Freedom of religion or freedom from religion?

That's the question many of my friends have been asking over the course of the last couple of weeks, in the wake of the European Court of Human Rights decree that the Italian law mandating a crucifix in every state school classroom is an infringement of human rights.

Italy's response has been to put up new crucifixes in public buildings all over the country, at state expense, and the issue has mobilised even Italian atheists in favour of this symbol of Italian national identity.

The judgement states that religious neutrality must reign in all state schools; which could spell the end of compulsory acts of worship in UK and Irish state schools and the abandonment of nativity plays. Most state schools in the Republic of Ireland have also historically displayed Catholic religious symbols: these will have to come down unless the ruling is overturned.

In the same month that the ECHR made this decree, the Swiss voted to change their constitution to ban the building of Islamic minarets in the country. Lucky for them they are not in the European Union so they can do more or less what they like on the question without fear of sanction, although they probably are signatories to the ECHR, so they may have to put up with the stigma of a negative judgement at some time in the future.

A spokesman from the Vatican has condemned this democratic vote in Europe's oldest and most peaceful democracy ... interesting times indeed.


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