ROME (JTA) — Italian officials and the Vatican protested a human rights court ruling that said the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools violates religious and educational freedoms.
The Italian Education Ministry said it would appeal Tuesday’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The court said, "The compulsory display of a symbol of a given confession in premises used by the public authorities … restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions." The ruling said the presence of a crucifix in classrooms could be "disturbing for pupils who practiced other religions or were atheists, particularly if they belonged to religious minorities."
Crucifixes are routinely hung in Italian classrooms.
The case was brought by a woman near Venice who fought for years in Italian courts to get the crucifixes removed but had her complaints rejected by Italian judicial officials. The court awarded her $7,400 in damages.
Initial reaction from the Jewish community was somewhat cautious.
"From the theoretical point of view the house for everyone should not have symbols of a particular religion," said Rome Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni. "However I am sure that the aseptic application of this principle could offend engrained traditions and sensibilities. For this reason," he said, "I am against any battle of religion over the symbol of the crucifix. "
Italy’s Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini denounced the ruling, saying, "The presence of the crucifix in classrooms is not a sign of belief in Catholicism, rather it is a symbol of our tradition."
"No one, and certainly not an ideological European court, will succeed in erasing our identity," she added.
If an appeal is unsuccessful, the ruling will take effeect in three months.
The Vatican, meanwhile, expressed "astonishment and regret" at the ruling. Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said it was "astonishing that a European court should intervene weightily in a matter profoundly linked to the historical, cultural and spiritual identity of the Italian people."
About 35,000 Jews live in Italy.