A lot is being said about the debate connected with the crucifix in the public space for at least a few years. The defense of the crucifix is treated by some people as an expression of parochialism and clericalism. However, it turns out at its base there are values out of which Europe is built

A lot was changed in the European debate after the events connected with the Albertin family. Two sons of a Finn woman Soile Lautsi used to go to school in Abano Terme. Their father, an Italian, in 2002 submitted a request during a parents’ meeting concerning taking down the crucifix from the walls of the school where his sons attended. The head-teacher of the school and parents definitely refused which provoked the member of the association of agnostics and atheists to file the matter to the administrative court concerning ‘breached rules of the secularity of the country’. She also referred to the European Human Rights Convention. The court acceded to the request deciding that the presence of the crucifix on the wall makes it impossible her bring up children according to her own beliefs.

However, it is not the end of the issue. First the European Tribunal of t Human Rights in Strasburg expressed his opinion, admitting the right of the Italian family. However, in the second stage, debating in a full composition, waive its previous judgment and dismissed the request convicting the presence of the crucifix in the school, so it retreated from the previous warrant of taking off the crucifixes from the walls of state schools in Italy.

Judgment on the crucifix

The international court of magistrate of 21 judges has heard the pronouncements of two representatives of the Italian party. During the meeting a professor of the international law at the University in New York, an Orthodox American Jew Joseph Halevi Horowitz Weiler gave a speech, who was representing 14 countries which, within the appeal procedure, are supporting the Italian government.

Wearing a skullcap, Weiler was speaking about the secularity of countries in Europe. He paid a special attention to the variety of ways of understanding the secularity and referred to the history of Europe and its cultural identity. According to him, it is a different thing to ‘force somebody to religious acts’ and a different thing is ‘the crucifix on the wall or a portrait of the English queen who is the head of the Church’.

Weiler stated that ‘positive and negative freedom in faith is a great lesson of pluralism in Europe’. He emphasized that it is not the Tribunal but every country which should define ‘frames of secularity according to their customs and culture’. ‘Secularity cannot be another form of intolerance towards one’s identity’ – emphasized the Jewish scientist.

His remarks would be advantageous for Polish politicians who have been outraged recently about the Catholic or religious character of national celebrations. In the discussion one could even hear a postulate not to organize state funerals with the participation of priests, and then the secular rite would be obligatory. And it is astonishing that in this kind of postulates there is no elementary imagination. After all, also people holding the supreme posts in Poland are practicing Catholics. So, how should one imagine a funeral of the president who has a right for the Catholic funeral and who is a Catholic? And his relatives have this right who do not imagine a different funeral. So, the above stated postulates are connected with the open breach of religious freedom.

Dignity must not be trampled

A book of Carlo Cardii has just come out, entitled ‘Religious and cultural identity of Europe. A matter of crucifix’. The book was published by the Cooperative Academic Institute in Sopot to the order of the Polish Catholic Institute Sursum Corda. In the introduction to the Polish edition the senator Grzegorz Bierecki writes: ‘A question should be asked whether the contemporary law should give protection to both an individual and the society against blasphemy? Brutal attacks from atheistic groups whose aim is remove religious symbols from the public space, leads to extreme behaviours. The behaviours which cause social tensions and breach the general common welfare in this way. After all, the minority cannot demand tolerance only for its views, but it must tolerate the attitude of the majority’.

The senator Bierecki mentions blasphemy because recently the pop-culture has registered a worrying amount of such cases. However, we should ask a question about a different phenomenon – about profanation. For ages the Christians have been transferring some terms or meanings from the secular sphere into the sacrum sphere, due to inculturation. When these objects or terms become holy for them, they start somehow belong to them.

So, we must not tolerate the situation in which the sacral ground is trampled for example, by creators who start using the Bible for pseudo-artistic practices. By what right is an artistic statement supported with the profaned crucifix? After all, both the Bible and the crucifix are written with the capital letter by some people, so they are meaningful for them. So, despising these objects, in fact we despise the human dignity as well.

It is impossible to be a little free

An Italian lawyer Carlo Cardia wrote a book which may become an effective guidebook in Poland for those who want to defend the crucifix in the public space. Summarizing briefly his opinions, it can be said that: either somebody enjoys religious freedom and can manifest his beliefs outside or somebody is prohibited from manifesting his beliefs outside and in this situation we cannot speak about religious freedom. An additional value of this book is a review of the most important verdicts in similar cases all over Europe. Unfortunately, jurisprudence looks different in various countries, whereas – in the opinion of the Italian lawyer – one principle should be respected everywhere. That is, every country has its own history and should have an adequate attitude towards the issue of religion. It would be a misunderstanding to force people in Poland to participate the Holy Mass on Sundays and feasts, as it is the question of conscience. But it would also be a misunderstanding to force people to take off the crucifix from the walls of a school which is attended by Catholic children, if their parents want the presence of the cross. After all, we live in a country which relates the beginning of its existence with accepting baptism. Entering the community of nations expressing Christianity meant entering civilization over a thousand years ago. Relations between the Church and the state looked different throughout history but we have always dealt with a symbiosis and it cannot be eradicated.

Another important conclusion emerges from the book of the Italian lawyer. Despite constant attempts to persuade us to accept the idea of an ideologically neutral country, we must set one truth that there is no such neutrality. Either a society expresses Christian values, because – as it appears in the case of Poles – the historical context decided about it, or other values will be accepted: the leftist ones or liberal ones, or the fascist or communist ones. For, in the world of various values there is no emptiness.


"Niedziela" 5/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: