Taking the Crucifix out of the Closet

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Over the past two years, I have been following a case in Italy. The European Court of Human Rights – in what one would think was a joke – ruled to forbid the display of the Crucifix in classrooms in Italy. Their rationale?

The compulsory display of a symbol of a given confession in premises used by the public authorities… restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions.

They believed that the practice violated the rights of parents to educate their children ‘as they saw fit’ – even if it flew in the face of the desires of the majority and the custom of hundreds of years of past practice. The suit was filed by self-professed atheist Soile Lautsi, a Finnish woman living with her husband and sons in Italy – a nation with a long and strong religious and cultural connection to Catholicism.  Her charges were that crucifixes represented a “breach of the principle of secularism” and a “violation of the principle of impartiality of public administration”.  In November 2009, seven judges sided with Lautsi, claiming that the display violated the  “right of children to believe or not to believe.”

The appeal rendered a different decision. By a vote of 15 to 2, the Court determined that Article Two of Protocol 1 was not violated by the display of a crucifix. This article pertains to the ‘right to an education.’ This second tribunal determined that the display of a crucifix failed to meet the burden of proof that the children of atheists or non-Christians would suffer impaired education.

This decision is a victory on many fronts for Catholics. It has reversed a pattern of discrimination subjected by a very small minority upon the majority; for some reason, some groups think that the prejudices and preferences of the handful should take precedence over those of the many. This decision creates a precedent in European courts for a credible defense based on tradition and culture of the majority. The decision reversed a number of suits seeking to forbid public displays of Christian practices and traditions throughout the European Union.

A second consideration is that this decision reinforces the right of citizens to defend their shared values and identity. The push in Europe – and in the United States – to sacrifice traditions and values in the name of ‘diversity’ has created tremendous conflict. The policy of welcoming newcomers, allowing them their own practices in their own homes and places of worship, and allowing cultural assimilation to work – a process that has worked for the countless generations of immigrants who have come to the United States is now fallen by the wayside.

Finally, this decision curbs the hubris of malcontents. Atheists make up about 9% of the population in America; why then is there such a fuss about mangers and Merry Christmas? Because we let them.

But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth. – Rev. 3:16

This passage of Revelations warns us that if we stand by and let these things pass unopposed, we will pay a price. For more on the concept of charity and tolerance, I invite you to read this essay.

Ms. Lautsi represents the beliefs of about 6% of Italy; and the tribunal put the demands of that minority into perspective. The publisher of an Italian newspaper rendered the following opinion:

I hope that following this verdict Europe will begin to examine issues of tolerance and religious freedom with the same courage.

Tolerance works both ways. Homosexuals are free to live openly in our society – even in the military, now – it doesn’t matter if people resent that lifestyle. I may not approve of the practices of certain religions – I don’t have to. But that doesn’t mean that I can deny them a place at the table – or a spot in line during a public parade or demonstration. Liberals would agree that this is tolerance. Now, the demand for tolerance has cut another way. Ms. Lautsi learned that lesson – I pray that others who seek to deny people their practices and beliefs learn from this decision.


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