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Lautsi and Others v. Italy

Europe’s highest human rights court says Christian crosses can stay in Italy’s classrooms


What’s at Stake

The right to display symbols of religious and cultural heritage in public schools


Offended by the display of crucifixes in her children’s school in Italy, Soile Lautsi asked that they be removed. Her request went directly against long-held Italian cultural and religious traditions.

When the school refused Mrs Lautsi’s request, she appealed to the Regional Administrative Tribunal and eventually to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In an astonishing decision, the Court ruled that the crucifixes in Italy’s public schools had to go.

The Italian Government then appealed the case to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR (the highest section of the Court). In March 2010, ADF International was given permission to provide legal expertise in the case, submitting arguments on behalf of 33 Members of the European Parliament, representing 11 different nations. ADF International argued that the lower chamber had overridden the cultural sovereignty of Italy and placed ‘freedom from offence’ above the freedom to display Christian symbols.

In a dramatic turnaround, the Grand Chamber reversed the lower Chamber’s ruling by 15 votes to 2 in March 2011. It declared that Italy was within its rights under the Convention to allow the display of crosses in classrooms. In his written opinion in support of Italy, ECHR Judge Bonnello wrote, “The Convention has given this Court the remit to enforce freedom of religion and of conscience, but has not empowered it to bully states into secularism.”

“The Grand Chamber did the right thing here in choosing to reverse the lower chamber’s flawed decision,” said ADF International senior counsel Roger Kiska. “An outside judicial body demanding that a nation must forsake and discontinue how it handles millennia-old traditions is a step towards an authoritarian system that no country anywhere on the globe should welcome.”

Our Role in the Case

ADF International presented the European Court of Human Rights with legal arguments on behalf of 33 Members of the European Parliament from 11 different countries.

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