Crucifixes allowed in European state schools

| 49 Comments

According to an article in the Guardian, the European Court of Human Rights has reversed its own earlier decision and now says that it is lawful to display a crucifix in a state schoolroom. The earlier decision caused “uproar,” so the full court reconsidered its earlier decision and concluded that the crucifix was “an essentially passive symbol.” As the philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser might have said, Yeah, yeah, and a Christmas tree is just a secular symbol.

France, meanwhile, has banned religious symbols worn by students in state schools. So here is a philosophy question: Can you both permit and prohibit religious symbols at the same time?

49 Comments

I’ve never understood France’s ban on students’ religious items. How can you claim to have a secular government that allows freedom of religion while at the same time suppressing even the most innocuous trinkets worn by practitioners who aren’t in an office representing the state?

I never heard of Morganbesser before. I’d have to judge him the “thinking man’s Yogi Berra.”

“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Reminds me of my last trip to Seattle.

I’ve never understood France’s ban on students’ religious items.

I think the principle is the separation of church and state – if they are state schools then you may not allow religious symbols. Evidently in this case the French decided separation of church and state would supersede freedom of religion, whereas in the United States freedom of religion prevails. Both societies are working toward separation of church and state, but the practical applications are oddly different. It is also possible that the French law is aimed at a certain growing non-Christian minority in France.

So a student cannot wear a cross but a teacher can display one? Great separation of church and state there.

Does the school use public funds to buy the crucifix? Would they allow any religious symbol or just this one?

Would branding the students with the crucifix be OK? Maybe Freshwater should teach there.

DS said:

So a student cannot wear a cross but a teacher can display one? Great separation of church and state there.

Does the school use public funds to buy the crucifix? Would they allow any religious symbol or just this one?

Would branding the students with the crucifix be OK? Maybe Freshwater should teach there.

Perhaps that’s the most telling, would they allow any religious symbol to be displayed, or just the one favored by the majority? Same issues in the U.S., no?

A teacher displaying a crucifix or even a cross is also not allowed in France. France has very strong views on laicite which long pre-date major non-Christian immigration.

Note this may be more a matter of what Europe as a whole sees as essential versus where the countries which look to the European Court of Human Rights can make individual decisions (so Italy goes one way and France another). In the US the equivalent would be state powers versus federal powers.

Jews should be allowed to wear Stars of David, Catholics should be allowed to wear crucifixes, Unitarians Universalists should be allowed to wear flaming chalices, Baha’is should be allowed to wear nine pointed stars or ringstone symbols, Muslims should be allowed to wear crescents, and so on. But NO classroom in a school that is publicly funded should ever be allowed to display ANY religious symbols or texts on its walls! The French are really messed up on this issue of church/state separation. If the state is trying to suppress any expression of religion, then church and state are NOT being separated, but in opposition to each other.

… the countries which look to the European Court of Human Rights can make individual decisions (so Italy goes one way and France another).

I am afraid not. According to the Guardian article, the decision is binding on all nations that belong to the Council of Europe, much (I assume) as a US Supreme Court decision is binding on all states. A blurb in the Times says that means 47 countries.

@Dale: I agree in principle with what you say, except (i) the state does have a role in suppressing some forms of religious expression, e.g. disrupting classrooms to shout creationist slogans, and (ii) while it may seem OK to allow freedom of expression among students, what happens when one particular group becomes an aggressive in-group and starts bullying students for not wearing their particular identifying tag (this applies to any social grouping, not just religions)?

@Matt: I’m not sure of the details of exactly what is binding. It may be that individual countries can still legislate to keep religious symbols out of the public classroom, but there is no longer a high-level Europe-wide ban on them.

For people on the other side of the pond: Please try not to rush to conclusions(either way) before doing your homework.

Europe the continent,the European Union,the Eurozone,the Council of Europe,the European countries and so on ,differ dramatically between themselves and in comparison to the US. I.e.

a.As explained briefly by Matt Young,France’s culture, secularism and separation between church and state is not the same with the one of the US.What is considered legal there and what the culture,customs and practices are, differ from the US and from other European countries.

b.On the other hand contrary to what Matt has written, the European Court of Human Rights is not like the US Supreme Court.It has some -supernational- binding powers(supposed or real, being based on international treaties), but certainly not like the US Supreme Court and anyway what happens in practice varies greatly.Most of the aforementioned entities are international organisations.But we’re still separate independent countries you know…

P.S.I would like to remind you that here in Europe despite the lesser in general religiosity(of varying degrees and qualities) compared to the US, some countries still have official or semi-official state religions.Many religions are also tied to national cultures and identities.Things are complex.I myself ie, am an atheist but culturally and with respect to customs(whether I like it or not) I am an Orthodox Christian just like the rest 98%(at least till recently) of Greeks…

…the European Court of Human Rights is not like the US Supreme Court.

Thanks for the clarifications! I did not mean to imply that the European Court had powers as broad as those of the US Supreme Court, and I think that most of us recognize that Europe is still many separate countries. But the Guardian and Times said clearly that the decision was binding on all countries. Is that not so? Or is Chris Lawson’s conjecture

It may be that individual countries can still legislate to keep religious symbols out of the public classroom, but there is no longer a high-level Europe-wide ban on them.

correct?

Mat let me reply with a question:

The article concludes with:

“All countries that are members of the Council of Europe will be required to obey the ruling.”

Let’s say now that one or more countries decide not to (or even just fail to) obey in one way or another this or other European Court of Human Rights rulings.

What then?????? ;)

P.S.Yes it is supposed to be binding;what happens in reality though is a very different story that varies greatly.And not without good reasons I might add :i.e. what happens when or if ECoHR rulings clash with National Constitutions or country specific political realities?Which of the two has the highest theoretical or real authority???

Chris Lawson said:

@Dale: I agree in principle with what you say, except (i) the state does have a role in suppressing some forms of religious expression, e.g. disrupting classrooms to shout creationist slogans, and (ii) while it may seem OK to allow freedom of expression among students, what happens when one particular group becomes an aggressive in-group and starts bullying students for not wearing their particular identifying tag (this applies to any social grouping, not just religions)?

@Matt: I’m not sure of the details of exactly what is binding. It may be that individual countries can still legislate to keep religious symbols out of the public classroom, but there is no longer a high-level Europe-wide ban on them.

Ever heard of the saying, “My right to swing my fists ends at someone else’s chin”? Likewise, Creationists may speak of their ideas quietly and respectfully without attempting to shut down any classroom lecture and no group, whatever its size, has a right to try to harass another group, no matter how small.

The ECHR has ruled that the display of crosses in classroom is not a fundamental infringement of human rights. This ruling means that individual European governments are free to allow or ban religious symbols from classrooms as they see fit. In the case considered a Fino-Italian atheist mother claimed that the Italian law that permits crosses in the classroom infinges the human rights of her son and tried to get, on this basis, crosses banned from Italian classrooms. This has gone through a whole series of courts in the last nine years. In the previous instants, a lower one, it was ruled that the display of crosses was an infringment of human rights , a decision against which the Italian Government appealed. The full court has now ruled as stated above.

Here in Bavaria where I live, some years ago the state law mandating crosses in school classrooms was ruled to be in conflict with the German constitution which guarantees freedom of thought and freedom of religious belief. The situation in Bavaria now is that a school can display crosses on classroom walls but if one parent in a given class objects then the cross must be removed. This voluntary display of crosses would have been illegal if the initial ECHR had been upheld.

1. Religious symbols on premises endorse religion as an institution, implying favoritism of the group to the individual. Thus, general religious symbols should be prohibited.

2. Religious symbols on the person endorse the religious choice or upbringing of the individual, and it would be oppressive to restrict the wearing, open or not, of a crucifix, Sikh dagger, etc.

@Thony C. Your last sentence presupposes that the ECHR is indeed the Highest Court.

If I recall correctly the Italian Constitutional Court on the matter said otherwise.If I also recall correctly we still have individual Constitutions and Courts(let alone national sovereignties) that may or may not follow what the ECHR states,rules.Whatever that may be…

So I must repeat the question:

Let’s say that one or more countries decide not to (or even just fail to) obey in one way or another some European Court of Human Rights rulings.

What then?????? ;)

Or let me rephrase, making the question more specific:

Do you really think that the Italians would have taken down their crucifixes had the ECHR ruled differently?

Moreover what about a pure but analogous hypothetical:

if a citizen of a European country that has a cross or a crescent moon and a star on its national flag, had gone to the ECHR in order to have it removed on religious grounds, would a positive ruling mean that the national flag would have to be changed?

P.S.It’s one thing to behave from time to time or under normal conditions as if we were one united political entity(apropos obey ECHR rulings).It’s totally a different issue to think that we really are…

P.S.1.Pragmatically speaking do you really think that the ECHR has top jurisdiction over the landmass ranging from Nuuk,Greenland to Petropavlovsk,Kamchatka,Russia??? :)

P.S.2.Just googling…

Jaime Headden said:

1. Religious symbols on premises endorse religion as an institution, implying favoritism of the group to the individual. Thus, general religious symbols should be prohibited.

2. Religious symbols on the person endorse the religious choice or upbringing of the individual, and it would be oppressive to restrict the wearing, open or not, of a crucifix, Sikh dagger, etc.

Even if a country is secular, how exactly this secularism would be in theory or in practice is not universal; it’s also certainly not mandatory to be understood as it’s understood in the US.

I.e.I don’t know for certain where you’re from (I’m guessing from the US,sorry if you’re not) but I would like to inform you that carrying here lethal weapons around, is strictly forbidden by law (but for very special conditions and of course under license); so sorry but don’t bring your dagger here(Sikh or otherwise),freedom of religion or expression won’t do the trick…

P.S.See how complex the world is? You’re the cause of the undoing of your own argument.Why mention daggers??? :) P.S.No pun intended of course against the Sikhs.

Thanatos said:

@Thony C. Your last sentence presupposes that the ECHR is indeed the Highest Court.

So I must repeat the question:

Let’s say that one or more countries decide not to (or even just fail to) obey in one way or another some European Court of Human Rights rulings.

What then?????? ;)

All signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights are bound by that convention to accept as binding the rulings of the ECHR failure to do so is punishable with substantial fines. To what extent those fines are enforceable is of course an open question.

(I’ve taken the liberty of correcting the nesting of your quote)

Thony C. said:

Thanatos said:

@Thony C. Your last sentence presupposes that the ECHR is indeed the Highest Court.

So I must repeat the question:

Let’s say that one or more countries decide not to (or even just fail to) obey in one way or another some European Court of Human Rights rulings.

What then?????? ;)

All signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights are bound by that convention to accept as binding the rulings of the ECHR failure to do so is punishable with substantial fines. To what extent those fines are enforceable is of course an open question.

Exactly: enforceability unknown.

My interpretation: They are supposed to be binding. Many countries may have till now chosen to accept its rulings (in other words it’s a political decision to do so) but this might not last for ever(especially if core issues are to be ruled).

The logic of all these treaties,organisations and entities is to force political integration.But whether you like it or not, we’re not there yet,in fact we’re pretty far away and in part backing off;we still have national constitutions and there are still sovereign countries , nations and conflicting interests.

P.S.To me the ruling is indeed a joke.I’m not that keen on handing sovereign rights to ECHR or other institutions abroad(even if I agree i.e. with a ECHR ruling), but okay, a passive symbol???????? lol

I’m guessing that they knew that the Italians(and others) wouldn’t back down on such issues ,so they got creative and imaginative.…

P.S.1. Even if we accept the ECHR and its rulings as presently binding,I must emphasise (and this was my initial objection to Matt’s comment) that it still isn’t the European analogue of the US Supreme Court.It’s helpful (especially for US Americans) to consider it as such but only if the main and serious differences are kept along in mind…

P.S.2.Need I also remind you the joke of the Maastricht treaty and its binding criteria??? :D

Thanks for the background, guys. As a European, currently living in a different European country from my birth, I’m shamefully unaware of these issues.

Thanatos said:

P.S.To me the ruling is indeed a joke.I’m not that keen on handing sovereign rights to ECHR or other institutions abroad(even if I agree i.e. with a ECHR ruling), but okay, a passive symbol????????

Symbolism is rarely (if ever) passive…

Having grown up with crucifixes in the classrooms in Italy, and as much as I would like to see them gone, I can vouch for the fact that they are overwhelmingly ignored, or used as props (e.g. the jersey of the local soccer team drawn on the plastic Jesus, little erected penises attached to them, etc). Teachers don’t notice, or pretend they don’t.

Thanatos said: I would like to remind you that here in Europe despite the lesser in general religiosity(of varying degrees and qualities) compared to the US, some countries still have official or semi-official state religions.

That point would justify making a ruling that says schools can display religious symbols associated with the state’s official religion. That’s nice and neutral. But it says crosses.

Giving crosses special treatment doesn’t make any sense for countries such as Turkey (current ECHR chair!), Azerbaijan, and Bosnia, who are part of that 47-member group.

I think it’s a narrow-minded and exclusionary ruling, even for Europe (and even though I agree with you that Europe does not operate the same as the U.S.). Rulings like this make me hope the ECHR is a toothless and nonbinding entity…and that’s not a good sign.

Thanatos: I do know that there have been cases where the UK has not implemented rulings of the ECHR has then been fined, paid the fine and then implemented the ruling so it would appear that the rulings are indeed binding.

On your more general point about handing over sovereign powers, I personally think it a good thing that Europe has unified standards of human rights and a central system for the enforcement of those rights. In the end we are not Germans, Italian, Brits or whatever but human beings and each of us should be guaranteed the same rights and obligations and the same protections for those rights and obligations.

Thanatos said:

I.e.I don’t know for certain where you’re from (I’m guessing from the US,sorry if you’re not) but I would like to inform you that carrying here lethal weapons around, is strictly forbidden by law (but for very special conditions and of course under license); so sorry but don’t bring your dagger here(Sikh or otherwise),freedom of religion or expression won’t do the trick…

But what if the dagger is a totally un-sharpened ornament that merely resembles knife? What if it’s soldered into the sheath?

eric said:

Thanatos said: I would like to remind you that here in Europe despite the lesser in general religiosity(of varying degrees and qualities) compared to the US, some countries still have official or semi-official state religions.

That point would justify making a ruling that says schools can display religious symbols associated with the state’s official religion. That’s nice and neutral. But it says crosses.

Giving crosses special treatment doesn’t make any sense for countries such as Turkey (current ECHR chair!), Azerbaijan, and Bosnia, who are part of that 47-member group.

I think it’s a narrow-minded and exclusionary ruling, even for Europe (and even though I agree with you that Europe does not operate the same as the U.S.). Rulings like this make me hope the ECHR is a toothless and nonbinding entity…and that’s not a good sign.

a.That post scriptum was written in order to provide some helpful crucial background information*** to readers that might lack it (read (predominantly) US Americans :) ).

It was not specifically written in order to address the ECHR ruling nor to express my opinion about it.In any case and btw, I’m not lawyer… ;)

It’s essential for secularists, even more so for the US American ones, to understand the great differences between the US and European countries

(also between the European countries themselves and let’s not forget also the great arcane complexity of modern supernational European Insitutions and Organisations)

with respect to both culture-national-identity on the one hand and seperation of church and state and secularism on the other. The aforementioned french laicite (by erp) is a great example of this.

What it means also to belong to a European nation,juxtaposed to belonging to the US American nation, and how this is linked to religion is also greatly noteworthy and should be greatly reflected upon.

(Disclaimer: Dear French readers,please don’t be offended by potential errors or by the potential oversimplification hereafter (not to mention also by the lack of the aigu or other accents and marks :) ). Please jump in to correct me!)

France(like Greece) i.e. despite being the European Paradigm of being defined by Constitutional Patriotism

(and not by race or ancesty;i.e. in contrast Greece up till very recently -the change is presently being disputed in the courts- has had a strong ius sangvinis definition of nationality)

doesn’t recognise ethnic minorities within her borders.Being a French means that whatever the background, you must fully accept la culture francaise.Inspite of its great importance,the French Revolution didn’t give birth ex nihilo to France and to the French nation.Contrary to the US,France and most other European countries had a history long before their modern statehood…

b.Italy has no longer as state religion.But she,as a nation, is certainly pretty much very closely tied to Catholic Christianity and the Catholic Church, so matters of superposition of national identity (and culture) with religion are important whether ones likes it or not.

The concurring opinion of Judge Bonello(see court ruling) is very insightful on how things are perceived by many.On both points a and b.

A secularist or an atheist especially one from the US,I must again emphasise,must take all these into great consideration when dealing with secularist issues in the world or abroad.

c.FYI In part the dispute was over Crucifixes in particular (interpreted as a Catholic symbol) and not Christian Crosses in general,as stated in (page 31 of the text,33 in the pdf)

79. The applicants submitted that because the second and third applicants had been exposed to the crucifixes displayed in the classrooms of the State school they attended, all three of them, not being Catholics, had suffered a discriminatory difference in treatment in relation to Catholic parents and their children.

Go figure…

d.I didn’t say that I agree with the rationale of the ruling. I wrote on how binding it is or should it be considered in comparison with US Supreme Court rulings.

Now about the ruling per se:

Again I’m not lawyer but as I’ve said, I certainly don’t think it’s sincere, it’s not honest to call a Crucifix a passive symbol.Calling it passive seems ridiculous to me. On the other hand parts of the rest of the court’s arguments(and also of the separate opinions) are not that irrational;they seem more ,in a compromising way of course, solid; albeit again in a European context and not a US American one. But then again,as I’ve said, I’m not a lawyer so my opinion would anyway be of no technical interest.So I end this here.

e.Read the full Court Ruling here or the -much shorter :) - official press release here.Although one might not agree with the text :

1.it’s ,I think essential, to know what exactly has been ruled,what are we talking about,

2.useful information such as this(page 13 of text - or 15 in pdf page numbering)

26. In the great majority of member States of the Council of Europe the question of the presence of religious symbols in State schools is not governed by any specific regulations.

The presence of religious symbols in State schools is expressly forbidden only in a small number of member States:

the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, France (except in Alsace and the département of Moselle) and Georgia.

It is only expressly prescribed – in addition to Italy – in a few member States, namely: Austria, certain administrative regions of Germany (Länder) and Switzerland (communes), and Poland.

Nevertheless, such symbols are found in the State schools of some member States where the question is not specifically regulated, such as Spain, Greece, Ireland, Malta, San Marino and Romania.

is available therein.

*** I think even simple wikipedia articles like this and this or maps like this one are essential initial-point readings wherefrom one can start study in order to understand Religion in Europe.

am I reading this correctly? It does not appear that “Crucifixes allowed in European state schools” is what the ruling was - the ruling was that displaying a crucifix is not a violation of human rights and therefore not prohibited by that particular jurisdiction. IANAL but seems very much not the same thing. Wheather or not such a display would be allowed bas essencially left up to member countries to decide for themselves?

IMO state schools shouldn’t display religious symbols at all (nor should they prohibit students from wearing them, but, I also realise this is a complicated issue)

Res Christmas trees and etcetera: Christmas as we now celebrate it (or don’t) was largely invented in the United States and maybe Great Britain in the ninteenth century. For a delightful and academic oriented story on this see the Christmas admiring Stephen Nissenbaum (Jewish then and now) and his book, The Battle for Christmas. Much of the common symbols of Christmas are secular and from various pagan sources.

RobLL said:

Res Christmas trees and etcetera: Christmas as we now celebrate it (or don’t) was largely invented in the United States and maybe Great Britain in the ninteenth century. For a delightful and academic oriented story on this see the Christmas admiring Stephen Nissenbaum (Jewish then and now) and his book, The Battle for Christmas. Much of the common symbols of Christmas are secular and from various pagan sources.

Yeah, for the most part I find it hard to get too upset over Santy Claus Xmas kitsch – I like my Xmas tree.

In Nippon they celebrate Xmas after a fashion even though only about 3% of Japanese are Christians – basically because retailers realized they were onto something. It’s an event that shows up a lot in Japanese romances and romantic comedies. Bakeries get a run on “Christmas cakes” at that time of year.

Kon Satoshi’s TOKYO GODFATHERS must be regarded as the greatest Japanese Xmas movie ever made. (Actually, if you can put up Kon’s craziness, it’s pretty good: “You can call me a BITCH, but I don’t like being called UGLY!”)

RobLL said:

Res Christmas trees and etcetera: Christmas as we now celebrate it (or don’t) was largely invented in the United States and maybe Great Britain in the ninteenth century. For a delightful and academic oriented story on this see the Christmas admiring Stephen Nissenbaum (Jewish then and now) and his book, The Battle for Christmas. Much of the common symbols of Christmas are secular and from various pagan sources.

Christmas as it is now celebrated was invented in Germany in the 19th century. It was imported into Britain by Albert when he married Victoria and spread from there to American.

[offtopic]

Thony C said:

Thanatos: I do know that there have been cases where the UK has not implemented rulings of the ECHR has then been fined, paid the fine and then implemented the ruling so it would appear that the rulings are indeed binding.

On your more general point about handing over sovereign powers, I personally think it a good thing that Europe has unified standards of human rights and a central system for the enforcement of those rights. In the end we are not Germans, Italian, Brits or whatever but human beings and each of us should be guaranteed the same rights and obligations and the same protections for those rights and obligations.

1.a.You have chosen not to answer to my view and argument that being bound by the ECHR (this also includes paying the fines) is a voluntary political decision by the member countries and not really enforceable and binding by itself.

b.How about this?

c.And anyway please,speaking about my main objection,that is the comparison of the courts between Europe and the US, compare fines to what would happen should a state in the US defied the Supreme Court or consider or declared that it would be no longer bounded by it.

Btw Courts(national or supranational) don’t enforce the law…

2.Point taken and respected. On the other you must also consider that while in the end we are all indeed humans, we also live in different places , in different societies, with different norms, in a finite resources and time world and choose to live or to die for different causes, for different things and for different people.

So let’s be practical and then become more idealistic and then come back to being practical:

the money i.e. that Germany(or others) has recently given to Greece is a loan; contrary to the money that Germany hands to its own poor citizens. The standard of living is Greece is much much lower (and will get,as you know, even worse) than the German one.

Would you consider,since you’re arguying for human rights and human decency, to hand out your money to Greece, free of charge, in order for us Greeks not to plummet to economic default and utter poverty? ;)

Isn’t again,the fact that we’re all human, the human nature itself, combined with the fact that it’s impossible to solve all the problems of humanity, that makes us prioritise over about whom and how much we care about and therefore organize in groups of (real or perceived) common interests??

Need I go further with the argument???

Wheels said: But what if the dagger is a totally un-sharpened ornament that merely resembles knife? What if it’s soldered into the sheath?

You’re moving the goalpoast rendering Jaime’s argument void. The initial argument(or at least my understanding of it) called for a real dagger. That’s a no-no here.

Now if it were a fake dagger (basically not a dagger :) ) then I must,if we’re to stay within very secular systems, refer you to concepts like the aforementioned french laicite.

In other words and in essence , how one defines ideals, and how one balances conflicting with themselves and with reality ideals , differs from country to country.

It’s like the freedom-liberty thing:

The general view and consensus(ok it might be an oversimplification but let’s accept it as a working hypothesis) is that at this side of the pond, freedom-liberty without some sort of social justice is not freedom, is a scam,an empty word.

At your side of the pond, social justice,that is some kind of redistribution, is taking away liberty-freedom.

Who is right?

I prefer the former view, our side , but I can’t say that it is logically proof nor that the other side it utterly wrong…

How about you?

Or then I could get both secular and practical but with a consequentialist twist:

how is the fanaticism of people and the infringement on religious rights, going in practice, in the otherwise ultra-secular (when compared to most of european systems) USA??? ;)

Or I could reshape the ornament to a gigantic but otherwise realistic phallus(or whatever) worn by either students or teachers and ask for freedom of expression.

I might even , instead of freedom of expression, call for freedom of religion by being a member of an orgiastic ,let’s say, Dionysian religion-group. Hell, why compromise? It’s an orgiastic sex-friendly religion so let’s go natural: the phallus gets real…

Need I elaborate more on this argument?

etc…

[/offtopic]

I don’t appreciate it being called goal-post moving. I just brought it up because I know some Sikhs will use un-sharpened daggers or soldered, epoxied, or otherwise sealed sheaths in an effort to avoid prohibitions on weapons in US schools. I was curious as to how this applied in other countries where “weapons” are illegal or more tightly controlled, in schools or society at large.

This comment has been moved to The Bathroom Wall.

Robert Byers said:

Europe is a Christian civilization and achievement .

I disagree with you. Although the division between church and state is not always so clear-cut as in the USA neither is there a significant majority of devout Christians. The majority of people identify with Christianity culturally rather that religiously and are basically fairly apathetic when it comes to spirituality.

Europe is by and large a secular civilisation. Not because a constitution states the fact but rather because that is the inclination of the people. With that in mind I think this ruling is really just a storm in a teacup.

Robert Byers said:

In North america(sic) its done only with the school classes. they don’t have the nerve to rip away neck crosses.

Your Christian Persecution Complex has kicked in. Do you really believe the government wants to burst through your door and take away your mini-execution device because the state doesn’t endorse Christianity??? Don’t worry though - they are probably a bit busy at the moment what with having to govern a country ‘n’ all.

There was a big thing about the wearing of poppies in the work place coming up to remembrance day in this part of Europe some years ago.

Wheels said:

I don’t appreciate it being called goal-post moving. I just brought it up because I know some Sikhs will use un-sharpened daggers or soldered, epoxied, or otherwise sealed sheaths in an effort to avoid prohibitions on weapons in US schools. I was curious as to how this applied in other countries where “weapons” are illegal or more tightly controlled, in schools or society at large.

I can’t comment for every country in Europe but from what I know from the UK a similar policy is practiced although that doesn’t mean a few contrary decisions have been made at a local level. Generally Germany tends to be a bit more relaxed as blunt weapons are regarded as theatre props whereas in the UK you must have a good reason to be transporting sharp knives or blunt weaponry so it wouldn’t surprise me if they followed the same sort of formula.

Peter Henderson said:

There was a big thing about the wearing of poppies in the work place coming up to remembrance day in this part of Europe some years ago.

A (hopefully helpful) note for those who might not know - Remembrance Day is the UK equivalent to Veterans’ Day. Leading up to Remembrance Day the Poppy Appeal starts its campaign which raises funds for the The Royal British Legion (a welfare charity for ex service-men and -women). Upon donating to the appeal, a poppy made of paper and plastic is given to the donor to wear. The poppy however is not a religious symbol.

JASONMITCHELL said: am I reading this correctly? It does not appear that “Crucifixes allowed in European state schools” is what the ruling was - the ruling was that displaying a crucifix is not a violation of human rights and therefore not prohibited by that particular jurisdiction.

After scanning the actual ruling (thanks for the link, Thanatos!), I agree with you and Thanatos. This looks like a tempest in a teapot.

Basically, they found the Italian practice of hanging a crucifix on the school wall to be “consistent with” Article 2 Protocol 1 and Article 9 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. I’ve blockquoted those below.

Yes, in the U.S. the suit would’ve likely turned out differently. But it doesn’t exactly raise my hackles.

Article 2 Protocol 1:

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

Article 9:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

What on earth does this have to do with science?

Folks, meet ForTheKids, a notorious right-wing Creationist/Christian fanatic from Kansas!

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/plonk.php

ForTheKids, FtK

overwhelming creepiness

I put up with this slimeball for a long time, since she rarely commented on Pharyngula; her wretched insinuations against my daughter, though, were too much. I think her pseudonym of “For the Kids” means she likes to prey on younger people with her lies and innuendo.

FtK said:

What on earth does this have to do with science?

Nothing. This is about the interactions (or lack thereof) between religion and the state, which also is an issue of science education in public schools and Creationists attempting to interfere with it. It is sometimes instructive to look at the issue from a different angle.

39 responses, and no one has noted that the French ban on religious symbols, only introduced in 2004, was not aimed at crucifixes. It was aimed entirely at Muslims wearing head scarves, and the ban on other religious symbols only had to be included to maintain the pretence that the law was not racist. The ECHR has now given the green light to racism.

Jack Sprocket said: The ECHR has now given the green light to racism.

I see the ruling kind of like the LSEA. There may be sectarian motivations behind it but there’s still some hypothetically legal ways to implement it. Which makes it hard to prima facie shoot it down. In both cases, I think the odds of a legal repeal are slim unless/until some blatantly illegal implementation occurs.

In the European case, if a school hangs a cresent and the same court says that violates the ECHR, you’ve got yourself a case. Or if a school says no religious symbols on the wall and some student complains and wins, you’ve got yourself a case. Until then, a ruling that says schools may hang religious symbols is not (at least to me) necessarily racist.

Jack Sprocket said:

39 responses, and no one has noted that the French ban on religious symbols, only introduced in 2004, was not aimed at crucifixes. It was aimed entirely at Muslims wearing head scarves, and the ban on other religious symbols only had to be included to maintain the pretence that the law was not racist. The ECHR has now given the green light to racism.

The ECHR are only concerned about human rights therefore they have judged that if you happen to see a religious symbol on a wall in a school your rights as a human have not be violated. In France all religious symbols are already banned from being displayed so this ruling is not relevant to that country - and thus not particularly worthy of note in the previous responses.

Your tone of indignation however suggests you think the previous responders are somehow ignorant or morally weak because we haven’t mentioned France’s religious symbol ban. Is that what you insinuating?

If a case is brought before the ECHR arguing that someones human rights have been violated because there wasn’t a specific religious symbol displayed on a wall and the ECHR agreed then your green light to “racism” claim (although I assume you mean religious discrimination) would have more weight.

This comment has been moved to The Bathroom Wall.

For Byers, this is actually coherent. Astonishing. Can he be learning from us?

But although this does not rise to the sublime heights of Byersian glossolagnia that we have seen in the past, it is still a long way from actual rationality. “Belief structures which can find political expression” is not persecution. Persecution is when people are persecuted, not when the State is prevented from displaying religious symbols in its institutions.

Ah, but the State institutions involved here are schools, and not displaying religious symbols therein involves actors other than the State. The State should by all means be as restricted as possible, especially in the means it may use to control opinion, but that does not apply to its citizens, who should, on the contrary, be allowed to express opinion freely.

So the court did wrong to deny all at a school the right to wear religious symbols. The students are not the State, nor its agents. (On the other hand, the teachers, their assistants, and the administrators are so.) That error has now been rectified. Within reason, always respecting the principle that my right to exercise by swinging my arms stops short of your nose, students may wear religious symbols.

All of which is not to the point, as Jack Sprocket said. The purpose of the ban in French schools is not to prevent religious expression, as such, notwithstanding the very strong tradition of anticlericalism in French government. It is to prevent the wearing of the niqab, the burqa, even the headscarf.

The error in the first place was to call these garments “religious symbols”. They are not. They are expressions of culture, and they represent a cultural practice.

Why can’t they be banned? Cultural practices are banned all the time. Fireworks, dogfighting, footbinding, clitoridectomy, getting seriously drunk in public (a venerable Western cultural practice) are all against the law, at least nominally. So why not wearing the headscarf?

Wellllll.…

The problem is obvious, isn’t it? Those practices are banned because they cause harm. What harm is caused by wearing a headscarf?

Yes, I’ve heard the rationalisations. Voluminous all-concealing garments and a ready vociferous refusal to be searched (said to be on religious or cultural grounds) can be and have been used to conceal bombs. But a headscarf? Please.

No. I know what the reason is, and although I find myself vibrating with a certain amount of sympathy for it, I reject that reason. I know why some insist on the headscarf, and I think their reasons are contemptible. That isn’t the point. Whatever I may think of their reasons for doing something, unless I can demonstrate that the practice is harmful, I have no right to prevent it.

I think that there is sufficient reason to ban the full burqa, technically the niqab. That reason is not because it amounts to displaying a religious symbol, but because it facilitates terrorism. But the headscarf harms nobody.

It must be permitted.

I’ve lived in Europe (the Netherlands) for three years, when I was a teenager and I can tell you this; when the European Court makes decisions on human rights and religion three things are bound to happen: 1.) France ignores them. 2.) Britain is mortified at their loss of sovereingnty. 3.) U.S citizens make comparisons to their own constitution.

The Dutch on the other hand generally go, ‘ehh, whatever!’

Christmas tree is a secular symbol. I really wish those who are not Christian would stop telling me and my co-religionists what does or does not represent my faith. Crosses do. Christmas trees don’t. People who are not Christian don’t have the right to tell Christians what they believe- and the same goes for Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Atheists.

I think that there is sufficient reason to ban the full burqa, technically the niqab. That reason is not because it amounts to displaying a religious symbol, but because it facilitates terrorism. But the headscarf harms nobody.

It must be permitted.

While I symthasize somewhat with this view, I think it’s being presented as though there were no underlying cultural context whatsoever. And that’s oversimplifying to a perhaps unacceptable degree.

As a SYMBOL, the headscarf represents the significant incursion of disruptive cultural conflict into the society. The muslim population is growing rapidly, and is not being assimilated. That population brings into the French culture far more than different dress codes. It brings different legal traditions, leading to different ranges of acceptable behavior within the subculture. It brings significant legal and administrative headaches. All too often, it brings violent conflicts.

Cultures generally attempt to defend their integrity. The US permits (or can’t prevent) a significant hispanic influx, but they CAN say that if you come here, you must obey our laws, speak our language (or anyway, other languages won’t be officially supported), and follow our customs where differences cause conflicts. Employers enforce dress codes both directly (wear shirts!) and indirectly (if you don’t wear a suit and tie, you can forget about promotions, raises, and advancement). Cultural norms are imposed in both obvious and subtle ways throughout the culture.

The French are faced with EITHER considerable friction where muslims and traditional French interact, or else isolated cultural communities following nationally illegal practices, “island nations” outside the French mainstream, nearly impossible to administer. Experience suggests that such enclaves are tolerable within limits. The US has barrios, ghettos and the like. And history tells us that it can take a generation or even two before most culturally distinct enclaves (with their own languages, diets, architecture, traditions, rituals etc.) normalize. In the case of visually distinctive groups with distinctions interbreeding doesn’t eradicate, this can take forever.

But still, the US goes to considerable effort to encourage integration. Common public schooling directly, economic advancement indirectly. Generally this works, because the rewards of integration soon exceed the comforts of isolation. In general, integration happens because it’s seen as desirable. But what do you do when (1) this isn’t happening, and (2) the sheer size of the non-integrating population leads to growing hostility and violence?

Ther French are attempting to force the pace of integration by banning the symbols of cultural divisions. This may prove ineffective, but for France to remain governable, something needs to be done.

Christmas tree is a secular symbol. I really wish those who are not Christian would stop telling me and my co-religionists what does or does not represent my faith.

To an outsider, this can be baffling. Christmas (to use your example) is replete with Santa Claus, exchanging presents, decorating evergreens, yule logs, caroling, house decorations, midnight church services, and a long list of stuff. Which of this stuff is religious, or semi-religious, or symbolic of non-Christian traditions, or Christian traditions imported from other cultures? Most of us lump all this together as part of the holiday season, and associate it with Christ’s birthday (except of course it isn’t; that was plastered on to co-opt ubiquitous non-Christian winter observances from several cultures. Nobody knows when Christ was born, if indeed such a person existed at all!)

I admit I have no idea where the Christmas tree tradition came from, or what it may have originally represented. But if Christians are going to claim the entire holiday as a birthday celebration, they pretty much have to take the whole kaboodle. They can’t pick and choose.

Flint, I totally get where you’re coming from. Thank you for your questions and perspective. It makes sense! I agree- as you describe it, it would be baffling!

I don’t know if this answers it better for you, but… We don’t usually claim the entire holiday as a birthday celebration. The holiday actually has changed a lot since it’s inception, even in the Christian sense. Santa Claus is not really a Christian idea- although St. Nicholas is. I would guess that sounds like splitting hairs, but it really isn’t. St. Nicholas was a real guy, though we probably don’t know much about him, beyond hagiography. He evidently was pretty loving and nice to folks. Santa Claus (as envisioned in the US) is a bit of a minor deity. He’s pretty far removed from the original idea.

So things change, not just traditions, but even meanings. Today, Christmas is more about getting the coolest things and what I can get. It’s not about remembering the birth of a guy who claimed to be God- except for a very few. And most American Christians probably include Santa Claus and Christmas trees in their celebrations, but those weren’t original to the Christian celebration, or unique to it. Luther baptized the tree, putting Christian symbolism on it- but if that’s our standard, then pretty much everything you know of has been baptized in meaning in some form by a Christian in the past, which would leave precious little of secular culture left!

Perhaps another example would be more obvious. Easter is about the death of Jesus- and his presumed resurrection. It is not about Easter bunnies. But for a lot of people- secular and Christian alike- Easter bunnies and eggs figure pretty predominantly. And I have heard sermons baptizing the egg and the bunny to find Christian meaning in them. But can we honestly say those are therefore now Christian symbols?

Thus I see nothing wrong with a large Christmas Tree on the capitol lawn. I’d also like to see a Menorah and something Muslim there, et.al. But as a Christian, I’d be mighty uncomfortable with Obama putting up a giant cross up there. That’s a religious symbol, and I don’t think it appropriate to force my religion on others. Sure, Obama is one of the most devout Christians we’ve ever had as President, and if he wants to go to services or talk about his faith, more power to him. But I don’t think it appropriate for him to use the Bully Pulpit to preach my faith, or try to get others to join it. (That’s not so much a matter of a public/private thing, as if there were actually a distinction. It is rather that we shouldn’t be using our faith in any way that discriminates against another, or makes them unable to continue on, that they are in some way diminished because of it. They have the right to believe whatever without the feeling that they will have less access to some material good without that belief.)

And, as you suggest, the Christmas celebration was originally a pagan holiday. But the entire holiday was baptized by Christians, given new meaning! Now, I’d suggest the same has been done by the “secular” world. People give and exchange gifts, and talk about Santa, and have Christmas trees, and no thought at all is given to Jesus. For some it is, for others it is not.

But if we are going to claim that just because a symbol was once part of a faith, or a faith coopted it, and therefore it is always religious, then by that reasoning, and by what you stated earlier, we really must start arguing that Christmas Trees and Santa Claus are not secular, or Christian, but rather are part of the Saturnian religion.

And should be banned on that basis alone :-)

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on March 20, 2011 12:33 PM.

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