The Italian bishops conference have condemned a proposal from Italy’s education minister that crucifixes should be removed from public school classrooms.
“I believe schools should be secular and allow all cultures to express themselves,” said Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti on an Italian radio show on Monday, Sept. 30. “I would not display any symbol in particular.”
Removing the crucifixes would purportedly make the classrooms more “inclusive” to people who are not Christian. About 80% of Italians identify as Catholic.
Fioramonti also said that he thought classrooms in Italy should display world maps and portions of the Italian constitution instead of a picture of the country’s president, Sergio Mattarella.
The country’s bishops conference was quick to condemn the idea of removing crucifixes from classrooms, calling the debate “useless” in an editorial published in the episcopal conference’s newspaper.
The crucifix, said the editorial, is not meant to divide, but is a “symbol of universal brotherhood” and “one of the cultural roots of our civilization.”
MP Debora Serracchiani, who is a member of the country’s center-left Democratic Party, also spoke out against the proposal, and instead urged the government to focus on “real issues.”
“There are too many problems to resolve in our schools before getting engulfed in a moral debate that we have already seen,” said Serracchiani.
In 2009, the presence of crucifixes in schools was challenged in court by a suit that argued they infringed upon the “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion” of students and teachers. That case was appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 2011 that “nothing suggest[ed] that the authorities were intolerant of pupils who believed in other religions, were non-believers or who held non-religious philosophical convictions.”
The judges also concluded that while crucifixes are “above all a religious symbol,” “there was no evidence before the Court that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils.”
Last year, the right-wing political party the League put forward a bill that would make crucifixes mandatory in public buildings. That bill did not pass.
Matteo Salvini, the former deputy prime minister who leads the League Party, said that removing crucifixes ran counter to Italy’s values. He said that the crucifix is “our culture, our identity, our history.