JUSTICE - No. 68

13 Summer 2022 schools must be private and not enjoy public support. It is a political position, respectable, but certainly not “neutral.” The nonlaïque, whilst fully respecting freedom of and from religion, embrace some form of public religion as I have already noted. Laïcité advocates a naked public square, a classroom wall bereft of any religious symbol. It is legally disingenuous to adopt a political position which splits our society, and to claim that somehow it is neutral. 22. Some countries, like the Netherlands and the UK, understand the dilemma. In the educational area these States understand that being neutral does not consist in supporting the secular as opposed to the religious. Thus, the State funds secular public schools and, on an equal footing, religious public schools. 23. If the social pallet of society were only composed of blue yellow and red groups, than black – the absence of colour – would be a neutral colour. But once one of the social forces in society has appropriated black as its colour, than that choice is no longer neutral. Secularism does not favour a wall deprived of all State symbols. It is religious symbols which are anathema. 24. What are the educational consequences of this? 25. Consider the following parable of Marco and Leonardo, two friends just about to begin school. Leonardo visits Marco at his home. He enters and notices a crucifix. ‘What is that?’, he asks. ‘A crucifix – why, you don’t have one? Every house should have one.’ Leonardo returns to his home agitated. His mother patiently explains: ‘They are believing Catholics. We are not. We follow our path.’ Now imagine a visit by Marco to Leonardo’s house. ‘Wow!’, he exclaims, ‘no crucifix? An empty wall?’ ‘We do not believe in that nonsense’ says his friend. Marco returns agitated to his house. ‘Well’, explains his mother, ‘We follow our path.’ The next day both kids go to school. Imagine the school with a crucifix. Leonardo returns home agitated: ‘The school is like Marco’s house. Are you sure, Mamma, that it is okay not to have a crucifix?’ That is the essence of Ms. Lautsi’s complaint. But imagine, too, that on the first day the walls are naked. Marco returns home agitated. ‘The school is like Leonardo’s house,’ he cries. ‘You see, I told you we don’t need it.’ 26. Even more alarming would be the situation if the crucifixes, always there, suddenly were removed. 27. Make no mistake: A State-mandated naked wall, as in France, may suggest to pupils that the State is taking an anti-religious attitude. We trust the curriculum of the French Republic to teach their children tolerance and pluralism and dispel that notion. There is always an interaction between what is on the wall and how it is discussed and taught in class. Likewise, a crucifix on the wall might be perceived as coercive. Again, it depends on the curriculum to contextualize and teach the children in the Italian class tolerance and pluralism. There may be other solutions such as having symbols of more than one religion or finding other educationally appropriate ways to convey the message of pluralism. 28. It is clear that given the diversity of Europe on this matter there cannot be one solution that fits all Members, all classrooms, all situations. One needs to take into account the social and political reality of the locale, its demographics, its history and the sensibilities and sensitivities of the Parents. 30. There may be particular circumstances where the arrangements by the State could be considered coercive and inimical but the burden of proof must rest on the individual and the bar should be set extremely high before this Court decides to intervene, in the name of the Convention, in the educational choices made by the State. A one rule fits all, as in the decision of the Second Chamber, devoid of historical, political, demographic and cultural context is not only inadvisable, but undermines the very pluralism, diversity and tolerance which the Convention is meant to guarantee and which is the hall mark of Europe. [Original, unedited]

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