November 7, 2009

Strasbourg: capital of muscular secularism

It is by no means an uncommon experience (for me, at least) to read a well-crafted piece on Italy in a foreign newspaper or magazine, whether European or American. And that’s why I feel like I have to mention this one in Time magazine. It provides a concise, yet thorough, coverage of the issue of the display of crucifixes in public school classrooms after the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (see my previous post).

“Europe’s increasingly muscular brand of secularism,” says the article. “has an unofficial capital: Strasbourg, France, […] home to the European Parliament and other key international bodies.” In fact, over the past decade, Strasbourg “has been the site of a series of repeated slap-downs to those who are fighting to hold on to the Old Continent’s fading religious impulses.” In 2004, for instance, a committee of the EU Parliament torpedoed the nomination of Rocco Buttiglione, a prominent Italian politician known for his traditional Catholic views and friendship with Pope John Paul II, as European Commissioner for Justice..

Of course, as the article points out, the presence of this Christian symbol in public schools “might be jarring to those in the U.S. and U.K.—even to the religiously inclined—where separation of church and state is drawn with clear lines,” but “the crucifix is widely accepted by Italians as a cultural as well as religious symbol.” Furthermore, while a 2008 Gallup poll registered that more than two-thirds of respondents in countries such as Britain, France, the Czech Republic and all of Scandinavia responded “No” to the question of whether religion was important to them, in Italy only 26% of respondents answered “No” to the same question.

Does this suggest anything about the state-of-the-art of the subject?