Italian minister responds to European court: 'We will not remove crucifixes from the classroom'


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Rome, Italy, Nov 4, 2009 / 10:21 am (CNA).- Italy's Minister of Education, Mariastella Gelmini, has rejected the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in favor of removing crucifixes from public schools. She stated, "Nobody, much less a European court that is steeped in ideology, will be allowed to strip our identity away."

The court ruled the presence of crucifixes in classrooms could be a "bother" to students who practice other faiths or who are atheists and that the State should abstain from imposing beliefs in public places. "Religious neutrality should be observed in the context of public education," the court ruled.

The case was filed before the court by an Italian mother of two boys ages 11 and 13 who attended public school from 2001-2002 in the town of Abano Terme in northeastern Italy. Crucifixes were hung in each classroom.

After losing in the Italian courts, the woman filed her suit before the European Court, which ruled in her favor and ordered that she be paid 5,000 euros in damages. Italian officials said the ruling would be appealed.

Minister Gelmini rejected the ruling and told reporters, "The presence of crucifixes in the classroom does not signify adhesion to Catholicism, but rather represent our tradition."

"The history of Italy is full of symbols and if they are eliminated, a part of us will end up be eliminated," she said.

After noting that nobody "in this country wants to impose the Catholic religion," she noted that the Italian constitution "rightly recognizes the value of the Catholic religion for our society."

Italy's Minister of Agriculture, Luca Zaia, also deplored the ruling and said, "The Court has decided that crucifixes offend the sensibilities of non-Christians. It's the Court that is offending the sentiments of the European peoples who have their origin in Christianity. What an embarrassment!"

In addition, former Minister of Culture, Rocco Buttiglione, said the ruling was "abhorrent." He called for it to be strongly rejected saying, "Italy has its culture, its traditions and its history. Those who come among us should understand and accept this culture and this history," he added.