Archive for November 2009

A human court - a human law

The ECHR's judgment on crucifixes in the classroom was, in my opinion, a sound one and a judgment which makes sense. Personally the cross does not bother me in the least but this is a subjective feeling. The role of any court of law, however, is not to pass judgment on subjective feelings (although such are taken into consideration) but it must always strive to be objective. In fact this is why the Italian constitutional court has completely negated the religious aspect of the crucifix (this being subjective as it corresponds to a religious belief) and considers it to be a purely secular symbol of the nation's history and cultural heritage (just like a flag for instance).
The ECHR however does not agree with this assessment for it sees the crucifix for what it really is: a symbol of Christianity. This is quite ironic because when you think about it Italy, a Catholic nation par excellence, is stripping the crucifix of its religious symbolism whereas the objective and secular court is upholding it. The court argued that the freedom not to believe stems from the principle of religious freedom; a freedom which must be protected - however it made it clear that this does not mean that religious services and education will be done away with. It argued that "...the State must refrain from imposing beliefs in premises where individuals were dependent on it. In particular, it was required to observe confessional neutrality in the context of public education, where attending classes was compulsory irrespective of religion, and where the aim should be to foster critical thinking in pupils." The court could not understand how a Catholic symbol could serve the educational pluralism that was necessary in a democratic society.
Moreover the law is very clear in this regard. The judgment was based on two articles of law, these being Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention and Article 9 of the same Convention. The former states the following:
"No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions."
Article 9(1) states:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance."
The mandatory imposition of crucifixes in public premises, especially in classrooms (children are dependent on such premises) thus denies the right of parents to teach their children according to their own convictions and the right of children to believe or not believe.
It is only the fruit of ignorance therefore which leads one to claim that removing crucifixes from public classrooms is tantamount to censorship of religion. The law clearly states that everyone has a right to have a faith and to practice that faith in private or publicly (this is why I disagree with the position of the French government which has banned the wearing of religious trinkets or the burqa in schools). The law however also seeks to protect the right of persons who hold different faiths or have no faith at all and this is why the imposition of the crucifix damages that right. The law is also universal and whilst it may be understandable that the crucifix has become part of a nation's collective identity the court has to uphold the rights of all persons and not merely the rights of Italians. It is not the case of the minority dictating over the majority but plain common sense. In fact, if the ECHR decided the case in the opposite manner it would be endorsing exclusionary ideals and the oppression of the minority: if you don't like our ways then get the hell out. But the this is a court for all persons and not the court of Italians or Christians.
I must say that I agree completely with this judgment.


Goodbye Johnny (?)

From what I've heard and read so far, there is a great possibility that social policy minister John Dalli could replace Joe Borg in the European Commission. There may be many reasons, some of which are justified, but the truth is that his elimination from the Maltese political scenario would be a great sigh of relief for Gonzi and his entourage. His departure would be a loss for the actual PN (and not the GonziPN as we know it) and Maltese politics in general.
I do not want Dalli to remain in the domestic scene just to spite Gonzi or anything of the sort. Such things do not interest me in the least. In fact there are instances where I disagree completely with Dalli's politics, such as his resistance to a potential anti-discrimination directive on the ground that it may not be in line with Maltese social policy and tradition. However John Dalli is one of the very few politicians who are genuine in their beliefs. He is one of the very few politicians from the ruling party who has not succumbed to the arrogance which power brings with it. I must add that my respect for him has increased immensely after I read what he had to say in the recent Nationalist Party General Council regarding his concept of values.
Dalli's interpretation on the loss of values merits applause as well as discussion. According to the minister:
"Maltese people were never xenophobic, never resented foreigners and always lived alongside foreigners. Maltese people have always helped in a very generous manner those in need, whether Maltese or foreigners. That is the culture we need to strengthen." -
He couldn't have said it any better. Xenophobia in this country is spiraling out of control and this can be attributed to many factors ranging from a religious order which is far more preoccupied with a full-frontal battle against secularism and freedom of conscience to politicians who have nurtured an atmosphere of fear against anything foreign - obviously to suit their own ends.
The minister had a lot of guts to say what he did. Well done.

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Censorship prevails

On May the 8th of 2008 I wrote about how the Broadcasting Authority emerged triumphant in their battle to censor the satirical/comical puppet show Teletubi indirectly by continuously imposing hefty fines on material which was bleeped and certified 18 only. This was the first glaring case of censorship this blog has criticized.
One year later, on May the 2nd of 2009 I wrote about how intellectual stalwart Oliver Friggieri attempted to defend Malta's position on censorship by arguing that Malta is merely a "snail amongst elephants" which will lose its identity if it ever dares to adopt a liberal public policy as our European counter-parts have done. It was around this time that the censorship on the play Stitching was still in the news. It was also the time when a group of Muslims were vilified and openly threatened for daring to practice their faith in public... simply because they were Muslims and not Catholics who publicly practice their faith with drunken fervor during festa season.
In February of this year we also had the Nadur Carnival incident which had seen 6 or so youths taken to the law courts (on the insistence of Bishops) for allegedly offending the Catholic religion by wearing religious vestment. With a stroke of luck their case was dismissed but only because they dressed up as nuns which, according to Holy Canon Law, are not ministers of the Catholic Church. If anyone thinks that there was some sense of sanity in the Courts' judgment they better think again.
Today censorship still prevails, the most recent victim being the 'Ir-Realta' collective which was banned from distributing its newspaper on Campus because of an article that purposely used colloquial cuss words to make a point and not to deliberately offend or degrade persons (in this case women). Unsurprisingly it was the University Chaplaincy which won another battle against free speech.
The only way to change this horrid backwardness is to stand up to all the 'intellectuals' who profess to have a monopoly over wisdom; to stand up against the Church who has a monopoly over what people should hear, say and think and do; to stand up against the politicians who fear doing their job to represent all people and to defend human rights at all costs. Too much is at stake and it would be sheer folly to remain idle and apathetic to all of this.

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