In March 2011, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italian law requiring the display of crucifixes in classrooms of state schools did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. In so doing, it overturned an earlier chamber decision that the law violated the ECHR's guarantee of religious freedom. The Grand Chamber decision was hailed by supporters as affirming Italy's history and tradition as a religious country. Detractors argued that the decision effectively eroded the right of citizens not to be coerced by the state, whether directly or indirectly, to affirm one or any religion. The two decisions reflect contrasting positions on the nature and content of religious liberty, as well as the content and requirements of secularism. These reflections are relevant not only to the specific context of Italy and Europe, but also the United States which continues to struggle with the appropriate boundaries of the constitution's non-establishment injunction and its religious history.
Visiting Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and Associate Professor of Comparative Public Law at the University of Bologna.
Paolo G. Carozza
Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights at Notre Dame Law School.