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.

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2 Responses to A human court - a human law

Virgil Speaketh said...

been a long time since a new post!

Andrew Sciberras said...

Aye, it's been quite a while. Got some exams to clear at the moment but I intend to come back and type my heart out as soon as they're over.

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