The View from Italy
By Rosa Anna Tremoglie
The legal squabbles in America about the separation of church and state is at once, disconcerting, perplexing and amusing to Italians. It is with a sense of irony that we view this continuing argument.
Italians were outraged November 3 when the European Court of Human Rights (known as the Strasbourg Court) ruled that crucifixes displayed in Italian classrooms violated religious and educational freedom. Nearly every politician, even some from the leftwing, rejected this edict.
Italy’s Education Minister, Maria Stella Gelmini, said, “No one, not even some ideologically motivated European court, will succeed in rubbing out (Italian) identity.”
The leader of Italy’s opposition Democratic Party, Pierluigi Bersani, an ex-communist, said the verdict “lacked common sense.”
Italians believe that religion and the state are not mutually exclusive.
Our constitution enshrines the secular state. Yet, in Italy, the crucifix is more ubiquitous than our flag. It is in government offices, in classrooms and courtrooms. It, like our flag, is the symbol of our history and culture.
It is such an integral part of the Italian consciousness that some mayors - in defiance of the Strasbourg ruling - established fines for those who remove the crucifix from classrooms. Also, contemptuously, some senators introduced legislation that would make the removal of the crucifix a criminal offense.
Because of our beliefs, we observe with trepidation, how secularist ideas are spread via judicial fiat in lieu of the democratic process – especially in America. We have watched as some judges have perverted the ideas of America’s Founding Fathers with their rulings.
This is dangerous. It means that your constitution is easily mutable by judges. This is what happened in Germany; Nazi judges re-interpreted the German Constitution to justify their genocidal policies.
Italians lived under Fascism and Nazism. My own father was a prisoner of the Nazis. We know all too well the menace of straying from our conventions in the name of “progressivism.”
Mussolini was an atheist. He detested the Church because it interfered with his influence. Hitler wanted to extinguish Christian thought. The Nazis planned to destroy the Christian church. According to a January 2002 New York Times article, a Nazi leader said, “The destruction of Christianity was explicitly recognized as a purpose of the National Socialist movement.”
Do Americans not understand the correlation between totalitarianism and fanatical secularism?
An example of a militant American secularist idea is that fire departments should not extinguish fires in churches because churches do not pay taxes. This concept, taken to its logical conclusion, means churches need not be loyal to the state.
Americans would find this idea repugnant – as they should. It is not the tax exemption to which secularists object. It is religion itself.
Some Americans might say that Italy is not a good model because Catholicism was the state religion. Yet, we have established a balance between the political and the religious.
The Strasbourg ruling is purportedly to protect religious minorities, among Italian students, from discrimination. Yet, Italian school students already have the right not to participate in religious instruction, free from discrimination.
Natalia Ginzburg, writing in the Communist newspaper "L'Unità" in 1988, said the crucifix does not generate discrimination. Instead, it represents the Christian revolution that gave the world the idea of equality among all men.
The principles of the Catholic religion embodied by the crucifix coincide with our constitutional principles of civil rights, individual freedom and regard for fellow humans. The Cross means to my people what libertè, egualitè, fraternitè, means to the French.
The Italian Constitution delineates the difference between state and religion. Article 7 states: “The State and the Catholic Church are, each in its own order, independent and sovereign.” It also explicitly recognizes the pluralism of religions. The rights of religious minorities are safeguarded.
Italy, in some ways, provides greater religious freedom than the United States, a nation which believes to be the world’s most democratic and liberal society. By prohibiting prayer in any place, by any person, remotely linked to the government, the state ignores the freedom to manifest one’s religion, when and where one wants.
Americans should seek to cease the manipulation of their constitution. Secularists, quite simply, are attempting to impose their minority beliefs on the majority of Americans – and ultimately the rest of the world. They know democracy will not produce the results they desire. Bowdlerizing religious expression using the guise of protecting minority rights is a ploy.
Religion is the moral origin of all nations’ laws - particularly American law. It is implicit in your motto, "In God We Trust."
Rosa Anna Tremoglie is an Italian lawyer. She is also a member of the Federalist Society. However, the views expressed here are her own and do not represent the views of that organization. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org