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Christianity Remains at the heart of European unity – study

 - Saturday, 07 April 2012, 00:00

by Francesca Vella

A year after the European Court of Human Rights made its final decision on the Crucifix Case (Lautsi vs Italy), a study by Grégor Puppinck, director of the European Centre for Law and Justice, concludes that the case had a deep unifying effect between the various European peoples. Dr Puppinck was one of the case’s main players, having participated in the defence of the crucifix before the Grand Chamber.

“The support manifested by 21 countries bears witness that Christianity remains at the heart of European unity. This case was also an opportunity to bring the Catholic and Orthodox Churches nearer to each other and showed that their collaboration – about which both rejoiced – helps them regain a legitimate influence and thus modify the orientation of European policy in depth.”

The ECHR ruled that Italy had the right to have crucifixes in the country’s schools. The Grand Chamber’s judgement overturns a November 2009 judgement, which had found Italy guilty of violating religious freedom following an appeal by Sole Lautsi, an Italian citizen of Finnish origin.

The judges had established that there is nothing to prove that students are influenced by the presence of the crucifix in classrooms.

Since then, other applications have been presented to the Court, one about the presence of icons in Romanian classrooms, and another about crucifixes in Italian courts.

The European Centre for Law and Justice said that politically, the decision of 2009 ushered the ECHR into a new era, detaching it from the culture of the Christian-Democrat modernity which had inspired its creation. In fact, this judgment was often perceived as an abuse by the Court, and as marking the triumph of individual atheism over social religiousness. 

In other words, this judgment has been considered as marking a double abuse of power: that of an international court on the national political society, and that of the individual on the national culture. Ultimately, society in its political and cultural dimension was de-legitimised, like being caught between the individual and international levels which are emerging as the only and ultimate sources of political legitimacy.

In his study, which aims to synthesise the key lessons learned from the Crucifix Case – which he says is particularly significant from political, legal and religious points of view – Dr Puppinck noted that the debate regarding the legitimacy of the symbol of Christ’s presence in Italian schools is emblematic of the cultural crisis in Western Europe regarding religion.

The Court finally recognised, in substance, that in countries of Christian tradition, Christianity enjoys a specific social legitimacy which distinguishes it from other philosophical and religious beliefs. Dr Puppinck observed that because Italy is a country of Christian tradition, Christian symbols may legitimately hold greater visibility in society.

Discussing the consequences of the Lautsi case, Dr Puppinck said these go beyond the issue of secularism.

“This concerned the underlying values of the Convention. These consequences are already apparent in recent case-law: The Court seems to have begun to manifest a certain judicial reserve in morally sensitive issues.

“While the Court had become one of the favourite playgrounds of ‘ultra-liberal ideological’ activism, especially with regard to bioethics and sexuality, it seems to be re-discovering that the moral and ethical values underlying societies are worthy of respect.”

Dr Puppinck also referred to the unifying effect between various European peoples, and said the Lautsi case also had important consequences on national debates concerning the presence of religious symbols in schools, hospitals, and parliaments.

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