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Italian Government Urged to Introduce Equality for All Religions

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A memorandum of the Italian Evangelical Churches, urging revision of the Italian Penal Code to place all religions on an equal level in matters of offenses against religious activity, has been submitted to the Italian Ministry of Justice.

The memorandum, which was prepared by the federal council of the Evangelical churches, also was submitted to the Special Parliamentary Committee for the Reform of the Italian Penal Code.

The memorandum stated that the suggestions and requests “aim at harmonizing the new code with constitutional principles and with the renewed Italian conscience.” The memorandum was concerned with paragraphs of the 1930 Penal Code, issued during. Mussolini’s regime, which deal with punishments for offenses chiefly against “the religion of the state,” meaning Catholicism.

The memorandum urged that the articles, which establish prison terms of one to three years for offenses against “the religion of the state,” should be changed to provide equal punishment to “whoever prevents or disturbs public religious functions or offends those professing a religion, and also if the offenses are aimed against a religious cult other than the Catholic.” This was proposed as in conformity with “the principles of equality, of the equal dignity of all citizens and of the equal freedom of all religious faiths as established by the Constitution” of Italy.

The memorandum urged abrogation of Article 406 which provides that such offenses, if non-Catholic religions are involved, are punishable “but with lighter sentences,” a distinction which constitutes an offense and an injury to the equal social dignity of all Italian citizens, as established by Article 3 of the Constitution.”

Another revision urged by the memorandum concerned Article 724 which provides fines for public abuse of “the Divinity, the symbols and the persons venerated by the religion of the State.” Extension to cover all religious adherents in Italy was proposed.

The memorandum also proposed that the ban on “religious faiths in contrast with public order,” now under consideration for inclusion in the new code, be charged to the prohibition of “rites which are against public morality.” This proposal was motivated by the fact that local police ban or suspend religious ceremonies of non-Catholics on grounds that these disturb public order and offend the feelings of the Catholic majority.

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