The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that displaying crucifixes in Italian public schools violates religious and educational freedoms. It has ordered the Italian government to pay a $7390 fine to an Italian mother, Soile Lautsi, who has struggled for eight years to compel her children’s schools in northern Italy to remove crucifixes from the classrooms.
The Court rejected the government’s disingenuous argument that the crucifix is not a religious totem at all, but instead “a national symbol of culture, history, identity, tolerance, and”—get this—”secularism.”
Sanely, the Court concluded that secular, state-run schools, where attendance is compulsory, must “observe confessional neutrality in the context of public education,” and that crucifix-clogged classrooms “could easily be interpreted by pupils of all ages as a religious sign and they would feel that they were being educated in a school environment bearing the stamp of a given religion.”
Crucifixes have been compulsory in Italian classrooms since the enactment in the 1920s of two laws under the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, a personage aided and enabled by the Catholic Church, which for millennia has been the premier peddler of crucifixes.
Lautsi’s husband, Massimo Albertin, said the family was satisfied with the court’s ruling. “We believe the ruling is a positive signal from Europe to Italy, which seems to increasingly lose its secularism,” he said from their home in Albano Terme. “The crucifix creates discrimination.”
The seven-judge panel did not order Italy to remove crucifixes from all Italian public schools, where they commonly cover the walls like fleas. The Court’s decision can be appealed to a grand chamber of 17 judges. The Italian government has announced plans to do just that. Which may not be so wise: decisions of that body are binding.
Lautsi filed her case with the European Court of Human Rights in July 2006, after Italy’s Constitutional Court dismissed her complaint. Lautsi is of Finnish origin, which has caused Italian mossbacks to publicly fulminate that if she wanted to de-crucifix her children, she should have reared them in heathen Scandinavia.
The country’s former culture minister, Rocco Buttiglione, howled that the Court’s ruling was “abhorrent,” and commanded that “[i]t must be rejected with firmness. Italy has its culture, its traditions and its history. Those who come among us must understand and accept this culture and this history.”
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini wept that the decision had dealt a “mortal blow to a Europe of values and rights.” Frattini’s boss, Premier Silvio Berlusconi, the crook currently in charge of the Italian government, said the decision “makes us doubt the common sense of Europe.” He then appealed to the nation’s Francophobes, by blaming The Wrongness on the godless Gauls.
“We must examine the situation. When the new European Constitution was drafted I already tried to defend Europe’s Jewish-Christian roots. Extremely secular countries like France, with former president Chirac, opposed our position and we were unable to convince them. Now a further step has been taken, denying the fact that Europe has Christian roots. This is not acceptable for us Italians, we are all Christians.”
Berlusconi went a little off-message there, as his government’s entire argument before the Court was that the crucifix couldn’t be cabined to Christianity. Even the Vatican dutifully dispatched its organ-grinders to sound this bent tune, as when Holy See Press Office Director Federico Lombardi opined that the crucifix is “a symbol of charity.”
Yesterday, however, the men in dresses did seem to adopt Berlusconi’s line that the mind of Europe has drifted loose from its moorings. Echoing the Italian premier’s questioning of “the common sense of Europe,” the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said: “I wonder if this ruling is a sign of rationality or not.”
Bertone then took a gratuitous shot at Halloween, whining that “[t]his Europe of the third millennium has left us only with the pumpkins of the recently celebrated feast and has eliminated the most beloved symbols.”
My heart truly bleeds for these people. They cheerily burnt pagan pumpkin people, and all their works, for more than a thousand years, and now they’re in a swoon because a couple grisly gimcracks have to come down.
It is predictable that the primates of the Vatican are rending their garments over this ruling. Just as they did in 1905, when France permanently threw off the yoke of the church that had oppressed it for centuries, declaring, among other things, that religious symbols should be removed from all public buildings.
That Gallic effrontery prompted the big hat of the moment, Pius X, to take a break from “a crackdown on Catholic intellectuals that has been called a form of theological McCarthyism,” in order to issue the encyclical Vehementer nos, which foamed as follows:
That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own. We owe Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public and social worship to honor Him.
Pius later backed off a bit, sort of, trying first to simply subvert the French government, and then to bribe the French people by canonizing Joan of Arc. But none of it worked.
Pius was himself later canonized. This process was begun in 1944, while all Europe was aflame, by a successor Pius, numbered XII, who managed to attend to it when he was not busy beseeching God to grant victory to the Nazis: “as Hitler’s armies crossed the Russian frontier in June 1941,” Pius XII, with his female “aide,” “joined in joyful prayers,” and “said novenas for the Nazis and asked God to intercede for their total victory in Russia.”
The Italian crucifix crisis comes at a time when Ratzinger is already pretty darn busy.
There are holocaust-deniers to rehabilitate, and Anglican bigots to embrace. Even if it requires melting down all the gold candlesticks to pay for the crusade, stem-cell research must everywhere be stifled as “terrorism with a human face,” and gays must be barred from marrying.
The government of the Philippines needs to be whacked around, so that women there can be condemned to suffering and death, rather than eschew their duty to exhaust themselves churning out more Catholics. Meanwhile, over in Spain, the people are, at last, 100 years on, going the way of the French, throwing off for good the shackles of the Church, running wild legalizing abortion and same-sex communion, even threatening to unearth all the ugly skeletons of the church’s decades-long complicity with the fascist traitor and dictator Francisco Franco; bishops there once assured Franco’s troops that they would shave off a year in purgatory for every person, loyal to the duly elected Spanish government, that they killed.
And of course lies about condoms must be spread throughout Africa; millions there will continue to die, but at least no sperm will be dammed.
Finally, there are the anti-semites among Ratzinger’s predecessors that must be canonized. Pius XII, the aforementioned Nazi cheerleader, and Pius IX, who dispatched gendarmes to kidnap a six-year-old Jewish boy, and then forcibly raised him as a Catholic.
When a delegation from Rome’s Jewish community petitioned for the boy’s release, Pius IX gave them the back of his hand. Noting that, out of his supreme magnanimity, he no longer forced the city’s Jews to attend Catholic services, he said:
“I suppose these are the thanks I get for all the benefits you have received from me! Take care, for I could have done you harm, I could have made you go back into your hole.”
It is imperative that Ratzinger succeed in making these creatures saints. Else how can he, a man who once wore a swastika armband, ever expect to also join that elect?
It is because of men like Ratzinger that Albertin is right: “The crucifix creates discrimination.” It should not be that way. The great mystery of the cross is that upon it Jesus, as both God and man, experienced all the suffering God willed unto man, by exiling him into existence. And that is what we are supposed to do, too: to feel through empathy the suffering of all creatures, and to do our best to ease it. When the Church forgets that, when it condones and enables suffering, it betrays itself. Because “Jesus Christ suffers from now until the end. On the cross. He goes on suffering. Until the death of the last human being.”