Saturday, 13 July 2013 08:12

State's role in dealing with religions

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During my staying in Africa I dealt with many discussions concerning religion, the right to manifest it and its limits.

Frankly, I have often neglected such topic not only because of my agnostic convictions but also because religions have shown throughout the history to be more divisive than unifying. However, all the heated debates and contention over the religious matter occurred in the past can no longer be ignored, as well as the considerable impact on many society's agenda even nowadays. Moreover, not many years ago in my country, Italy, there was a contention better known as the Lautsi vs Italy case, in which the applicant raising the dispute argued the state's transgression of the secular principle due to crucifixes in classrooms. 

All these facts enabled to get me closer to the religious issue, even though the question I do matter to raise does not concern the faith itself since it will come to light that what is at stake is the state's role centered on handling ifferent cultures combining with each other.

A remarkable function for a better understanding about states' leeway in the matter of freedom of

religion is given to the European Court of Human Rights. The Strasbourg organ refers to states by

emphasizing their neutral and impartial function aimed at being conducive not only to public order, but also to those suitable conditions for expressing one's own belief.

This is the reason why the European Convention of Human Rights authorizes contracting states to apply the Margin of Appreciation (MoA), a principle which allows to set restrictions to religious manifestations in instances where rights interpretations may be in inconsistent with the state’s national interests. As a matter of fact, state interferences are “prescribed by law” and “necessary in a democratic society” as long as they are directed to protect public safety or rights and freedom of others.

In particular, the Lautsi v. Italy case shows the Italian national interest in protecting and promoting the meaning of crucifix. Through the support of states such as Russia, Greece and Bulgaria, the Italian authorities tenaciously argue that crucifix has to be intended as a historical and cultural symbol, inasmuch as it spreads the very same values the Italian Republic relies on (e.g. tolerance, mutual respect and brotherhood). Despite of the applicant's insisting complaints about the state's violation of the abstention from imposing beliefs, according to the Grand Chamber the question falls within the MoA principle. This means that the Grand Chamber opted for defining crucifixes as 'passive' religious symbol, hence not ascribable to indoctrination.

Even though the Grand Chamber's decision might appear widely sharable I reject the vision of crucifixes as 'passive' symbols. First of all, the crucifix is a religious symbol that recalls Christianity and the all Catholic background to which Italy has always belonged. And secondly, the contest in which the question has been raised is at school, where pupils can be easily influenced. What I wonder in conclusion is if a society commonly defined as one of the most mature and democratic has the strength to stand out by giving further emphasis to the secularism concept. 

I see among he new European generations a common feeling of belonging all to the same land, with no exceptions of race, gender.. and even religion. Can religious limits set by old traditions stop it?


by Matteo Di Battista – Aises Young Ambassador UK




The views expressed in the posts and comments do not reflect the positions or opinions of Aises and Aises Young. They should be understood as the personal opinions of the author.