Voices from Russia

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Faith in the Dock: The Strasbourg Court to Hear the Case Lautsi vs. Italy

Today, the European Court of Human Rights is considering an appeal of the Italian government in the case of Louts vs. Italy. However, a decision on the matter and relevant explanations for it, as the press service of the court explained, will be published no earlier than this autumn.

If you remember it, in November 2009, the Strasbourg Court granted the petition of an Italian citizen of Finnish origin, Soile Lautsi, who insisted that the presence of Christian crucifixes in the classroom violated her parental right to a secular education for her children. In an unprecedented decision, the court agreed with her, and indicated that the crucifix could be “interpreted by students as a religious symbol, creating an environment imprinted with a specific religious tradition”, as well as “an emotional impact on those who practice another religion or none at all”. On this basis, then, they concluded that [the presence of the crucifix] violated several provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court ordered Italy to remove crucifixes from public schools and to pay 5,000 Euros (191,586 Roubles 6,117 USD 4,092 UK Pounds) to Soile Lautsi as compensation [for damages suffered]. This verdict provoked a storm of indignation in Italy and abroad. The Italian government immediately appealed the decision of the Strasbourg Court, insisting that Christianity and its symbols undergird all of Italian culture and civilisation, and have done so for many centuries. The appeal underscored, “Removing the crucifix from the walls of schools, given the historical and cultural context of the country, is a blow to the religious feelings of believing citizens”. Indeed, the appeal insisted that, when making a decision on such a sensitive topic, the Strasbourg court should choose to act in such a way that would aim to “maintain social balance in the community, social justice, and public order”.

Undoubtedly, this case concerning the public display of the crucifix is of fundamental importance, which affects the interests of the overwhelming majority of European countries. Not without reason, many other states on the continent flocked to support Italy. This is the first such occurrence in the history of the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights. However, ten of these states, Russia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, San Marino, Monaco, and Romania, presented themselves before the Grand Chamber of the court as interested “third parties”. It’s true that the two last-named countries did not have time to make a formal application, so, technically, there are eight “interested third parties” before the court. Many public and religious associations, including the European Centre for Law and Justice, expressed their solidarity with the Italians. As Gregor Pyupenk, the president of the centre, told our RG correspondent, they sent the court a written statement, with the support of 79 deputies of the European Parliament. According to Mr Pyupenk, crucifixes in Italian schools in no way infringe upon anyone’s freedom of choice, most certainly not that of Ms Lautsi or her children, because their presence in the classroom, in principle, does not influence their attitude, moreover, they do not compel them to do other than what they will.

In His Own Words…

Igumen Filaret Bulekov, Representative of the MP to the Council of Europe:

It seems to me that this case is an example of the crisis facing the European Court of Human Rights. This court and the Council of Europe emerged after the Second World War as institutions designed to facilitate peace and harmony on the continent, to help to resolve conflicts, and to defuse tensions between European states and peoples. Certainly, the intent was not to create new problems in the social structure. However, a progressive deformation and bureaucratisation, as well as a loss of moral guidelines, have led to the formation of something quite opposite its founding intentions. In Italy, there was no public pressure to remove the crucifix from the classrooms, and, as it has emerged, this case has prompted angry protests. Not only Catholics are upset at this decision. Even unbelievers reacted negatively to this verdict of the Strasbourg court, seeing in it a threat to their culture. In the end, it turned out that those who were indifferent to a specific country’s heritage, and who did not share the values of that culture can use the court [to achieve their individualistic ends]. It turns out that an alien, a Finn by birth, whose motivations are still murky, was capable of gaming the system of the European institutions to oppose the will of the overwhelming majority of people in the Apennines. The precedent set by the case of Lautsi vs. Italy is extremely dangerous. Today, you demand the removal of the crucifix from the schools; tomorrow, you will demand the removal of the cross from churches and cathedrals.

30 June 2010

Vyacheslav Prokofiev

Российская Газета (The Russian Newspaper)

As quoted in Interfax-Religion


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