Lithuania steps up Italian crucifixes row

By Ecumenical News International
February 1, 2010

Lithuania has come out in support of Italy in its efforts to revise a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights that recommends State schools throughout Italy to remove crucifixes from classrooms - writes Ruta Tumenaite.

The online news daily, on 13 January 2009 reported that the Committee for Foreign Relations of the Lithuanian Parliament had decided to join the dispute with the European court, and to defend the right of believers to the public display of religious symbols.

The committee took its decision following a request by the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which had received a letter from its Italian counterpart asking for support in their efforts to revise the court's decision that is due to come into effect on 3 February 2010.

"The public use of crucifixes reflects the Christian tradition of Europe, and should not be considered a restriction of religious freedom," said Lithuanian foreign minister, Vygaudas Usackas.

The country's justice minister, Remigijus Simasius, also said that Lithuania must consider the possible long-term effects of the European court's decision.

"Though in this case it [the European court's decision] will have no direct impact on Lithuania, the established practice might mean that the court can limit the State's freedom of decision in cases where the State should enjoy its own free will," the justice minister said.

"Each State chooses its own way to realise the principle of separation of State and Church. Therefore, detailed regulation of these nuances from outside is unacceptable. The European convention of human rights and fundamental freedoms should not be treated in such a broad way," said Simasius.

Some Lithuanian government representatives have warned that the European court decision might lead to the banning of public crosses in urban and rural areas. There is also concern that the Hill of Crosses, a popular Lithuanian place of devotion and a tourist attraction that the late Pope John Paul II visited in 1993, might be declared "unacceptable".

In November 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the obligatory display of crucifixes in Italian State schools might embarrass non-believers, or pupils of other faiths, and that it denied parents the right to bring up their children according to the parents' beliefs.

Italy is appealing to the Grand Chamber of the Court to revise the decision, and is seeking support from other countries. Poland and Slovakia have joined Lithuania in offering support to Italy on the matter.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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