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Things That Happen in Italy

Crucifixes and crucifictions

with 8 comments

Both national and international news are reporting a decision of the European Court of Human Rights  against crucifixes in public schools in Italy. The ruling has caused an immediate outcry of anger and disdain towards what, for many, is a threat to Italy’s cultural foundations. TheECHR specifies that the presence of the crucifix, “which is impossible not to notice in classroom,could be easily interpreted by students of any age as a religious symbol”; and this would make them feel they are being educated in an environment carrying the mark of a specific religion. This, in turn, would violate “the right of the parents to educate children as to their own wishes”, and also the liberty of religions of pupils. More details of this story can be found here, here and here.

Italian politicians have joined their voices in joining the Vatican’s voice in condemning the ECHR’s decision. The Vatican has commented that the ruling is “myopic and misled”. A full version (in italian) can be found on the CEI website. Politicians have followed suit.

Here’s a brief selection of these comments. While reading them, keep in mind Italy is ruled by Berlusconi. The italian magazine Oggi published last year some pictures of the italian PM discussing catholic values with the young generations, warning them of the risk of losing our cultural foundations.






Yes, that’s him.








Gabriella Carlucci, from PDL, the right-wing coalition, underlines that “the crucifix is a symbol of Italy’s history and culture, hence of our country’s identity, and it constitutes the symbol of principles of equality, tolerance, and our State’s secularism”. Someone might spot a contradiction in the appeal to secularism to defend the crucifix. But she has made her point. For those of you who don’t know her, here’s a picture of Carlucci:



















Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of the more popular Benito (the one on the left in this picture), has commented that the ECHR’s decision tends to “cancel our Christian roots,  and to block a process of real integration. We are creating an identity-less Europe. Therefore, it is now urgent to insert the principles of Christianity in our Constitution”. One might point out that if those principles are not in the Constitution, there must be a reason. But she has made her point too. Here’s a picture of a younger Alessandra campaigning for European identity:














Next comes Mara Carfagna, Italy’s charming Minister for Equal Opportunities: “The crucifix is not only a religious symbol, but it’s also a testimony of a thousand-year tradition, of values shared but the entire Italian population.” She then adds: ” Others, and surely not the presence of a crucifix in classrooms, are the real limitations to individual liberty. I am thinking of the burqa and the niqab.” Well said, Minister of Equal Opportunities. It’s hard to find a picture that gives the right credit to the values we all share, and that she embodies. I try this one anyway:















Davide Boni, from the Northern League, warns that ” people who cancel their own history are doomed to lose themselves, selling themselves to cultures which are stranger to them. [These cultures] share nothing with those who took part in building and raising not only our own country but Europe itself. But now, that very Europe expects to wipe the slate clean.”

Boni has always been committed to the idea of preserving the values of our people: he is the mind behind the Northern Leagues’ proposal to ban kebab and foreign food from italian cities. This is Davide, the polenta supporter:






As his t-shirt points out, “Women from the Northern League are the best”.






Faced with the ECHR’s ruling, Maurizio Gasparri wonders: “What kind of Europe is this? Surely it is not by denying the identity or history of an entire people that minorities’ rights are guaranteed . We are faced with a lay drift that has nothing to do with religious freedom. Italy is a country that bases, and recognizes, itself in the values of Christianity. The crucifix is a symbol of all that. We reclaim its presence in the schools as in all the institutional places.” He concludes, “We will consider the issue of whether to maintain those institutions [the European Union?] that cost us so much.” This is Gasparri:








Ups, I got confused, sorry. I mean, this is Gasparri:









When Italy declared illegal immigration to be a crime, Gasparri said he was proud of that decision. However, the Vatican criticised the Government’s decision as being against the values of Christianity. To make things even, Gasparri probably suggested that every boat shipping immigrants to Italy should have its crucifix. (He didn’t, actually.)

Hard times, then, for our traditions. A Facebook group was born immediately after the ECHR’s decision became public. The group’s name is  “You take the crucifix off the wall? I’ll cut your hands off!”. (“Tu stacchi il crocifisso dal muro? E io ti stacco le mani!”). An updated version of the Christian value, in which we all recognise ourselves, “if a man slaps your cheek, offer him the other cheek to slap”.


8 Responses

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  1. Good stuff. It’s fantastic how in getting informed about Italian politics one gets involved in sophisticated porn.


    05/11/2009 at 20:39

  2. I am briefly writing this comment on behalf of Fernando.

    My dad has something important to say about the claim: ‘the right of the parents to educate children as to their own wishes.’ He points out that in the 50s, after the second world war, education was used to be based on a triad, i.e. Family-School-State. Every part of the triad played a different role in the ‘marvellous adventure’of upbringing a child. He adds that parents would have been responsible within the domestic domain. School would have helped children to make their first steps gradually in the real world. School was used to play a complementary role to the one had by the family.

    They were in charge of making sure that children would have been received an education, respectful of all the creative capacities of children. All the practices of learning, i.e. reading, writing, presenting any topics of geography, history, sciences,memorizing lyrics of poetry, ( Leopardi’s ever lasting poetry!)aimed at nourishing that gifted faculty arising in childhood: the imagination. An education was used to begin with educating children to imagine and to make them be aware that they are capable of imagining, whatever they wish.My dad says that his mum was used to take him to school every morning and gave him ‘la merenda’ (snack) before his getting into the classroom.
    Then, he keeps saying that a crucifix was hanged to the wall, precisely just the wall behind the teacher desk and the blackboard. He was used to make a little prayer altogether with their classmates every morning beforehand the classes.

    That prayer, he adds, meant different but interrelated things for a child life. First, prayer meant to be identified as a wish for beginning a new day. A famous quotation from Edmondo De Amicis’s book Cuore (Heart)says: ‘Piccolo Soldato dell’immenso esercito, i tuoi libri sono le tue armi’, ‘ Oh Little Soldier of an immense army, you ought to regard your books as though they were the solely means with which you are equipped in your long journey of life’.

    Looking at the crucifix meant to be something more than being a believer. It represented an imaginary of things for a child. A crucifix helped to picture what is life in the mind of child. What life would have been like for a child? My dad responds by telling me: all my memories of childhood: my mum helping me getting ready at home to go to school, my mum giving me snack and saying: ‘Fai il bravo’, me and all my class mates sitting in the room starring at the teacher praying and then making a start of classes, learning how to express my imagination and my fantasy in many ways. I ask: ‘Which ones, daddy?’ he replies: By drawing with my colour pencils everything came across my mind, by reading, by reciting lyrics of poetry in front of my mates, by pointing with curiosity where, for instance, Australia is on a geographic map, cities, countries, by reading the histories of each country, by writing everything concerning my every day life, such as playing football with friends, the happiness for Christmas and Easter celebrations when he was used to get nice food at home.

    Few things, but hugely simple ones were used to be present in my childhood. The Oratory and Friar Casimiro where we were used to play football, attending catechism. Friar Casimiro was a Franciscan Friar who lived at S. Bernardino cathedral. My dad says: he was a really a man dedicated to help children and to teach them that the ideas behind the word of a ‘man’ who historically was crucified had made a revolutionary change within the humanity. This Friar was used to exhort children to play and to be aware of how ideas can change the history of people, can make benefits fpr them. A crucifix is the mean by which that man sacrified his own life for those ideas.

    Behind the crucifix there is the meaning of life, it emobodies and reminds us: ‘Don’t be afraid, just keep heading on the walks of life.’ School and State are connected to each other because they are different aspects of a whole experience. The crucifix is the main bearing of the sacred value of life, our own experiencing that.
    That Crucifix bears in mind an history where each individual will experience. It bears in our mind that we are making a journey. We create our own identity by recognising that we have belonged to a past, that we are getting through different experiences, a spectrum of them, i.e. from joy to sorrow, and in the end, that we come to realise that we are heading a journey on our own and we are ready to face again every experience until our last breath. The Crucifix is the last breath.

    A prayer for a child starring at the Crucifix is the beginning to take their own independent steps into the life, social, cultural, pubblic, political, religious.
    A Crucifix does not mean only an abstract process of identification of an individual with instituions, Catholic Church, Nation, European Constitution.
    A Crucifix is and will reveal the experience of life every day, in the long and ever lasting and magnificent gifted process of embracement and nourishment of ourselves.

    That is a humble and plausible account behind a secularise symbol. I tried to get inspired by my dad’s stories to argue against the tendency of understanding things which directly concern and affect life by abstract and general concepts. These are the only dangerous ones, they are fullfilled in withi nothingness. We need to fight and weaken the nothingness surrounding us. A cure might be poetry and a good medicine is philosophy.


    06/11/2009 at 09:44

    • Hello Fernando, thank you for the comment (not very “brief” though:)), and thanks to the translator! I appreciate your pointing out what the crucifix represents in the life of someone who was raised as a Catholic. In fact, I would not dare deny that there is a strong connection between the crucifix and the values you have been taught since you were a child, values that -without doubt, you want to cherish and protect. To this extent, there is definitely a strong link between the crucifix and the identity of a Catholic.
      However, I’d like to point out that the experiences that relate you to the crucifix (I say that again, they are fully legitimate) make reference to the Oratory, Fra Casimiro, etc. That is to say, they are experiences you made within a Christian context. Yet others do not have those same upbringing (or maybe they had the same one as yours, but didn’t find it valuable in the end). The idea of freedom of religion is that everyone follows the religion they think true, if they think there is one. No one is saying that we should remove the crucifix from an Oratory: that would be just stupid. Nor am I saying that we should remove the crucifix as such from anywhere. That is what dictators do!! What the ECHR supported was a right each individual has to follow their own religion: this includes arguing that the crucifix should be removed from public places, that is, places that do not aim at enforcing the teaching of any religion. Anyone, who is a Christian, has a right to have crucifixes in his or her house: the crucifix symbolises a set of values behind a religion. In the same way, though, if one does not identify with those values, he or she does not identify with the crucifix either. I do not see why the crucifix has to be placed in “public” schools (again: religious institutions should not be asked to take off the crucifix from their walls).
      So I don’t think that the ECHR’s decision lacks respect to Christians: I think it actually shows respect for those who are not Christians (which also include atheists, not only Muslims, Buddhists, Induists, etc.). My main point in my post was, however, that religion is much more than a mere symbol. This is why I pointed out (what to me looks like) the hypochrisy of a lot of politicians, who now are claiming that this sentence is a threat to our values, when their normal conduct shows no consideration for the values of Christianity.


      06/11/2009 at 15:45

  3. But surely this is not *only* about the respect deserved by non-Christians. Should not we also think that one’s commitments to state neutrality point towards what the function of the state is in a modern liberal society? If this were only about respect for non-Christians we could solve the problem having separate rooms according to the religion of the pupils. Or imagine a state school only for Christians (and imagine that this school is located in an area where only Christians live, so no one is discriminated against), would we then allow the crucifix on grounds that no one else would feel offended or discriminated against because their religious views and/or identity?


    06/11/2009 at 17:10

  4. I see what you mean. There is definitely an appeal to State neutrality behind a call for secularism in public schools. However, as a matter of fact we do have different schools for those who want to give a religious education to their kids (I happen to have gone to one of them when I was a child). And I would have nothing against showing a crucifix, or other religious symbols, on the walls of these schools. That would not conflict with the parents’ autonomous choice of sending their kids to a school that fosters a particular religious education. I was more puzzled by the opposite case: if I do not want my kids to receive any religious education, why should I accept symbols of a specific religion hanging on the wall of the school? This would lead my kids (in the case of the crucifix) to develop the inference ‘education’ = ‘catholicism’. Which is definitely against liberal neutrality.


    06/11/2009 at 19:41

  5. YO!

    Quick comments.

    Two points only.

    I. The easy one first.

    The bulk of the post trades on an “ad hominem” argument.
    It might be interesting (at least for an internalist) to know that Mr Y jacks off three times a day, or Miss B is a gang-bang regular, however their opinions\judgdments might be right (even if they fail to motivate them to behave in a certain way) and based on evidence and arguments.

    II. The main argument in the post seems to be.

    1. A symbol \ icon usually express some values.
    2. The Crucifix is a “symbol” which expresses some values.
    3. If the values expressed by a symbol are not shared by some people (living in \citizens of state I), then that symbol should be removed from public places (in state I).
    4. Some people (living in \ citizens of state I) don’t share the values expressed by the Crucifix.
    5. Therefore, the Crucifix should be removed from public places (in state I).

    The argument does not seem sound to me.

    Premises 3. and 4. are at least problematic, if not outright false.

    First, ‘sharing some values’ is problematic – I use ‘sharing’ in my reconstruction of the argument instead of ‘identify’ which I find even more problematic.

    Who is the relevant population who should share those values?
    Does sharing entail agreement, or viceversa?
    Does sharing entail acceptance, or viceversa?
    If two persons share, agree on, and accept all the values of those expressed by a symbol except one, would those two persons fail either to share or to agree or to accept “the values” expressed by a symbol?

    Second, a symbol is usually polysemic.
    As you point out ‘the crucifix symbolises a set of values behind a religion.’
    Now, what are the rational constraints one should put on the interpretation of the significance\values expressed by a symbol?

    Third, a (crazy) counter ad premise 3.
    In some public rooms of the Univ of E a rainbow flag is exposed.
    That symbol expresses a cluster of values related to many different events, diverse people and cultures.
    It turns out that Miss E doesn’t share, doesn’t agree upon, and doesn’t accept those values.
    Would that be sufficient reason to remove that flag?

    Assume now that most of the people at the Univ of E don’t share, don’t agree upon, and don’t accept those values.
    Would that be sufficient?
    (Majority-rule doesn’t seem to fly here, for quite obvious reasons…
    Appeal to state-neutrality would require independent argument and would rise thorny issues)

    Notice that I didn’t provide a positive argument for why the Crucifix should stay where it is.

    I’d prolly appeal to the dear “Christian Roots of Europe”- argument;
    or some “universal” value expressed by it;
    or some kind of “status quo” – bias (plus, other things being equal, “efficiency” reasons, that is: somebody will have to spend energy to take all the Crucifixes off for no apparent utility);
    or just I’d remain agnostic on the issue since the Christian religion is pro-posed not imposed (which does not necessary mean that you’re “imposing” it by exposing a Crucifix in a class).

    Now, it’s too late.
    I’m hungry, I’ve already written too much (prolly this is gonna be my first and last post) and there’s my Friday night routine waiting for me…



    06/11/2009 at 19:49

  6. Here it’s also late and I’m afraid I’m hungry too, so I will make two minor points before continuing my weekend routine.

    1. An argument can be correct/sound even when its premises are false/problematic.

    2. This is not about individual preferences, tastes or commitments, but about state neutrality in a liberal society.


    07/11/2009 at 00:03

  7. Argh, the philosophers are besieging me!
    Thanks Matteo and Alfonso for the in-depth analysis. I’ll try to address some of Matteo’s points as part of my Saturday night routine..

    As to the idea of what ‘sharing’ means, I agree the term is problematic. However, in the case of religion, it seems to rely at least on the common ‘acceptance’ of a set of rules relating to a particular practice (in the case of Catholicism, one that is based on the Scriptures). However, as Alfonso also notices, when it comes to religion we are not talking about mere preferences: religion is a highly pervasive term in a person’s life (see Fernando’s comment), and in that sense it seems that it can be ‘shared’ only by subscribing to a certain kind of conduct, or particular “conception of the good life”. Saying that we share a passion for the values of classical music is definitely not the same as saying we share a passion for the values of, for example, Christianity. So, in my view ‘sharing’ does, to some extent at least, entail ‘acceptance’.

    Regarding the Edinburgh Uni example: I think that Miss E has the right to claim that the flag should be removed. This, of course, provided that a requirement of reasonableness is fulfilled. At the core of a deliberative democracy is the idea of ‘public reason’: if I can offer reasons that, in principle, can be accepted by anyone, then I am offering a fair point in favour of (in the case of Miss E) the removal of the flag. By the same token:

    if I say that the crucifix should be removed because “I don’t like it”, that would not constitute a reasonable view and the crucifix should stay where it is;

    But if I offer a plausible case to the conclusion that the display of a crucifix can conflict with the liberal idea of religious freedom, then my opinion seems reasonable.

    This, of course, implies that we have accepted (thus, we share) the values of a liberal democracy.
    Once I’ve made my case for removing the crucifix from public schools, the burden of proof shifts to the crucifix’s supporters to do the same (i.e. offering “public reasons”) to persuade me that my view is wrong. That’s when the problems start, of course.
    However, it seems that in ruling in the way it did, the ECHR recognized the appeal to ‘public reasons’ justifying the removal of crucifixes.

    In conclusion, it might be still ‘inefficient’ to spend time to take off all the crucifixes: probably those who argue for their removal should be put in charge of it. Nevertheless, it might hopefully be in line with a liberal and, ahimè, secular democracy..



    07/11/2009 at 21:56

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