Italian school ordered to remove crucifixes

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A school in Italy has been ordered to remove crucifixes from its classroom walls in a legal case that has ignited a bitter national row.

The debate was provoked by legal action taken by Adel Smith, a Muslim leader, who did not want his two children to attend classes in a building with crucifixes on the walls.

His complaints were upheld in court and the state-run kindergarten and primary school in L'Aquila, 60 miles from Rome, was ordered to remove its crucifixes.

The judge concluded that the crucifixes "show the state's will to place Catholicism at the centre of the universe ... in public schools, without regard for the role of other religions in human development".

Two laws, established during the Fascist rule of the 1920s and technically still in place, state that schools must display crucifixes. However, since Roman Catholicism ceased to be a state religion under a 1984 concordat with the Vatican, the laws have not been strictly enforced.

Mr Smith welcomed the ruling, which he claimed enforced the constitutional rights of his children to receive an education in a non-denominational environment.

Armando Catalano, leader of the education branch of the powerful CGIL union, said: "Removing crucifixes from schools would help integrate children of other faiths and fight discrimination. It is a brave and modern decision."

But the Church and conservative politicians immediately condemned the decision as an apparent betrayal of the country's history.

"This is an outrageous decision. It is unacceptable that one judge should cancel out millennia of history," said Roberto Maroni, labour minister for the Northern League, a right-wing political party.