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Classroom crucifix ban overturned

A ruling banning religious symbols in classrooms has been overturned by human rights judges.

Victory for the Italian government came in an appeal against an earlier verdict by the same court in which a mother won her case that the display of crucifixes in Italian state schools breached religious freedoms enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

If upheld on Friday, the decision would have affected religious schools across Europe.

But a "Grand Chamber" of the European Court of Human Rights completely reversed the original result, declaring that the judges could find no evidence that the crucifix placed on classroom walls influenced pupils.

The National Secular Society (NSS) said the final outcome was a severe blow to the rights of parents not to expose their children to promotion of a particular faith.

NSS executive director Keith Porteous Wood said: "This is a severe blow to the concept of state neutrality in relation to religion, and to secularism. It flies in the face of Europe's increasing plurality and diversity and risks damaging the (human rights) court's previous reputation of treating all citizens equally."

But the UK Independence Party's Paul Nuttall welcomed the result, saying: "It was the right judgment but in the wrong court.

"The European Court of Human Rights should never have attacked the rightful autonomy of the Italian state, nor undermined the religious freedom, culture, history and identity of its people."

The original, unanimous, court decision in 2009 was a victory for Soile Lautsi, a non-Catholic mother who complained that her children, aged 11 and 13, were exposed to crucifixes in classrooms at their school in northern Italy.

But Friday's 15-2 majority verdict decided that, "while the crucifix is above all a religious symbol, there is no evidence before the court that (its) display on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils".

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