Europe losing its identity?
The decision was handed down by a panel of seven judges at the court in Strasbourg. They said that the display of crucifixes, which is common but not mandatory in Italian schools, violated the principle of secular education and might be intimidating for children from other faiths.
"The presence of the crucifix could be ... disturbing for pupils who practiced other religions or were atheists, particularly if they belonged to religious minorities," the court said. "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," it added.
Crucifixes were an undeniable symbol of Catholicism, the court ruled, and as such were at odds with the principle of "educational pluralism."
The court upheld a complaint filed by Soile Lautsi, a Finnish woman who lives in Italy and has Italian citizenship, who complained that her children had to attend a state school in a town near Venice which had crucifixes in every classroom.
The court awarded her €5,000 ($7,400 dollars) in "moral damages," which will have to be paid by the Italian government unless it is successful in an appeal. The judges stopped short of ordering authorities to remove crucifixes from all state-run schools, and the long-term implications of the ruling were unclear.
The judgment sparked anger in predominantly Catholic Italy, with ministers and the Catholic Church saying the crucifix was an integral part of Italy's national identity.