In this week’s blog, Fr. Paddy give his views following a recent ruling which banned religious symbols in Italian classrooms which was later overturned.

Fr. Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist papers.

This column appeared in the edition published 6 April 2011.

A recent ruling which banned religious symbols in Italian classrooms has been overturned by International Human Rights Judges. This decision, removes a real fear, that such symbolism in theory could also have been in jeopardy in our Irish Schools. Victory for the Italian Government, came in an appeal against an earlier verdict by a court in which a mother won her case that the display of crucifixes in Italian State Schools, breached religious freedoms, enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

If it had been upheld, the decision would have affected without doubt all religious schools across Europe. The original, unanimous, court decision in 2009 was a victory for a non-catholic mother, who complained that her children aged 11 and 13, were exposed to crucifixes, in classrooms at their school in Northern Italy.

In Strasbourg, judges agreed that the presence of religious symbols violated the children’s ‘right to education’ and their ‘right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’. Safeguarded by the Human Rights Convention. The judges rejected Italian Government arguments that the Crucifix was a National Symbol of culture, history and identity, ruling instead that the Crucifix in the classroom was against the principal of secularism which the parent wished to raise the children. However, the courts majority verdict decided while the Crucifix above all is a religious symbol there was no evidence that its display on classroom walls might have an influence on children. The judges highlighted it was understandable that the mother might see such a symbol as a lack of respect for her right to steer her children’s education according to her own convictions, but her ‘subjective perception’ did not establish any breach of the Human Rights Convention Safeguards of the right to freedom of thoughts, conscience and religion.

More and more the secularist agenda questions religious symbols, we once took for granted. In recent years, the Crib, has become a contentious presence in many public hospitals.

I believe symbols such as the cross are very powerful and an innate reminder of God’s presence wherever we find ourselves to be. We must not apologise to any secularist agenda in terms of the proud Christian heritage and tradition that defines very much our culture. Yes, of course I believe and respect in every ones right to choose any or no religion, but I think it is very important to realise that over 95% of the citizens on this island profess a Christian Faith. I am deeply impressed by the amount of religious symbolism that I see in the many homes I visit. In the same way I notice that many young couples are proud to place a Sacred Heart picture, Crucifix or Holy Water Font in a prominent place in their home. Surely, in a time when we all thirst for renewal and opportunity such religious symbolism, points us in the direction of hope and opportunity.

There was a time in generations previous to ourselves, on this island, when many faithful men and women died because they gave public witness to their faith. Our own Killoughternane Chalice here in Bagenalstown, tells a story of terrible suffering and great faith during the Penal Times. I am proud to be a Christian, let’s not apologise for following the Lord. Don’t be afraid to put up your Crucifix as a reminder of Gods love in our family homes, schools and workplaces.