Redefining Religious Neutrality: Lautsi vs. Italy and the European Court of Human Rights

Pavone, Tommaso, Redefining Religious Neutrality: Lautsi vs. Italy and the European Court of Human Rights (February 16, 2011). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1763412

n 2001, Finnish-born Soile Lautsi, an Italian citizen and atheist, sued the Italian school that her two children attended for violating their right to religious freedom by displaying crucifixes in its classrooms. The case was thrown out by Italian administrative courts and the Italian Constitutional Court, so in 2006 Lautsi appealed the decision to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. The case became known as Lautsi vs. Italy, and in 2009, the Court ruled in favor of Lautsi, arguing that the display of crucifixes in Italian classrooms violates religious and educational freedoms guaranteed in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ruling caused an uproar in the Italian political sphere, and so Italy has proceeded to appeal the decision to the ECHR’s 17-member grand chamber. Regardless of the final outcome, the Lautsi vs. Italy case outlines the ECHR’s expanding role in ensuring religious neutrality on the part of European states. If the Court rules against Italy in the appeal it would lay the foundation for an unprecedented enlargement of its jurisprudence in cases of religious neutrality.