John Singer Sargent 1856 - 1925
Aquarelle, graphite pencil, on manuscript paper
53.3 x 40 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Some have hailed the decision of the Full Chamber of the European Convention of Human Rights in the Lautsi Case as a significant victory for the Chrsitian tradition in Europe.
Grégor Puppinck, the Director of the European Centre for Law and Justice writes:
"The [European Court of Human Rights] ruled by 15 votes to two that the presence of the crucifix in the classrooms of Italian public schools is in conformity with the European Convention of Human Rights.
This case signifies an end to the secularist tendencies of the Strasbourg Court and constitutes a shift in their approach. It reverses the previous decision unanimously adopted, which now seems like a historic error by the Court.
The Court correctly announced that Italian "regulations confer on the country's majority religion preponderant visibility in the school environment" but that "that is not in itself sufficient, however, to denote a process of indoctrination."
In other words, the Court ruled that “school curricula or provisions establishing the preponderance of the majority religion did not in themselves point to undue influence on the part of the State or attempted indoctrination."
The Court also highlighted the importance of respect for subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation which the States enjoy in religious matters....
The ECLJ [European Centre for Law and Justice] welcomes that the European Court has thus renounced the promotion of a radical conception of secularism. This decision is a victory for Europe, as Europe cannot be faithful to itself by marginalizing Christianity.
This decision is more of a victory for Europe than for the “crucifix”; Europe refuses to deny its own identity by rejecting the suppression of Christianity in the name of human rights.
In fact, the Court recognized that in countries with a Christian tradition, Christianity has a specific social legitimacy that is distinct from other philosophical and religious beliefs and justifies the adoption of a differential approach where necessary. It is because Italy is a country of Christian tradition that the Christian symbol can legitimately have a specific visible presence in society"
But one should not think that the battle is over. The Court in its judgment the Court specifically distinguished between the passive presence of symbols such as crucifixes and activities such as school prayer which the Court said represents a much more significant violation of Convention
"a crucifix on a wall is an essentially passive symbol and this point is of importance in the Court's view, particularly having regard to the principle of neutrality ... It cannot be deemed to have an influence on pupils comparable to that of didactic speech or participation in religious activities"