Italian group calls for referendum on school crucifixes | world | Hindustan Times
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Italian group calls for referendum on school crucifixes

An Italian group called Friday for a national referendum to keep crucifixes hung in the country's classrooms in the face of ban by the European rights court.

world Updated: Jul 02, 2010 23:10 IST

An Italian group called Friday for a national referendum to keep crucifixes hung in the country's classrooms in the face of ban by the European rights court.

"The crucifix must be honoured and if necessary we must have a referendum," said Roberto Mezzaroma, secretary general of a newly formed "Ethical Movement for the International Defence of the Crucifix (MEDIC)."

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in November the display of crucifixes in schools breached the rights of non-Catholic families, restricting "the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions."

The ruling drew howls of anger from Church and political leaders in the staunchly Roman Catholic country, with the education ministry insisting the crucifix was a "symbol of our tradition."

Earlier this week the government appealed against the ruling, with the backing of a dozen other countries. The court's decision will be announced in several months and could be applicable to schools in all the Council of Europe's 47 member states.

Roman Catholicism was the state religion in Italy until 1984 and a 1920s ruling ordering the presence of the Christian symbol in schools is still in force.

MEDIC said the European court's ruling had "wiped away thousands of years of history, the very foundations of Europe." It recalled that an opinion poll last year showed more than 60 percent of Italians believed the crucifix should be displayed in all state institutions including schools.

The case was brought to the European court by Italian mother Soile Lautsi after a long battle pitting her against Italy's Catholic establishment.

Lautsi started the action eight years ago when her children went to a state school in the northern Italian town of Abano Terme, near Venice.

She was unhappy crucifixes that were present in every classroom and complained to the school.

After education chiefs refused to remove the crosses, she spent several years fighting the decision through the Italian courts before taking the case to the Strasbourg court.

During the appeal hearing Lautsi's lawyer said her client was not atheist but wanted her two children to be educated according to the principle of secularism.

Children in state schools think the state identifies with Catholicism religion, "and if they're not Catholic, then they can feel a minority and suffer as a result," she said.