Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Ban on religious images in public?

Yesterday's European Court of Human Rights ruling seeming to ban crucifixes and other religious symbols in Italian schools and public buildings seems to hinge largely around the (theoretical) separation of Church and state under the Italian Constitution. Yet political and public opinion in Italy seems more outraged at the ban than at the presence of the Christian symbolism. Which should take precedence?

Whatever the legal technicalities of this particular case, it is symptomatic of an increasing intolerance in Western Europe towards public expressions of faith, and it would be a matter for great concern for all of us if the Court itself were to be used either now or in the future as a tool in the service of aggressive secularisation. Our concern seems to be borne out by the fact that the Court in its ruling said that state schools had to "observe confessional neutrality".
When even some churchmen speak of the need for the disestablishment of the Church of England, (and remember here there is no legal separation of Church and state, quite the reverse) they should be very careful what they wish for.

A Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, said the crucifix was a fundamental sign of the importance of religious values in Italian history and culture, and was a symbol of unity and welcoming for all of humanity, not one of exclusion.
A European court had no right to intervene in such a profoundly Italian matter, and added that, "It seems as if the court wanted to ignore the role of Christianity in forming Europe's identity, which was and remains essential."
Reports say the Vatican is considering the ruling carefully before making a detailed, official response. That response will make interesting reading indeed.

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