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Could Public Displays of Christianity End with Italian Crucifix Ruling?

By Hilary White
November 10th, 2009
LifeSiteNews (www.lifesitenews.com)

'Unless the European Court of Human Rights overrules itself on appeal, Italy and the rest of Europe has a serious problem'.

ROME (LifeSiteNews.com) - The recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemning the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools could result in the removal of all public displays of a Christian origin in all public buildings of Europe under the newly passed Lisbon Treaty, a British legal expert has warned.

Given the intimate connections between the ECHR, the Lisbon Treaty and the European Convention on Human Rights, UK barrister and anti-discrimination law expert Neil Addison told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN), "unless the European Court of Human Rights overrules itself on appeal, Italy, and indeed the rest of Europe, has a serious problem."

Addison, the author of the legal textbook, "Religious Discrimination and Hatred Law," said that the only way out, if an appeal by the Italian government to the same ECHR fails, would be for Italy to withdraw entirely from the EU, an option that he said is unlikely.

The ECHR decision came last week in response to a single suit brought by an Italian citizen of Finnish origin who has been campaigning for eight years to have crucifixes removed from schools. The court ruled that the display of crucifixes in public schools restricted religious freedoms. "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," the court said.

While the ECHR, as a body of the Council of Europe, did not have the power to order the removal of crucifixes, "what it does do is find a violation of the Convention. The Italian government now has to report back to the Council of Europe exactly what it proposes to do in order to implement the ruling, which in this case will mean removing crucifixes from the classrooms, courts public buildings etc," Addison said.

He explained that if the ECHR judgment is not overturned on appeal then Italy cannot simply ignore the ruling. The effects will be profound, he said, since the Lisbon Treaty "in effect incorporates European Convention on Human Rights into EU law," which is now binding on Italy, and all other 26 member states.

Addison called the decision "an extraordinarily wide decision which could be used, for example, to prevent state schools putting on nativity plays." He cited the examples of Greek and Cypriot schools where it is common to see icons displayed. If the Italian crucifix ruling stands, he said, "those icons will have to be removed and, arguably so will displays of Christianity from all public buildings throughout Europe."

He said what is perhaps "most surprising" is that ECHR did not apply "its own concept of 'Margin of Appreciation and recognise that this type of question should be left to individual countries to decide."

Addison commented, "I do wonder if perhaps this judgment may, in time, come to be seen as European 'Dredd Scott' case, a moment when the implications of a court ruling are so significant and so contrary to public opinion that they lead to a public backlash."

The recently passed Lisbon Treaty gives the European Court of Justice (ECJ), a body of the European Union, the power to force the overturning of any law put in place in Italy or any other EU country the court interprets as being in violation of the Convention. The Lisbon Treaty's Declaration 17 says clearly that the EU would have primacy over the laws of member states: "The Conference recalls that, in accordance with well settled case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, the Treaties and the law adopted by the Union on the basis of the Treaties have primacy over the law of Member States, under the conditions laid down by the said case law."

The ruling was greeted with furious defiance from the majority of Italian politicians of all parties who condemned it as an example of gross interference with and hostility towards the history, culture and religious traditions of Italy.

Editorials in European newspapers are beginning to note the irony, as Europe commemorates the fall of the Berlin Wall and prepares to celebrate (in the words of Italian government advertisements), "venti di liberta" ("twenty years of freedom"), that the Lisbon Treaty has significantly jeopardised democracy in the EU.

An editorial in the UK's Daily Telegraph said, "On Monday, Gordon Brown will stand alongside other European leaders to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He will be doing so at a moment when British democracy is under great strain. Will he notice the irony of the situation? Indeed, will other national leaders recognise that they face a similar democratic crisis?

"Italian Catholics feel just as strongly about the banning of crucifixes in their classrooms as (to cite a small but telling example) Britain's sea anglers feel about the EU's absurd demand that they report every fish they catch ... Discontent is growing with the undemocratic aspects of European institutions generally, though it surfaces in different ways across the Continent."

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