Updated Friday morning
Neil Addison has written at Religion Law Blog about this case, see Italian Crucifix Case – Grand Chamber Judgment.
As I predicted in my earlier Blogs the ECtHR based its decision on the concept of the “margin of appreciation” and decided that it was for individual countries to make these decisions so that just as France is free to ban all religious symbols from state schools so Italy is free to put religious symbols in state schools. In the UK context this is a significant basis for the decision. When UK Courts apply the Human Rights Act 1998 which incorporates the European Convention into UK law they apply the “margin of appreciation” so as to give that margin to Government and public bodies. The fact that the display of the Crucifix, or indeed any other form of religious symbol, is governed by the “margin of appreciation” will go a long way to free local and central government, schools etc from the danger of legal cases being brought to ban Nativity Displays, prayers at remembrance parades etc.
Unusually for the ECtHR there were a number of separate concurring judgments and I feel that some of them deserve quoting in detail because they do pick up and question the often unquestioned assumption that Secularism is the same as religious neutrality.
And he includes some quotes from them.
William Oddie wrote at the Catholic Herald that Fr Lombardi is wrong: the judgment on crucifixes isn’t about Europe’s Christian roots.
What is actually much more interesting about the court’s full judgment is that it gives a lengthy account, with generous quotations, of the original judgment in an Italian court which was subsequently set aside by the European Court, a reversal now itself reversed by the highest European Court, the “Grand Chamber” (maybe it doesn’t sound so silly in French). The Italian judgment found in favour of keeping crucifixes, not for their religious value, but because they symbolised the moral values which in the end led to the Enlightenment and the modern Italian secular state. Neat, eh? This the Italian court did by delivering itself of a lengthy disquisition on Italian cultural history which had nothing whatever to do with legal argument at all, long and windy stuff (wonderfully Italian: you simply can’t imagine it in an English courtroom), a lot of which is actually rather interesting stuff.
And he goes on to give an illustrative quote.
Andrew Brown at Cif belief writes Raise high the crucifix!
The decision of the European court of Human Rights that Italian schools may continue to display a crucifix in the classroom is obviously a victory for common sense, of which only fanatics would disapprove. But it is also, in a small way, something to help rescue the European project, and to preserve us from the wilder excesses of American political life.
The idea that human rights legislation should be used to prevent children from being exposed to a crucifix is a profoundly totalitarian and superstitious perversion of one of our civilisation’s best inventions. To understand why, consider another family which would want their children protect from crucifixes, but this time not secular Finns, but Muslims. They exist. One Shia Muslim girl I know was not allowed as a child to walk through much of the Victoria & Albert museum, because to do so would expose her to Christian symbolism…
Shiranikha Herbert writes at the Church Times that Classroom crucifixes can stay, Strasbourg rules.
…The 17 judges of the Grand Chamber decided by 15 votes to two that there had been no violation of the rights guaranteed by the Convention. Judge Bonello said that a European court should not be called upon to “bankrupt centuries of European tradition” and “rob Italians of part of their cultural personality”. The court should, “before joining any crusade to demonise the crucifix”, place the presence of that emblem in its rightful historical perspective in Italian schools.
Until relatively recently, the “secular” state had delegated education to Christian institutions, who had a virtual monopoly on education. The presence of the crucifix in Italian schools testified to that historical reality. Now, Judge Bonello said, “a court in a glass box, a thousand kilometres away, had been engaged to veto overnight what [had] survived countless generations”, and was being “asked to be an accomplice in a major act of cultural vandalism”.
It was “uninformed nonsense”, the Judge said, “to assert that the presence of the crucifix in Italian schools bears witness to a reactionary fascist measure imposed, in between gulps of castor oil, by Signor Mussolini”, whose circulars merely took formal notice of a historical reality that predated him by several centuries.
“Nations do not fashion their histories on the spur of the moment…”
Lautsi v. Italy was destined to achieve legendary status in the ECtHR’s case law. In fact, it became the stuff of legends long before the Grand Chamber’s judgment came out. Rarely has a judgment of a supranational court put such a spell on people. Rarely has it inspired such passionate comments and speculation even before it was released. Rarely have so many people looked forward to a judgment with such anxious anticipation. But why? What is it about the issues involved in this case that causes them to speak so strongly to the hearts and minds of so many? It is a question I have been asking myself for a while now, while reflecting on the tension between freedom of and freedom from religion in the Court’s case law. And the question is haunting me now more than ever, having read the Lautsi judgment and the comments in the blogosphere thereon and preparing a post of my own. I have not been able to come up with a satisfactory answer to the question. At least not satisfactory to a legal mind. My personal preoccupation with Lautsi seems to stem from a strong conviction that neutrality requires that the state should not hang crucifixes on the walls in public schools. I will attempt to explain my opinion in this post. But I will also explain why this is perhaps not an issue to be decided by a human rights court.