By Elizabeth Lev
Zenit News Agency (www.zenit.org)
Instead of battling to return the cross to once Christian lands, besiegers struggle to uproot the cross from its 2,000-year-old home.
From left to right, Italian political parties were taken aback by the decision. Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, claimed that the decision was the 'consequence of the cowardice of the European governors who refused to mention the Christian roots of Europe in the European Constitution.'
ROME (Zenit.org) - And you thought the Crusades were over. Nope. Now, however, instead of battling to return the cross to once Christian lands, besiegers struggle to uproot the cross from its 2,000-year-old home. On Nov. 4, the European Court of Human Rights decreed that the presence of crucifixes in schools violates students’ rights to religious freedom.
The seven judges of the European court handed down the sentence that “the crucifix could be easily interpreted by students of all ages as a religious symbol. Thus they would feel that they are being educated in a scholastic atmosphere of a certain religious stamp.”
(As an art teacher, I have to sadly note that a great many students do not know what a crucifix is or means, leaving them incapable of comprehending the vast body of Western art produced from the fourth to the 17th centuries.)
The judges awarded €5,000 in damages to Soile Lautsi Albertin, an Italian citizen of Finnish origin, who started her suit in 2002 to remove crucifixes from her sons’ classrooms in Padua. After every Italian court found against her, she finally brought her case to the European Union, which found unanimously in her favor.
Although the court fined the government, it did not order crucifixes to be removed, which hang in Italian schools by law. Italy has three months to file an appeal.
Massimo Albertin, the plaintiff’s husband, obviously delighted by the verdict, was quoted by ANSA news agency as saying “The crucifix creates discrimination.”
The Albertins’ position was not shared by the Italian government, nor the overwhelming majority of Italians on the street. Television reporters combed Italian piazzas recording the shock and perplexity of the Italians.
From left to right, Italian political parties were taken aback by the decision. Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, claimed that the decision was the “consequence of the cowardice of the European governors who refused to mention the Christian roots of Europe in the European Constitution.”
Even the Secretary of the Italian Communist Party, Paolo Ferrero noted that “the Strasburg sentence is not a good answer to the demands of a lay state, which are legitimate and understandable.”
The Atheist and Muslim Unions, however, were both pleased by the decision.
Several Italian politicians noted a more menacing aspect of the verdict. Minister of Education Mariastella Gelmini warned that it is “not by eliminating the traditions of individual countries that a united Europe is built," and Sandro Bondi, the Italian Minister of Culture, mourned that “this decision takes us away from the idea of Europe founded by De Gaspari, Adenauer and Schumann [founders of the European Union]. At this rate, failure is inevitable.”
In Italy the crucifix is more than a religious symbol; it is a reminder of what continued to unify the peninsula after the fall of the Roman Empire. Ever since Constantine’s vision of a cross on the eve of the battle of the Milvian bridge the crucifix has been a beacon for Italy’s greatest achievements. The reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, far from being a cause of discrimination (we don’t have fundamentalists here except as regards mozzarella, olive oil and soccer) draws out the best of the Italians.
When Italians spontaneously help a person in need, they often say “quel povero Cristo” calling to mind “that poor Christ” they have seen on the cross all their lives who spurs them to selfless kindness.
One of the first things that made me appreciate Italy enough to dissolve my love affair with France and settle here was the powerful sense of identity and tradition among the Italians. As an art historian, it seemed that I could still glimpse the world of Michelangelo and Giotto in their modern descendants. This ECHR verdict, aimed at eliminating differences among the people of the European Union, indicts Italy for having maintained its link with its Christian identity.
This ruling should serve as an alarm bell to citizens of the European Union, urging them to monitor closely the ideologies that are about to be foisted on its member states. Most of the Europeans see the EU as a gravy train, leading its members into greater prosperity, but nothing comes for free. European citizens need to realize that for a few more designer clothes and fancy cars, they may end up having unwittingly sold their souls.
Where does this ruling end? Will we have to deface our monuments and rip down our images of the Madonna and Child that gaze benevolently upon us from countless street corners? Will the Pope be prohibited from carrying the crucifix in the Corpus Christi procession?
The ultimate legacy of the European Court’s verdict is a void, an emptying of the beauty and tradition which distinguishes Italian culture. As Pope Benedict XVI has so often reminded us, religious faith and expression stand at the very core of human culture. Removing them guts culture of its transcendent soul.
Far more frightening is what is appearing on the horizon to fill that void. Rex Murphy, writing for the Globe and Mail last week, noted that the anti-crucifix ruling coincided with a U.K. court decision that gives climate change beliefs the same legal status as religion.
See also Zenit for the longer version of the article, "Calling a Crusade; Europe's True Foundations."