November 5, 2009

A blow against Europe's Christian heritage? Well, yes, actually

So the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the use of crucifixes in classrooms in Italy last Tuesday, and this because, according the seven judges ruling on the case, the compulsory display “in premises used by the public authorities” of a particular religious symbol “restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions, and the right of children to believe or not to believe.”

It also seems that the decision was taken unanimously, which is perhaps more emblematic than the ruling in itself. Now, although I am a conservative Christian (Catholic), I don’t want to be too harsh and/or too categorical on this.

Well, I am convinced that the display of a symbol which is deeply rooted in the conscience of so many Italians is nothing but the recognition of their own cultural identity, and that the principle of the secularity of institutions is something else than the denial of the role of Christianity in the formation of the Western civilization and of the Italian identity. But, at the same time, I concede that there is much to ponder and discuss about the issue of religious symbols in public school classrooms, and that the question in itself is a very broad and debatable one.

Yet, politically speaking, I wonder whether that decision is well-timed and “appropriate to the context,” I mean, I wonder whether it is a suitable and a wise one today, in this period of our history, although I won’t say, along with Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, that the European Court of Human Rights makes us doubt the common sense of this Europe.. However, one thing is to decide not to display the crucifix where there hasn’t ever been one, and another very different is to rule against the display of crucifix where there is a long tradition of displaying the central symbol of Christianity.

That’s why, even apart from my religious beliefs, I cannot but agree with Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who told La Repubblica newspaper he could not understand the decision:

“When I think that we are talking about a symbol, the crucifix, an image that cannot but be the emblem of a universally shared humanity, I not only feel disappointed but also sadness and grief.
The crucifix is the sign of a God that loves man to the point of giving up his life for him. It is a God that teaches us to learn to love, to pay attention to each man ... and to respect the others, even those who belong to a different culture or religion.
How could someone not share such a symbol?”

And that's also why I think the Italian government, which said it would appeal the European Court's verdict, is definitely right.