Lithuania supports Italy in European crucifix case


  • Category:

Lithuania has announced its support for Italy after Italy signalled its refusal to comply with an order by the European Court of Human Rights to remove crucifixes from public school rooms, reports Hilary White, The Lithuanian Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs has "expressed its regret" over the ruling banning crucifixes and says it is not grounded in law. "The use of crucifixes in public space does not violate the freedom to choose a religion to exercise," the committee said Wednesday.

The committee noted that "the symbol of a crucifix does not compel anyone to follow a specific religion, and it is a historically inseparable part of the entire European Christian humanist tradition, the use of which does not affect unbelievers or non-Christians and does not restrict the freedom of pupils or their parents to exercise any religion and beliefs and their freedom of expression."

The committee said it agrees with the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry that it would be appropriate for Lithuania to intervene in this case as a third party.

In November, after the European court ruled that the display of crucifixes, mandated by the Italian constitution, violated religious freedom, Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini said the government would appeal the decision. She said the crucifix was part of Italian tradition.

"No one, and certainly not an ideological European court, will succeed in erasing our identity," Gelmini said.

"The presence of the crucifix in classrooms is not a sign of belief in Catholicism, rather it is a symbol of our tradition," she said.

Lithuania is the home of the famous "Hill of Crosses" where Lithuanians have brought crucifixes for devotional and patriotic reasons since at least the 19th century, though some estimate the shrine has existed since the middle ages. Pilgrims have brought not only crosses but statues of Lithuanian patriots and saints and of the Virgin Mary and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries. It is estimated that the hill contains as many as 100,000 individual Catholic devotional objects. The hill took on special significance for Lithuanian patriotism during the years of Soviet occupation of the country, during which time the site was bulldozed by the communists at least three times.