Italian judge: Get crosses out of classrooms
Meet Adel Smith, Italy's Michael Newdow. Having converted to Islam in 1987, says the British newspaper The Guardian, Smith has crusaded to have a 15th-century fresco removed from the Bologna Cathedral because it supposedly depicts Muhammad in hell. For the same reason, he pushed to have Dante's Divine Comedy kicked off the syllabus at his children's school, where he also tried to have prayers from the Qur'an put on display. The Associated Press notes that Islamic groups in Italy have distanced themselves from Smith, who leads the Muslim Union of Italy, "saying he makes inflammatory statements that represent the opinions of few Muslims in the country."

Last week, however, Smith had a Newdowesque victory in the courts, as a judge agreed with him that crucifixes should be removed from public school classrooms.

"The presence of the symbol of the cross shows the unequivocal will of the state to put Catholicism at the center of the universe as the absolute truth in public schools, without the slightest regard for the role of other religions in human development," said Judge Mario Montanaro. "The presence of the crucifix in classrooms communicates an implicit adherence to values that, in reality, are not the shared heritage of all citizens." (That quote is pieced together from multiple news reports, so it may not be exact.)

Italians, at least powerful ones, seem upset with the decision.

"This is an outrageous decision that should be overturned as quickly as possible," said Labor Minister Roberto Maroni, speaking for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government. "It is unacceptable that one judge should cancel out millennia of history."

"You can't chase crosses out of schools," Monsignor Giuseppe Betori of the Italian Bishops Conference said. "The overwhelming majority of Italians want them, and consider them the strongest expression of the cultural roots of their civilization."

Likewise, Cardinal Ersilio Tonini protested, "How can anyone order the removal from classrooms of a symbol of the basic values of our country? This ruling offends the majority of Italians."

Supporters point to two laws from the 1920s ordering all schools to post crucifixes in schools. In 1984, Italy dropped Roman Catholicism as the official state religion, but the laws apparently remain on the books. Still, is the best legal argument crucifix supporters can make a remnant of Fascism? Sticking to the "cultural roots" line might work, but will be increasingly difficult to maintain with the country's massive immigration (about 800,000 of Italy's 57 million residents are Muslim, for example).

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At least Italy's crucifix supporters—unlike many American supporters of invocations, "under God," and "In God We Trust"—don't seem to be arguing that the symbol no longer has any real religious meaning.

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