Legal Periodical by William Saunders: “Does Neutrality Equal Secularism? The European Court of Human Rights Decides Lautsi v. Italy”

William Saunders The Federalist Society Engage Volume 12, Issue 3, November 2011: Religion can be an intensely personal activity. However, the idea that religion is only a private, personal devotion with no public political consequences is relatively new. For many nations in Europe, religion, in particular Catholicism, exerted an important influence over government and politics for centuries. The remnants of this influence still remain in anthems, oaths, and ideologies, not to mention architecture. However, with the rise of an ideology of “strict separation of church and state” in the European Union and the Council of Europe, it has been unclear how countries may incorporate their religious influences and histories into public life and expression. The case of Lautsi v. Italy in the European Court of Human Rights illustrates this struggle between secular ideology and religious faith and affiliation in the European context. The ultimate decision in the case acknowledges that “freedom of religion” need not result in, as the late Richard John Neuhaus put it, the naked public square.1