desires of secular parents.” What I meant to to say was this:

      “The maintaining of crucifixes in schoolrooms in a predominately Catholic country is safeguarded by the very articles abused by the Court in privileging the desires of secular parents.”
      Sorry

    • Peregrinus

      Peregrinus says: “Look, the crucifixes are not being “forcefully removed”, except in the sense that they were “forcefully erected” in the first place. They were erected as a matter of public policy; force was used only in the sense that drills, screws and screwdrivers were required. They will be removed (assuming the appeal against this ruling is not successful) as a matter of public policy. Screwdrivers will no doubt be involved again, but that’s the extent of the force involved.”

      You have missed the point. I meant use the word “forcibly” rather than “forcefully”. Anyway, something that is removed pursuant to a court order is forcible removal. References to screws and screwdrivers in this context is just “silly”.

      And anything that was erected by government order, as these crucifixes originally were, was also erected forcibly, wasn’t it?

      I repeat, force is not the issue here; words like “forcibly” are a giant red herring, designed to inflame the emotions and distract from the real issue, which is the moral and legal basis for the judgment of the court, not whether force may be used to enforce it.

      Peregrinus: ” The possibility that the ruling might be the outcome of what the Convention says doesn’t seem to have crossed anybody’s mind.” How do you know that? It has certainly crossed my mind. I am very familiar with the Human Rights Convention as it happens. And Article 9 is the relevant article. I have also read the case judgment and can see no relation between that judgment and ARTICLE 2 of Protocol 1 . . .

      Well, of course, if you have read the Convention well and good, and I apologise for suggesting otherwise. But, in fairness, I didn’t say that nobody had read it; I said that nobody appeared to have read it. In your earlier post, you made no reference at all to what the Convention says, although it would seem an obviously relevant consideration. Instead you constructed an argument which made no reference to the contents, or even the existence, of the Convention. This certainly gave the appearance of you’re not having read it. But I am happy to have the situation clarified.

      Likewise, if you’ve read the judgment, I apologise for any suggestion that you haven’t. But your earlier argument didn’t tackle what the judgment said; it was much more radical, questioning the right of the court to give any judgment at all.

      I myself have not read it; my French is not really up to the task. So, can you help me by linking your analysis of the court’s judgment back to what the court actually said?

      Why did the Court priviledge the rights of secularists in their interpretation of these articles?

      Why are you asking me? You’re the one who’s read the judgment. Can you tell us what it says about this?

      And Perigrinus, for those of us who have lived in Europe and have become very familiar with the performance of these bodies, we know that the misunderstood doctrine of separation of Church and State together with the interpretation of freedom of religion to mean freedom from religion is very much the received background which makes sense of this perverse judgement.

      Those of us who have lived in Europe and who have read the Convention – and this group include me as well as you, Picric – will know that the Convention says nothing at all about the separation of church and state, that many states which are party to the convention in fact have established state churches, that “separation of church and state” is a buzz-word taken from US discourse in this area, and that it has little relevance to the social and historical realities within which the [i]European[/i] Court of Human Rights interprets and applies the Convention.

      I think an analysis of the court’s judgment which simply takes American “culture wars” viewpoints and drops them into Europe is not terribly interesting or enlightening. I think we need to be looking at the European experience, at European understanding of the place of religion in society, and of the relationship between the church and the state. The historical experience of Italy and Europe – not just with respect to crosses, but with respect to relationships between individuals, the state and the churches is relevant. What the convention says is relevant. The court’s previous rulings on religious symbols are relevant. “Separation of church and state”, “creepoing European secular totalitarianism” and similar hyperventilating foxnewseries are not.

  9. Picric

    Peregrinus says: “And anything that was erected by government order, as these crucifixes originally were, was also erected forcibly, wasn’t it? I repeat, force is not the issue here; words like “forcibly” are a giant red herring, designed to inflame the emotions and distract from the real issue, which is the moral and legal basis for the judgment of the court, not whether force may be used to enforce it.”

    I am sorry, but “force” is relevant. When those crucifixes went up, noone objected. It was just the way things were. “Forcible” removal is apt here because someone (the state) is being legally forced to remove them. So enough of that.

    Peregrinus says: “I think an analysis of the court’s judgment which simply takes American “culture wars” viewpoints and drops them into Europe is not terribly interesting or enlightening.” Well, you may think that, but those issues are alive and well in Europe. Of course they are not specified in the Convention, but who said they were. It jusat so happens they are in the background whether anyone finds that “interesting or enlightening” or not. That this the case is right there in the judgment: “The State was to refrain from imposing beliefs in premises where individuals were dependent on it. In particular, it was required to observe confessional neutrality in the context of public education, where attending classes was compulsory irrespective of religion, and where the aim should be to foster critical thinking in pupils.” But the Convention merely says: “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” My point is that the judges have imported these “American notions” into the European context. I agree with you that it isn’t there in the Convetion, except “in the air” so to speak. And judges are well known for allowing other philosophical considerations to affect their judgment.
    Peregrinus says: “The court’s previous rulings on religious symbols are relevant.” Really. And what were they? The judgment refers to none! Because there aren’t any.
    And then Peregrinus says: ““Separation of church and state”, “creeping European secular totalitarianism” and similar hyperventilating foxnewseries are not [relevant].” Well, in my view they are. The US understanding of separation of Church and State has already crept into European thinking whether you have noticed it or not. So too with “creeping European secular totalitarianism”. Let those who can understan the signs of the times do so. Similar refusals at different times in european history led to trouble. My concern is that Old Europe still has not learnt its lesson, that we cannot build the kingdom of heaven on earth by attempting to control what people think, feel, say, and do. There ae areas of our life where the law is not welcome. The ordinary sense of the ECHR teaches that, but is being undermined and subverted by the imporatation of philosophical ideas as the prism through which the ECGR is to be interpreted.

    • Peregrinus

      I am sorry, but “force” is relevant. When those crucifixes went up, noone objected. It was just the way things were. “Forcible” removal is apt here because someone (the state) is being legally forced to remove them. So enough of that.

      In that case every judgment of every court at ever level is “forcible”. I really don’t think that’s a useful use of the word “forcible” or that it casts any light on the real issue here. If the Court ordered the retention, or reinstatement, of crosses, would you be condemning it as “forcible”? As I say, this is a red herring.

      Peregrinus says: “I think an analysis of the court’s judgment which simply takes American “culture wars” viewpoints and drops them into Europe is not terribly interesting or enlightening.” Well, you may think that, but those issues are alive and well in Europe. Of course they are not specified in the Convention, but who said they were. It jusat so happens they are in the background whether anyone finds that “interesting or enlightening” or not. That this the case is right there in the judgment: “The State was to refrain from imposing beliefs in premises where individuals were dependent on it. In particular, it was required to observe confessional neutrality in the context of public education, where attending classes was compulsory irrespective of religion, and where the aim should be to foster critical thinking in pupils.” But the Convention merely says: “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” My point is that the judges have imported these “American notions” into the European context. I agree with you that it isn’t there in the Convetion, except “in the air” so to speak. And judges are well known for allowing other philosophical considerations to affect their judgment.

      What you are quoting from here is not the judgment, Picric, but a press release about the judgment. Have you actually read the judgment, as you claim?

      I think your quotation from Article 9 is not quite in point. Article 9 addresses the freedom of the [i]individual[/i] to manifest his religion or beliefs, but what was at issue here was not the freedom of the individual students to display crosses, but whether the [i]state[/i] could display the cross in state school classrooms. The state is not a human being and does not have human rights, so the court will have analysed this in terms of the (competing?) rights of the students and their parents.

      I’m guessing that the discussion will largely have revolved around Protocol 1 Article 2:

      No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

      And the court will have read this provision in the light of other provisions of the convention adressing the rights of families to be free from interference by public authorities, rights of freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, etc.

      The issue facing the court will have been – how do we reconcile the rights of parents who, for religious and philosophical reasons, want their children educated in a classroom with a cross and the rights of those who, for religious and philosophical reasons, don’t?

      As you point out, the first group of parents is probably in the majority, but that will have weighed very little with the court. The whole point of “human rights” is that you have them because you are human, not because you are in a majority. The respect to be accorded to you and your rights doesn’t really depend on whether your stance is popular or not. Hence conflicts or tensions between people’s rights are rarely resolved in a simple majoritarian way, and the submissions made by the Italian governement will certainly not have centred on the fact that the majority wanted the cross displayed.

      Can we think of an argument for saying that the cross should be displayed which [i]doesn’t[/i] depend on saying that the parents who wanted it were in the majority? Well, according to the press release, the decision of the Italian court, against which Lautri was appealing, was that the crucifix was a symbol of Italian history and culture, Italian identity, equality, liberty, tolerance and the state’s secularism. Colour me sceptical, but the crucifix as a symbol of secularism? As a citizen, I don’t find that very convincing. As a Christian, the idea revolts me. And, if the ECHR also finds that position unconvincing, can we reasonably accuse them of anti-Christian, secular, totalitarian bias? Not really, no.

      Peregrinus says: “The court’s previous rulings on religious symbols are relevant.” Really. And what were they? The judgment refers to none! Because there aren’t any.

      Now I know you haven’t read the judgment. As I said, my French isn’t up to much, but even I can see that it is larded with references to previous cases. And your suggestion that there are no previous cases dealing with religious symbols suggests that you are less familiar with the Convention than you would lead us to believe. There is a line of quite recent ECHR cases dealing with religious symbols, specifically in the school environment, and they have attracted a fair degree of public notice and discussion. Burquas in schools – ringing any bells now?

      And then Peregrinus says: ““Separation of church and state”, “creeping European secular totalitarianism” and similar hyperventilating foxnewseries are not [relevant].” Well, in my view they are. The US understanding of separation of Church and State has already crept into European thinking whether you have noticed it or not.

      The court is applying the Convention. The Convention doesn’t mention the separation of church and state, and certainly doesn’t require it. As pointed out, many states party to the convention have established state churches. This has never been challenged and the convention offers no basis for challenging it, whereas this would be a complete anathema within a US framework. By contrast the Convention does – unlike the corresponsding US documents – mention the rights of parents, and the rights of families.

      Christian Democratic influence at work, there. And I suspect when the judgment is translated into English that we will find that the rights of families play a signficant role in the court’s reasoning.

      The principal of subsidiarity is another Christian Democratic principle which is firmly embedded in European concepts of human rights, but largely missing from American discourse. And that principle provides at least a basis for arguing that this issue – the signficance and meanign of the cross – is one for families to teach their children about, in priority to the state.

      In other words, the European (Christian Democratic) tradition of discourse about human rights offers an approach to this issue which is, or at least has the potential to be, quite different from the US approach, and which certainly won’t be constructed in terms of the separation of church and state. (And which, incidentally, is much more solidly based on Catholic principles.)

      The relevant provisions of the convention – even the ones which you quote yourself – say nothing at all about the church. The court is looking at the rights, responsibilities and relationships of individuals, parents, families and the state. If you want to shoehorn the issues that the court is facing into a US discourse about a different society interpreting and applying a different document in different conditions against a different historical background, go right ahead. Just don’t expect many people to find your analysis of any great interest.

  10. Picric

    Peregrinus says: “In that case every judgment of every court at ever level is “forcible”. ” The answer is yes, it is enforceable at law and I am really surprised you do not know that.

    I have the French text of the judgment and had assumed, from what you said, you did not read French. Well, here it is en francais.

    At 54: “. Les convictions de Mme Lautsi concernent aussi l’impact de l’exposition du crucifix sur ses enfants (paragraphe 32 ci-dessus), âgés à l’époque de onze et treize ans. La Cour reconnaît que, comme il est exposé, il est impossible de ne pas remarquer le crucifix dans les salles de classe. Dans le contexte de l’éducation publique, il est nécessairement perçu comme partie intégrante du milieu scolaire et peut dès lors être considéré comme un « signe extérieur fort » (Dahlab c. Suisse (déc.), no 42393/98, CEDH 2001-V). That is to say: “The convictions of Mrs Lautsi concern also the impact of the exposition of the crucifix on its children (paragraph 32 above), from the ages of eleven to thirteen years. The Court recognizes that, as it is exposed, it is impossible not to notice the crucifix in the class rooms. In the context of public education, it is necessarily perceived as an integral part of the school environment and from that time can be considered as a “strong exterior sign”.

    Well, so what! The absence of a crucifix signifies secularism because it has been forcibly (ie enforceable at law) removed. That might not be the case if the crucifixes had never been there, but since they have (always) been there, such a move is an aggressively secularist stance.

    P, I know you will refuse to accept the obvious matters I have put to you re the infiltration of foreign ideas into the Convention. The case law referred to throughout the judgment are, in my view, tendentious and come from the same stable of manipulated judgments as this one.

    Entretemps, ne pas se dépêcher aux conclusions de d’autres. La charité s’il vous plaît.

    • Peregrinus

      Peregrinus says: “In that case every judgment of every court at ever level is “forcible”. ” The answer is yes, it is enforceable at law and I am really surprised you do not know that.

      I do know that. I in fact said it explicitly in my preceding post. My point all along has been that it’s a red herring. If you object to this judgments because it is “forcible”, then you object to all court judgments and would prefer to live in a world without courts. The “forcibility” of this judgment is not really what upsets you.

      I have the French text of the judgment and had assumed, from what you said, you did not read French.

      I do read French; just not terribly well.

      At 54: “. Les convictions de Mme Lautsi concernent aussi l’impact de l’exposition du crucifix sur ses enfants (paragraphe 32 ci-dessus), âgés à l’époque de onze et treize ans. La Cour reconnaît que, comme il est exposé, il est impossible de ne pas remarquer le crucifix dans les salles de classe. Dans le contexte de l’éducation publique, il est nécessairement perçu comme partie intégrante du milieu scolaire et peut dès lors être considéré comme un « signe extérieur fort » (Dahlab c. Suisse (déc.), no 42393/98, CEDH 2001-V). That is to say: “The convictions of Mrs Lautsi concern also the impact of the exposition of the crucifix on its children (paragraph 32 above), from the ages of eleven to thirteen years. The Court recognizes that, as it is exposed, it is impossible not to notice the crucifix in the class rooms. In the context of public education, it is necessarily perceived as an integral part of the school environment and from that time can be considered as a “strong exterior sign”.

      Well, so what! The absence of a crucifix signifies secularism because it has been forcibly (ie enforceable at law) removed. That might not be the case if the crucifixes had never been there, but since they have (always) been there, such a move is an aggressively secularist stance.

      So what, indeed? You may have intended the question rhetorically, but had you read on you would have found an answer offered just two paragraphs later, at para 56 (my translation):

      “The display of one or more religious symbols cannot be justified either by the request of other parents who want a religious education in conformity with their convictions nor, as the Government [of Italy] maintains, by the need for agreement with Christian-inspired political parties. Respect for the beliefs of parents in matters of education must take into account respect for the beliefs of other parents. The State is held to confessional neutrality within the framework of public education, where class attendance is compulsory irrespective of religion, and where it it is necessary to encourage critical thought among pupils. The court does not see how the display, in state school classrooms, of a symbol which it is reasonable to associate with Catholicism (the majority religion in Italy) could serve the educational pluralism which is essential to safeguard a democratic society such as is conceived of by the Convention. The [European] court notes in this regard that the case-law of the Constitutional Court [of Italy] also takes this line.”

      (The last sentence is a reference to the fact that the Italian constitutional court declined to hear this case, holding that it did not have jurisdiction. The ECHR is saying that, if the case had been determined by an Italian court in accordance with previous Italian judgments, the outcome would have been the same.)

      Now, you can label this as aggressive secularism if you like, but if anything it seems to me to be motivated by a commitment to pluralism rather than secularism.

      P, I know you will refuse to accept the obvious matters I have put to you re the infiltration of foreign ideas into the Convention. The case law referred to throughout the judgment are, in my view, tendentious and come from the same stable of manipulated judgments as this one.

      Given that a few short hours ago you were assuring us that the judgment referred to no other cases at all and that in fact there were no relevant cases that could have been referred to, I am not inclined to attach much weight to your assessment of the cases referred to. You haven’t exactly had a lot of time to read and reflect on them.

  11. “can be considered as a “strong exterior sign”.”

    Ha! What did I say at the very beginning? A bit too strong for the court’s taste! A stumbling block, etc.

    And since when did a religious “neutrality” mean a religious “vacuum”? it is quite possible to maintain neutrality without expunging all signs – even “strong signs” of religion.

    • Peregrinus

      Quite. But we can’t on the one hand say that the crucifix is a strong exterior sign of faith and on the other hand claim that when the government displays it is a “symbol of secularity”, as the Italian government apparently tried to argue. This is the silliest kind of relativism, stripping the crucifix of any inherent meaning (and certainly of any reference to any actual crucifixion), and saying that it means whatever the person who happens to be flourishing it wants it to mean. The fact that the crucifix may incidentally have acquired a national, historical, etc, significance doesn’t strip it of its primary and dominant significance.

      What we need to find is an argument which says that its appropriate for the government of a pluralist democracy to be displaying strong symbols of confessional faith – and furthermore to be displaying them in an environment of mandatory education for young people – and which is consistent with society’s commitment to freedom of conscience, and to the educational rights of parents and families, and the principle of subsidiarity.

      I don’t see such a case being articulated here. I think you agree with me that the “crucifix as a symbol of secularity” argument is just silly, from which it follows that the court would be right to reject it. But I don’t think we can then criticise the court for “secularism”.

      I can’t but note that the criticisms of the court’s judgment here have not only failed to offer a coherent case for the state displaying the cross, but they have been characterised by a degree of hyperbole and overstatement. The court’s judgment is “forcible” – but, it turns out, only the sense that every court judgment is forcible; i.e. to offer this as a criticism is to adopt an anarchist position. The court wants to “ban religious symbols in the public square”. No, it doesn’t; it doesn’t; even want to ban them in state schools, never mind the entirety of the “public square”. The court is “totalitarian”. The court wants a “religious vacuum”.

      As I say, my French isn’t good enough to have studied the judgment in detail. But it’s quite good enough to let me see that the criticisms offered so far are wildly off the mark. I’m quite open to the possibility that there are strong criticisms of the court’s ruling to be made. But the criticisms made so far have been anything but strong. Vehement, yes, but that’s not the same thing. And it’s no substitute.

  12. Picric

    Peregrinus says: “Given that a few short hours ago you were assuring us that the judgment referred to no other cases at all and that in fact there were no relevant cases that could have been referred to, I am not inclined to attach much weight to your assessment of the cases referred to. You haven’t exactly had a lot of time to read and reflect on them.” He is right and I aplogise for being too sweeping. As an old chap I should have restrained my enthusiasm .

    Peregrinus accurately translates the judgment: “The court does not see how the display, in state school classrooms, of a symbol which it is reasonable to associate with Catholicism (the majority religion in Italy) could serve the educational pluralism which is essential to safeguard a democratic society such as is conceived of by the Convention.”
    Well neither can I see that it offends educational pluralism if by pluralism we mean that we permit diverse views to be heard within a society which is dominantly atheistic, religious, or of one particular religion. There are many symbols we use which are part of our culture and are also powerful signs. Better to be open about that. The problem is whether you think minorities get to call the shots because they rights, and that their rights are of greater significance than those of the majority. If I was living in a dominatly Muslim country I would have no difficulty with my children attending a school where the symbols were Muslim symbols. I attended a protestant school. Its curriculum which was that of a liberal education and we were introduced to the widest range of alternative philosophical and religious opinions. Was I brainwashed by the symbols – No! Was I a Believer at that time – No! But I am a Catholic now. As I have said before, and will continue to say, behind the Court’s decision lay a number of attitudes and philosophies which are not to be found in the Convention but which have shaped the way that te judges have done their work.

  13. Peregrinus

    Hi Picric

    I think one thing that you, I and David are all agreed on is that the “crucifix is a symbol of secularity” argument deployed by Italy is not only b*lls (are we allowed to use that word here, David?) but positively offensive.

    I think it follows from that the Court was right to reject it. But we must accept that, if honesty compels the Court to reject the arguments advanced by Italy, it becomes difficult – not necessarily impossible, but certainly quite difficult – for the Court then to rule in Italy’s favour.

    So I think if there is criticism to be offered here, some at least of it should be directed not at the Court, but at the Italian government.

    The second thing we should note is the Court’s rather pointed observation that its findings are consistent with the jurisprudence of the Italian Constitutional Court (which declined to hear Lautsi’s case for technical reasons that I don’t yet fully understand). In other words, the Italian government knows that, once the issue is raised, there is really only one possible legal outcome. It politically convenient for the Italian Government to have that outcome – which it expects to be unpopular – decided by the European Court, so that it can avoid some of the political fallout.

    But park all that. If we take the silly “symbol of secularity” argument down a step or two, we can restate it in more rational terms by pointing out that the crucifix has acquired a certain historical and cultural significance – which is a secular significance – in Italy.

    That’s true. But my point – and, again, I think you and David would agree with me – is that this is very secondary. The primary significance of the crucifix is as a symbol of salvation. By salvation, we definitely do not mean national independence, or political unification. We mean the reconciliation of the world to God through Jesus Christ. And, as Christians, we would never want the primary significance of the crucifix to be anything else.

    What the Italian state is saying here, so far as I can see, is “when we display the crucifix, it is just a national and cultural symbol.” My objections are, first, I don’t think that’s currently true. Secondly, I don’t want it ever to become true; if the display of the crucifix by the Italian state were, over time, to have that effect, then all the more reason why as Christians we should object to the state co-opting the crucifix in this way.

    Ms Lautsi is Finnish. The Finnish flag, together with the flags of all the Nordic countries, incorporates a cross form. It’s an abstract and stylised form, not a representation of an actual cross. Nobody looks at the Nordic flags and thinks “Jesus Christ”, so nobody – not even Ms Lautsi – objects to the flags. I really don’t want the day ever to come when people look at a crucifix and think “Italy. Pasta. Opera. Soccer.” The way in which the Italian state seeks to employ the crucifix seems to me not only unchristian but positively deChristianising.

    No. As far as I’m concerned, to display the crucifix is a proclamation of Christian faith, and should always be.

    So the question here really is, do we want the Italian state to be proclaiming a Christian faith? Specifically, do we want it to be proclaiming a Christian faith as part of the education of young minds, including the minds of persons who may not be Christians, and whose parents may not want them to be raised as Christians, or influenced by Christianity?

    I think you can make a good case for answering the question “yes”. But you can also make a good case for answering the question “no” which is still not a secular case, not a case for banning all religious symbols in the public square, and not totalitarian. I think you can make a Christian and Catholic case for answering the question with “no”, a case which revolves around the (entirely Catholic) view that this is not really the business of the state. Forming the religious faith of young people is a matter for their families in priority to the state. I have no problem at all with the state supporting parents in forming their children as Christians (or Jews, or ethical agnostics, or . . .). But there’s a big difference between the state supporting Catholic, Jewish, humanist, etc schools/educatgion on the one hand, and the State taking and advancing a religious position which is not in support of the parents formation of their children.. The latter, I think, is problematic. And I don’t consider myself a secularist for saying so.