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Joy in the Battle for Europe

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Aug 16, 2010

As of July 23rd nineteen countries in the European Council had backed Italy in its desire to keep crucifixes in the nation’s classrooms. In Lautsi v. Italy, commonly known as the Crucifix Case, the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that Italy must remove all crucifixes from public schools and office. The case is on appeal.

When we last reported on this in June, ten nations had expressed their support for Italy’s position, but by late July that number had grown to 19, which when we add Italy makes 43% of the European Union’s 47 member states. Not surprisingly, support comes primarily from Eastern Europe, which is typically less secularized. The countries supporting crucifixes in Italian classrooms are:

  • Albania
  • Armenia*
  • Austria
  • Bulgaria*
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus*
  • Greece*
  • Hungary
  • Lithuania*
  • Malta*
  • Moldova
  • Monaco*
  • Poland
  • Romania*
  • the Russia Federation*
  • San Marino*
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • Ukraine

Countries marked with asterisks have filed supporting briefs; the others have criticized the initial decision.

The ECHR ruling stated: “The compulsory display of a symbol of a given confession in premises used by the public authorities…restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions.” But the Italian government is arguing that the ruling violates the Italian constitution, which includes provisions specifying the special status of Catholicism. Under its own rules, the Court is supposed to respect the culture and traditions of each member state.

That twenty nations support the crucifixes is welcome news, suggesting that the Christian heritage in Europe as a whole is not dead, and that there is a widespread desire to halt the slide into total secularism. Pope Benedict has repeatedly warned Europeans against turning their back on their heritage and abandoning, in effect, their cultural soul.

This is a reminder, I think, that we cannot predict the future, and we must not assume that the triumph of pagan secularism is inevitable. In fact, as it becomes increasingly obvious that the West, precisely to the degree that it has become secularized, lacks even the most basic values and institutions necessary for social stability and growth, we may well conclude that it is time to press the case for Christianity even more vigorously.

As a friend pointed out recently, the current economic stagnation can play an important role here too. Christians are in a unique position to teach the world that we can still find happiness even in a poor economy. But to do so we must learn to want different things. Perhaps it is time for Christians to explain again what the inhabitants of the West should want—and to point out that the crucifix is, among other things, a symbol of the kind of radical reordering of desire which leads to joy.

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