Italy’s crucifixes in classrooms ‘violate rights’

A cross is seen in a classroom in France. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Italy violates parents' right to educate their children along secular lines by displaying crucifixes in classrooms.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Italy violates parents's right to educate their children along secular lines by displaying crucifixes in classrooms.

AFP – Italy violates parents’ right to educate their children along secular lines by displaying crucifixes in classrooms, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday.

The judgment sparked anger in Catholic Italy, with the country’s education minister attacking the decision, insisting the crucifix was a “symbol of our tradition”.

The Strasbourg court found that: “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 also restricted the “right of children to believe or not to believe,” the seven judges ruling on the case said.

The case was brought by Soile Lautsi, who was also awarded 5,000 euros (7,400 dollars) in damages.

The ruling drew immediate criticism in Italy, where Lautsi’s efforts to change tradition have come up against stiff resistance from the Catholic establishment.

Years of legal wrangling saw the case eventually thrown out by judges in Italy, who ruled the crucifix was patriotic and a sign of the country’s tradition, not simply a symbol of Catholicism.

Italian Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini lashed out at the European court on Tuesday for its decision.

“The presence of the crucifix in classrooms is not a sign of belief in Catholicism, rather it is a symbol of our tradition,” said the minister, cited by ANSA news agency.

“No one, and certainly not an ideological European court, will succeed in erasing our identity,” she added.

Lautsi first brought the case eight years ago when her children, Dataico and Sami Albertin, aged 11 and 13, went to a state school in the spa town of Abano Terme near Venice.

She was unhappy crucifixes were present in every classroom and complained to the school.

After education chiefs refused to remove the crosses, she spent several years fighting the decision through the Italian courts.

The case was heard by a regional court in the northern Veneto region, which passed it to the constitutional court, according to a statement from the European rights court.

This court ruled it did not have the jurisdiction to judge the case.

It returned to the Veneto court, where it was dismissed on the grounds that the crucifix was “the symbol of Italian history and culture, and consequently of Italian identity,” the European rights court said.

Lautsi appealed to the council of state, which also slapped down her complaint on similar grounds. This paved the way for the battle to head to the European Court of Human Rights.

On Tuesday, the Strasbourg court found the display of crucifixes “could reasonably be associated with Catholicism”.

This did not fit in with “educational pluralism”, which was part of European rights charters recognised by Italy, the court said.

The presence of a crucifix in classrooms could also be “disturbing for pupils who practised other religions or were atheists, particularly if they belonged to religious minorities.”

The court ruled that displaying crucifixes in classrooms breached articles 2 and 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

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32 die in Indian fireworks blast

euronews-At least 32 people have been killed and 10 others injured in a blaze that led to an explosion at a fireworks warehouse in southern India.

The victims are said to have been mainly traders buying fireworks ahead of the Diwali Hindu festival.

Local government official Pacalani Kumar said: “The total death toll is 32 and the person who was running the shop and the owner of the premises have been arrested.”

The fire and the resulting explosion destroyed the warehouse in Pallipat near Chennai, the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Several big cities and towns in India are known to house illegal firework factories which supply pyrotechnics for weddings and festivals.

Obama sends Eid greetings as French Muslims mark Ramadan’s end

US President Barack Obama marked the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan Saturday with his administration stressing the commonality between American culture and the values of Islam.

“As Muslims in the United States and around the world complete the month of Ramadan and celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, Michelle and I would like to extend our personal greetings on this joyous occasion,” Obama said in a statement.

“Even on this festive occasion, Muslims remember those less fortunate, including those impacted by poverty, hunger, conflict, and disease,” he added.

Obama highlighted Muslims’ commitment to collecting and distributing charity and said his administration was “working to ensure that Muslims are able to fulfill their charitable obligations not just during Ramadan, but throughout the year.”

In her own message, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed that Eid celebrations at the White House, pioneered by her husband Bill Clinton in 1996 when he was president, ensured that “all faiths have a home here in the United States.”

“This time of self-reflection reminds us that the values of Islam — charity, community, cooperation, compassion — are values which we hold dear as Americans and which have contributed so much to American culture,” Obama’s top diplomat said.

“We know there is more that unites peoples of faith than divides us. So as Ramadan draws to a close, let us hold on to that spirit of community throughout the year to achieve our common goals of peace, prosperity, and stability.”

Obama, who has Muslim heritage on his father’s side of his family, vowed to forge a “new beginning” for Islam and America in a landmark speech to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims in Cairo in June.

Sudanese woman jailed in trousers case

A Sudanese journalist convicted of indecency for wearing trousers is spending the night in prison after refusing to pay a fine.

Lubna Hussein had faced the possibility of being lashed – the fate suffered by other similarly-clad women arrested with her in July.

Instead, a court in Khartoum ordered her to pay the equivalent of around 150 euros – or spend a month in jail.

After the closed-door hearing, defence lawyer Mona M. Ali said the court refused to listen to Lubna Hussein or let her defend herself.

Women gathered outside to support the former UN worker. But scuffles broke out when they were branded prostitutes by Islamists chanting religious slogans. Riot police moved in, beating some protesters with batons and detaining dozens of women.

Lubna Hussein says she quit her UN post to give up any legal immunity so as to continue with a case that has attracted worldwide attention.

Media row strains Berlusconi’s relations with church

Relations between Silvio Berlusconi and Italy’s Catholic Church have been strained by a war of words in the press.

Il Giornale, a national newspaper owned by the premier’s brother Paolo, fuelled the spat.

It dug up a sex scandal involving Dino Boffo, the influential director of Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. The Catholic paper had criticised Berlusconi for his lifestyle and Boffo was accused of hypocrisy.

But the Church does not see it that way and is standing by Boffo. Stressing its support, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Bishops’ Conference, denounced the attack by the Berlusconi family’s paper as “sickening and very serious.”

While Berlusconi has publicly disassociated himself from the article, reports say it is the reason why the Vatican cancelled a meeting between its number two official and the prime minister.

Berlusconi has launched legal action against media in Italy and abroad over coverage of his private life.