Secular ideas win in some places
- Muslim wins Italian court ban on crucifixes in classroom
Sophie Arie in Rome
Monday October 27, 2003
A Muslim rights advocate has scored a victory over the Catholic Church and
conservative Italians, winning a court ruling that will remove crucifixes
from the state primary school his children attend.
"The presence of the symbol of the cross shows the will of the state to put
Catholicism at the centre of the universe as the absolute truth," Judge
Mario Montanaro ruled in the central town of L'Aquila.
A concordat with the Vatican confirmed in 1984 that Catholicism was no
longer the state religion. And laws introduced in 1920s fascist Italy,
making crucifixes mandatory in classrooms, have been interpreted loosely
since then, though not revoked. The cross is still a permanent fixture in
many government offices and hospitals.
The judge argued that the 1920s norms were out of date and that the crucifix
culture in schools showed that the state had "not the slightest respect" for
the role of other religions.
The ruling flies in the face of Italy's conservative leaders, including the
education minister, Letizia Moratti, who supports the crucifix in class as a
way of valuing "Christian roots". Roberto Maroni, a Labour minister and
member of the rightwing Northern League, said yesterday: "This is
outrageous. It is unacceptable that one judge should cancel out millennia of
Many teachers, however, have hailed the ruling as a sign that the education
system should be made truly secular.
The court case was brought by Adel Smith of the Union of the Muslims of
Italy. Of a Scots family, Mr Smith converted to Islam in 1987. In public, he
termed the crucifix a "small body on two wooden sticks". He wanted Koran
prayers displayed at his children's school and lobbied to have an
"offensive" 15th century Giovanni di Modena fresco removed from Bologna
cathedral and Dante's Divine Comedy deleted from the school syllabus. He
said both showed the prophet Mohammed cast into hell.