Italian Court Ban on Crucifix in School Sparks Fury

Italian government ministers and cardinals lined up to defend the presence of crucifixes in Italy's classrooms Sunday after a judge ruled that a school should remove crosses from its walls.

Acting on a complaint from Adel Smith, a Muslim activist who did not want his two children to see crucifixes at their primary school, a court in the central city of L'Aquila said Saturday the symbols had to go.

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

The ruling caused fury among religious authorities and many politicians in a country that has officially split Church from state but remains deeply attached to its Roman Catholic roots.

"This is an outrageous decision that should be overturned as quickly as possible. It is unacceptable that one judge should cancel out millennia of history," said Labor Minister Roberto Maroni Sunday.

Justice Minister Roberto Castelli said he would order an inquiry into whether the decision conformed with Italian law, threatening sanctions if it did not.

Two laws stating that schools must display crucifixes date from the 1920s, when Italy was a monarchy and the Fascists were in power, and are still technically in effect.

But since 1984, when Roman Catholicism ceased being state religion under a new concordat with the Vatican, the laws have not been strictly enforced. Some teachers have removed crucifixes from school walls while many others have left them.


"How can anyone order the removal from classrooms of a symbol of the basic values of our country? This ruling offends the majority of Italians," said Cardinal Ersilio Tonini.

Smith, whose complaint about crucifixes launched the court case, defended the ruling. "Italy is not the Vatican," he told daily La Repubblica.

"I have no fight with the crucifix... I have simply been granted a constitutional right that religious symbols should not be on display in the classroom where my children study."

Some left-leaning union leaders voiced support, saying the removal of crucifixes from schools would help integrate children of other faiths and fight discrimination.

"It is a brave and modern decision," said Armando Catalano, leader of the education branch of the powerful CGIL union.

It is not the first time the issue of crucifixes in schools has caused controversy. Last year, Education Minister Letizia Moratti proposed that it should be obligatory to display crucifixes in classrooms, public offices and train stations.

Jewish and Muslim leaders expressed horror at the proposals, which have not been approved.