Crucifixes banned from Italian schools

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The Independent Online

The European Court of Human Rights has said that the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools violates religious and education freedoms, prompting an angry reaction from the Catholic Church and government officials in Rome.

The ruling could force a review of the use of religious symbols in government-run schools across Europe. Saying the crucifix could be disturbing to non-Christian or atheist pupils, the court in Strasbourg rejected arguments by Italy's government that it was a national symbol of culture, history, identity, tolerance and secularism. The Italian government immediately said it would appeal, with one minister saying the court should be ashamed and a conservative senator calling the ruling "absurd".

Italian bishops said they were perplexed by the ruling. "The multiple significance of the crucifix, which is not just a religious symbol but a cultural sign, has been either ignored or overlooked," the Italian Bishops Conference said.

The court ordered the government to pay a €5,000 (£4,500) fine to Soile Lautsi, the mother of two children who claimed public schools refused eight years ago to remove the Roman Catholic symbols from classrooms. However, the seven-judge panel stopped short of ordering Italy to remove the crucifixes.