- The Crucifix in State School Classrooms
While jurists and case law were almost unanimous regarding the incompatibility of hanging crucifixes in public places, based on the principle of secularism, the debate was revived among specialists and especially the public after the decision of an Ofena (near Aquila, in the centre of Italy) judge to have a crucifix removed from the wall of a State school (see the Italian text of the judge’s ruling of 22 October 2003).
While examining a complaint filed by Adel Smith, a radical Muslim who gets a lot of media attention, outraged at knowing that his two children were in a classroom where a cross is on display, the judge, in his judgement, asserted that the crucifixes "show the State’s unequivocal will to place Catholicism at the centre of the universe (…) in State schools, without the slightest bit of consideration for the role of other religions in the history of mankind".
The decision shocked many members of the clergy several politicians in a country where the State is still very much attached to its Catholic roots, although it is officially separated from the State.
"It is a scandalous decision which must be revoked as soon as possible. It is unacceptable for a judge to make a complete break with thousands of years of history", declared Roberto Maroni, the Minister of Employment of the Northern League. Roberto Castelli, Minister of Justice also of the League, made it known that he would order an investigation in order to verify the legal grounds of such a decision, affirming that disciplinary action would be taken if the decision was not in accordance with Italian legislation.
Two laws stipulate that the crucifix must be present in Italian classrooms. These laws date back to the 1920s and were promulgated when Italy was a fascist monarchy. Nevertheless, they are still technically in effect because they were taken up again by the legislation of the 1960s and more recently in the circulars of the Minister of Education. In 1984, Italy signed a new Concordat with the Vatican, according to which Catholicism is no longer the State religion. Tradition, however, is often stronger than the law. While some teachers took down the crucifixes, many classrooms still continue to display this symbol.
Following the intervention of the school and civil authorities, the Ofena judge’s decision was not implemented. On 19 November 2003 the Court of Aquila revoked this ruling (see the Italian text of the Judge’s ruling of 19 November 2003).
At the same time, in a similar case, the Administrative Tribunal of the Veneto region referred the case to the Constitutional Court who is going to have to give a verdict regarding the constitutional legitimacy of requiring the crucifix to be present in State school classrooms (see the Italian text of the Judge’s ruling of 14 June 2004, No.56).
- The Influence of the Vatican on Passing the Law on Assisted Reproduction
After years of debating, (between the supporters of Catholic bioethics and the supporters of secular bioethics), a law on medically-assisted procreation was passed on 19 February 2004. The bill was particularly supported by a Catholic majority lateral to the parliamentary assemblies which follow the example of the Catholic magisterium, in particular when it comes to the prohibition of xenogeneic procreation techniques (with a donor). This revived the debate on the autonomy of science and medicine against the influence of Church authorities, and more generally on the independence of the Government and the Parliament and the respect of the principle of secularism.
Read the full text of the law on medically assisted procreation No. 40 of 19 February 2004 (in Italian).
- Islam, Minority Religious Communities and Legal Protection of the Status of Religions
The spreading of new religious movements and the Islam challenge highlight the limits of the Italian system of law on religions, which is founded on the difference of legal status between groups which signed an agreement with the government (thus enjoying a special status) and the others. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Buddhists signed an agreement in 2000 (with a centre left government), but the Parliament (now made up of a centre right majority) refused to recognise this agreement and make it into a law. The result of this is that the status of these groups has not changed since then. There are huge problems concerning Islamic communities due to the current international situation. Muslims have been expelled for reasons that have more to do with politics than with the law, as no legal assessment was involved. Several sides, especially many Catholic bishops, have suggested that the law on immigration limit the access of Muslim immigrants who might not be able to integrate into a Catholic country.
In 2002 the Berlusconi government presented a bill on religious freedom (which resumes the projects of the Amato and Prodi governments) to reform the common law system that regulates the status of religious minorities.
See the Berlusconi government’s "on religious freedom" on reforming common law applicable to religious groups in Italy, presented on 18 March 2002.