Andrea Pin (University of Padua – Faculty of Law) has posted Public Schools, the Italian Crucifix, and the European Court of Human Rights: The Italian Separation of Church and State. The abstract follows. – ARH
The recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) with regard to the presence of the Catholic symbol of the crucifix in Italian public schools are just the latest episodes of the ongoing juridical and political struggle for the secularization of the Italian state. This debate involves the interpretation and the enactment of the Italian Constitution as well as the political and cultural trends that shape the Italian public debate about the public role of religion.
The decisions of the ECHR, which operates in Strasbourg, pushed the debate further: from the interpretation of the Italian Constitution to the respect for international treaties. In the first degree, the Court found Italy’s policy of displaying crucifixes in public schools violated Article 9 of the 1950 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“European Convention on Human Rights”) that protects the right to freedom of religion. The popular and political criticisms of the judgment were immediate and forceful throughout Italian public discourse, because a majority in Italian society supports the presence of the crucifix in public schools. The decision thus revealed rising skepticism toward the ECHR and its role in protecting human rights because Italian majority opinion contrasted so strongly with the Court’s position on such a fundamental right as religious freedom—as well as its related principles, such as the separation of church and state and the issue of the role of religion in a pluralistic society. The recent decision, which was given by the Grand Chamber, reversed the first degree’s decision upholding the display of the crucifix.
This Article aims to highlight why and how opinions about the relationship between church and state conflict within the Italian legal culture, as well as between the Italian mainstream and the ECHR’s attitude in the first degree. Moreover, this conflict does not just demonstrate that there are different conceptions of the basic features of democratic and constitutional states, such as religious liberty and the relationship between church and state, but it also illuminates the different opinions about what the role of religion should be in a pluralistic society. Consequently, different viewpoints about the role of religion in a pluralistic society lie beneath the surface of each court’s decisions.