Speaking at the Federation of Catholic Schools’ annual congress in Rome on Thursday, the Italian Minister of Education — an independent — said he could not understand why some school administrators view the display of Christian culture in classrooms as problematic.
The crucifix and nativity cribs are central to Italian life and therefore it “is right that they are displayed in the classroom”, the Italian Education Ministry said, after it some schools were blocked Christmas displays “out of respect for other cultures”.
Italian media have been reporting an “open war” over the issue of nativity scenes in the classroom.
When a school in Terni recently canceled its traditional nativity recitation “as a sign of respect” for other cultures, it was described as “idiocy” by Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini.
“It is not just about religion, but about history, roots, culture,” he commented on the story in a Facebook post, adding: “I will not give up — Long live our traditions, and may they spread!”
Local Lega representative Valeria Alessandrini, noted: “Only by respecting [our own traditions] … can we make others understand everyone is free to practice their own faiths but that it is also required they respect the history and culture of the country in which they live.
“I hope that children and young people at the school [which cancelled its nativity event] will be allowed to share with their peers and their parents the most beautiful, intense and meaningful moments of Christmas.”
In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that crucifixes were acceptable in school classrooms, describing them as an “essentially passive symbol”.
The judgment, handed down in Strasbourg, found that while the crucifix was “above all a religious symbol” there was no evidence that its display on classroom walls might have an influence on children.
The ruling reverses their earlier, unanimous decision from 2009 in favour of a Finnish-born mother whohad complained that state schools in the Italian town of Abano Terme, where she lives, refused to remove Roman Catholic symbols from classrooms.
Soile Lautsi argued that the crucifix violated secular principles in state schools.
Salvini’s Lega party presented a bill in the Italian Parliament in July to make it easier to display crucifixes in public buildings in Italy.
The bill entitled “Dispositions concerning the display of the crucifix in schools and in offices of public administration” proposed crucifixes be visible in schools, universities, prisons, public offices, consulates, embassies, and ports.
The proposal even includes a fine for non-compliance.
A similar decision concerning crucifixes was taken in Bavaria when Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder announced in April that all public buildings would have to display a crucifix. Söder’s office said at the time that the goal was “to express the historical and cultural character of Bavaria”.