In our current issue we feature an I·CON: Debate! on the ECtHR decision in Lautsi v. Italy. We are happy to provide free access to this debate for I·CONnect readers and to invite you to join the debate in this forum.
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Abstract: “In Lautsi v. Italy the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights decided that the display of the crucifix on the classroom walls of Italian state schools is compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights. In this article we develop an account of neutrality, which militates against the decision of the Grand Chamber and vindicates the claimants. Its gist is that neutrality is not only infringed, when individuals are coerced by the state to pursue a certain religious faith or attitude, but also when the state endorses a religious faith or attitude in regulating areas of social life that pertain to one’s status as free and equal member of the political community. Breaches of neutrality, thus understood, constitute a violation of the right to religious freedom. They are also not amenable to a proportionality assessment and impose a uniform standard for all members of the Council of Europe. The display of the crucifix in Italian state schools falls short of this standard.”
From the paper: “The conclusion reached by the Grand Chamber is not wrong in itself. The place of religious symbols in the public sphere should not be the object of a blanket ban. It is possible for a secular state to carve out an exemption in relation to the presence of symbols in some educational contexts. However, the decision is very poorly reasoned on every important point. It suggests a very dubious notion of passive symbols. It dodges the problem of secularism as if it were a mere ideology. It preaches respect only to allow the state freedom to disrespect minorities. Finally, it ignores important legal problems at the local level that Italy would not revise unless pressured to do so.”
From the paper: “Kyritsis and Tsakyrakis make an important contribution to the discussion of the concept of neutrality in our contemporary political theory and political praxis. Erudite, learned, probing, and categorical in its conclusion: the Grand Chamber erred badly. The theoretical apparatus developed rewards careful study. But its application to the Lautsi decision is fundamentally flawed by the false premise on which its discussion is predicated. By adopting this false premise the authors do not deal with the real hard case to which the “crucifix in the classroom” gives rise.”