European Court of Human Rights Decides Lautsi v. Italy

November 2009 – Strasbourg

On 3 November 2009 the European Court of Human Rights issued its decision in the case of Lautsi v. Italy, ruling that the display of crucifixes in Italian public schools violates Article 2 of Protocol 1 (right to education) and Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights.  Rejecting the assertions of the Italian government that the crucifix is a national symbol with cultural and historical significance expressing identity, tolerance, and secularism, the court ordered the government to pay a fine of €5000 ($7,300) to applicant Soile Lautsi, mother of two children whom she claimed were affronted by the display of crucifixes in the public school they attended. Church representatives and government officials were angered and confused by the “extraordinarily wide” ruling, which could have the effect of forcing review of displays of religious symbols in government-run schools across Europe.