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Les bénédictions pascales dans les écoles publiques en Italie

April 2017

It is legitimate to offer religious blessings at public schools. This is now established by the decision of the Italian Council of State (CoS), which has reversed the decision of the Administrative regional tribunal of Emilia-Romagna (TAR Emilia-Romagna). One year ago, this tribunal had suspended the decision of the 16 board members of Giosuè Carducci Elementary School of Bologna, who had agreed to let a Roman Catholic priest offer an Easter prayer at their public school.
From a general point of view, the CoS states that the blessing cannot in any way affect the progress of public teaching and school life. As far as the case of Carducci Elementary School is concerned, the religious rite is provided for activities other than official ones. For these reasons, the blessing cannot infringe, directly or indirectly, the religious freedom of those who, while belonging to the same school community, do not belong to Catholicism : if they fear to be harmed by these religious rites, they can choose not to attend them.
In addition, the CoS affirms that the blessing is not in contrast with the supreme principle of secularism (principi supremo di laicità). As the Italian constitutional court stated in a historical decision of 1989 (n° 203), this principle does not imply indifference towards religions, but equidistance and impartiality towards the different religious denominations. In other words, the supreme principle of laicità is based on the State’s positive attitude towards all religious communities. That is the point, have replied the members of the school community who disagree with the CoS’s decision : if we interpret the supreme principle of laicità the way the CoS did, then all religious rites should have the opportunity to be held on school ground. As matter of fact, the supreme principle of secularism also implies the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief.
All this shows that the case over the blessing at the school is part of an enduring debate in Italy on where exactly the church-State boundary lies. The argument is that such rituals, which include the blessing, are part of the cultural legacy of Italy, a point contested by a group of parents and teachers who filed a legal action to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It should be noted that, in 2011 the Great Chamber of the ECHR overturned an earlier decision of the ECHR’s Second Section, and ruled that State schools in Italy could hang up crucifixes, concluding that they were “an essentially passive symbol whose influence on pupils was not comparable to that of didactic speech or participation in religious activities.”
Thus, it does not matter what the ECHR will decide in the case of Giosuè Carducci Elementary School. In the light of the above considerations, we are sure that, once again, the decision will have an impact.

Reference : N. Colaianni, "Laicità : finitezza degli ordini e governo delle differenze", in Stato, Chiese e pluralismo confessionale, n° 39, 2013.

3 avril 2017