A Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that displaying a crucifix in the classroom of a publicly-funded school is a violation of article 2(1) of the first Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights: http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/portal.asp?sessionSimilar=36227362&skin=hudoc-en&action=similar&portal=hbkm&Item=19&similar=frenchjudgement. Article 2(1) states: No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.
The Court’s ruling, in Lautsi v. Italy, is only in French for the time being. The decisive paragraph, no 57, states : 'La Cour estime que l'exposition obligatoire d'un symbole d'une confession donnée dans l'exercice de la fonction publique relativement à des situations spécifiques relevant du contrôle gouvernemental, en particulier dans les salles de classe, restreint le droit des parents d'éduquer leurs enfants selon leurs convictions ainsi que le droit des enfants scolarisés de croire ou de ne pas croire. La Cour considère que cette mesure emporte violation de ces droits car les restrictions sont incompatibles avec le devoir incombant à l'Etat de respecter la neutralité dans l'exercice de la fonction publique, en particulier dans le domaine de l'éducation.’
Roughly translated: ‘The Court considers that the mandatory posting of a religion symbol of a particular religion as part of a public function to specific situations under govenrment control, in particular in classrooms, violates the right of parents to educate their children according to their beliefs, as well as the right of schoolchildren to believe and not to believe. The Court considers that such a measure violates these rights because these restrictions are incompatible with the duty on the State to be neutral in public services, en particular in the field of education.’
I would expect there is a lot of hand-wringing in Dublin today about this decision. The Irish school system was criticized by the Human Rights Committee last year in its concluding observations on the Irish periodic report (UN Doc. CCPR/C/IRL/CO/3): ‘22. The Committee notes with concern that the vast majority of Ireland’s primary schools are
privately run denominational schools that have adopted a religious integrated curriculum thus depriving many parents and children who so wish to have access to secular primary education. (arts. 2, 18, 24, 26). The State party should increase its efforts to ensure that non-denominational primary education is widely available in all regions of the State party, in view of the increasingly diverse and multi-ethnic composition of the population of the State party.