The case of the crucifix in Italy and Europe

In a stunning and totally unexpected breakdown, the European Court of Human Rights in March reversed its own 2009 ruling and upheld the right of Italy to display crucifixes in public classrooms.

The decision means that public expressions of religious belief were considered as not conflicting with European standards of human rights and freedom of conscience. While it may not have attracted much attention in the United States, history has a meaning far beyond the borders of Europe. With regard to the Christian tradition talks about what she calls the "world", there has always been two basic schools of thought.

One is a policy of "open door", emphasizing dialogue with the world, assuming your good will and meet halfway. The other is an instinct of "fortress", which sees the world as fundamentally hostile Church and seek a more inward-looking, able to stay true to herself. The decision of the Court of Human Rights has provided a powerful impetus to the approach of "open door", suggesting that the strain of secularism may be possible, after all. The victory also created a new force ecumenical and inter-religious, to have attracted the support of various Christian denominations, as well as Muslims and Jews in Europe.

As a footnote, if I had to nominate candidates for the main religious celebrity of the year, I would name the lawyer who won the case of the crucifix - a New York specialist in constitutional law European and Orthodox Jew named Joseph Weiler. The image of Weiler standing in the Great Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights with his skullcap, passionately defending the right of Italy to keep the crucifix on the wall, is among the most memorable parts of the inter-religious imagery of the year.

Weiler also spent much of 2011 working on a new book about the trial of Jesus, who promises to cause a stir in Catholic-Jewish relations. Among other bombshells, he will try to convince fellow Jews that their efforts over more than 2,000 years ago to reject the accusation of deicide were misused. Carefully explaining, Weiler believes that "the Jews", in fact, took Jesus to death and were doing exactly what the Lord expected (your goal is to offer a reading of the trial that makes both the Jewish and Christian responses consistent with Scripture - a project, he readily admits, to arouse fierce reactions from both sides).



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