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A Victory for Italian Crosses – and American Liberty

Here’s a court decision no American activist judge will be quoting anytime soon: a crucial legal victory at the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Representing 33 members (from 11 nations) of the European Parliament, the Alliance Defense Fund and allied lawyers saw the court overturn an earlier ruling that would have banished crosses from every public classroom in Italy – and encouraged the erosion of religious liberty all over Europe.

The case originated with one woman who objected to crosses on the wall of her children’s classrooms. She demanded that the crucifixes be removed. When they weren’t, she sued, and convinced the ECHR – the “supreme court” of the European Union – which not only ruled unanimously in her favor, but banned all crosses from all public classrooms throughout Italy.

Italy appealed that decision to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR – a kind of “super” Supreme Court – and once the appeal was granted, members of the European Parliament from nearly a dozen nations joined that appeal, asking ADF attorneys to represent their interests. ADF was granted permission to intervene, and argued that the lower court’s decision exceeded its legal authority and violated the sovereignty of Italy.

The Grand Chamber agreed, ruling almost unanimously in favor of the Italian position.

“The Grand Chamber did the right thing,” says ADF Legal Counsel Roger Kiska, who was on hand in Strasbourg when the decision was issued. “The European Court of Human Rights shouldn’t overstep its authority and force a member nation to abandon traditions and beliefs that it has a sovereign right to protect.”  Indeed, if the court had ruled the other way, he says, the implications for religious liberty would have been ominous – and not just for Italy.

“A loss in this case would have meant, in essence, that it would be illegal under the European Convention to have religious symbols in any state institution anywhere in Europe,” Kiska says. “That would have set a dangerous example for the rest of the world.”

Including the United States, where five Supreme Court justices have already indicated their enthusiasm for citing foreign law in constitutional cases. In fact, the high court has already done so several times – a trend ADF is standing firmly against. Ironically, with this ruling, the Council of Europe now allows Europeans more legal leeway for acknowledging their national history and religious heritage than many U.S. courts grant Americans.

“Lawsuits that seek to tear down religious symbols simply because one person says he or she has been ‘offended’ are very common in the U.S.,” Kiska says. “ADF wants to head off any opportunity for activists in the U.S. to cite foreign court decisions as patterns to follow. We will continue fighting that battle as God enables.”

Alleluia, and thanks be to God for this wonderful, far-reaching legal victory. May He richly bless our ADF attorneys and allies and believers around the globe with the grace, wisdom, and courage they need to stand for His Kingdom – and defend religious liberty.

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.