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Taking Secularism (not too) Seriously: the Italian 'Crucifix Case'

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image of Religion & Human Rights

In Italy, unlike in most European countries, the debate over religious symbols in the public schools is not centred on the right of individuals belonging to minority groups to wear religious symbols and clothes, but rather on the legitimacy of the display of the crucifix and its religious and cultural significance. This article focuses on the compatibility of the display of the cross in state schools with the principle of secularism, which in the Italian context does not imply, as it does in France, strict indifference towards religion, but rather impartiality with respect to different faiths. The starting point of this discussion is a critical analysis of the controversial Italian 'crucifix case-law'. However, the issue is analysed in broader terms and in a comparative perspective. It is argued that freedom of religion or belief, alone, is not sufficient to provide an inclusive environment for all, and especially for those who do not t in the dominant culture. Therefore the question of the display of religious symbols should not be reduced to the balancing of individual and collective rights, but it should also emphasize the key role of secularism in guaranteeing cultural pluralism (and a pluralistic legislation) and in preventing the possibility of a preferential treatment of a given religion.


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