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As a lawsuit over religious displays in Italian public classrooms makes its way up the European Court ladder, Italian evangelicals have joined those opposing the government's use of crucifixes.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled last November that such displays violate children's right to freedom of religion. Italy and 10 other member states of the Council of Europe are appealing the decision, which is binding on all 47 members. The states argue that the crucifix is more a cultural than a religious symbol.

The Italian Evangelical Alliance (IEA) supports the echr's religious symbol ban for several reasons, said vice chairman Leonardo De Chirico. The case deals specifically with a Roman Catholic symbol—the cross with a dying Christ on it—not the more general Christian cross. Its public display represents the imposition of Catholicism as the state religion, which ended in 1984. And the IEA is committed to the separation of church and state.

Rather than focusing on symbolic cases, De Chirico said, Christians worldwide should partner with Italian evangelicals to ensure true freedom of religion in the country.

"We would hope that evangelicals worldwide support religious liberty for minorities," he said, "not vestiges of a nominally Christian system of power."

This summer, the IEA and other Italian faith groups hosted a 1,000-person march for religious freedom in Rome to protest what they perceive as Roman Catholic favoritism. Coverage of Catholic events takes up most religion coverage in the national media, De Chirico said, and Rome's city council plans to build 51 Catholic churches with public funds. Protestant clergy and schools, by contrast, do not receive government support, and often have trouble registering ...

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October 2010

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