[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) [official website] ruled [judgment, in French] Tuesday that displaying a crucifix in a public school classroom violates the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF]. The lawsuit was brought against Italy by Soile Lautsi, who claimed that displaying a crucifix "infringed the constitutional principles of secularism and of impartiality on the part of the public authorities." The EHCR stated [press release] that the hanging of the crucifix was a violation of Article 2 of Protocol I and Article 9 of the rights convention and that:
The freedom not to believe in any religion (inherent in the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Convention) was not limited to the absence of religious services or religious education: it extended to practices and symbols which expressed a belief, a religion or atheism. This freedom deserved particular protection if it was the State which expressed a belief and the individual was placed in a situation which he or she could not avoid, or could do so only through a disproportionate effort and sacrifice.
Both Italian and Catholic leaders have criticized the ruling. The Vatican recieved the news [Reuters report] with "shock and sadness" according to spokesman Federico Lombardi. Italian Minister of Education Mariastella Gelmini [official profile, in Italian] said that the crucifix was more than just a religious symbol, and that it also represented national traditions [press release, in Italian]. The Italian government plans to appeal the ruling.
In October, the US State Department (DOS) [official website] noted in its annual Report on International Religious Freedom [materials; JURIST report] that the continued presence of Catholic symbols in Italy [materials] has been a source of criticism and lawsuits. Earlier that month, the EHCR ruled [JURIST report] that Russia had illegally interfered with the freedom of religion by not allowing two Scientology groups to register as religious groups.