Vatican denounces ruling on crucifixes

Rome, Italy - The Vatican yesterday denounced a ruling by the European court of human rights that said the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools violates religious and education freedoms.

In a decision that could force a review of the use of religious symbols in government-run schools across Europe, the court ordered Italy to pay a $7,390 fine to a mother in northern Italy who fought for eight years to have crucifixes removed from her children’s public school classrooms. The Italian government said it would appeal.

Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said the crucifix was a fundamental sign of the importance of religious values in Italian history and culture and was a symbol of unity and welcoming for all of humanity, not one of exclusion.

He said a European court had no right intervening in such a profoundly Italian matter.

“Religion gives a precious contribution to the formation and moral growth of people, and it’s an essential component in our civilization,’’ he said. “It’s wrong and myopic to try to exclude it from education.’’

The Strasbourg-based court said the crucifix could be disturbing to non-Christian or atheist pupils, rejecting arguments by Italy’s government that it was a national symbol of culture, history, identity, tolerance, and secularism.

But although it fined the government, the panel stopped short of ordering Italy to remove the crucifixes, which are common in Italian public schools. The ruling can still be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber, whose decisions are binding.