An Italian judge campaigning against the presence of crosses in public buildings on Thursday got his third conviction for refusing to enter courtrooms unless crucifixes were removed.
A court in this central Italian city gave Judge Luigi Tosti a suspended one-year jail term and banned him from holding public office for the same period.
Judge Tosti, 59, is currently serving the second of two similar bans for refusing to perform his duties in the Marche town of Camerino.
On Thursday Judge Tosti refused to take part in proceedings unless the cross in the courtroom was taken down and ”the secular nature of the assembly restored”.
His lawyer lodged an appeal claiming that ”that one-metre by half-metre object, in itself, invalidates the hearing’‘.
”That doesn’t mean offending Christians. But removing the crucifix means removing a privilege so that places of law can become truly secular and neutral”.
The Italian judiciary’s self-governing body, the Supreme Council of Magistrates, removed Tosti from his post in February 2006 and cut off his pay because of his ”unjustifiable behaviour”.
The decision, which re-ignited debate on crucifixes in public buildings, came after Judge Tosti was convicted by a criminal court a month before.
Crucifixes are not mandatory but customary in Italy’s public buildings.
Catholicism is not Italy’s state religion and the separation of Church and State is set down by the postwar Constitution and mandated by a 1984 Concordat that ended most of the Catholic Church’s privileges.
In practice, with Catholicism being such a part of Italy’s cultural identity, local bodies decide whether they want crosses in the courthouse.
Similar arrangements are in place in other public buildings – most notably schools, where there have been a raft of polemics.
Judge Tosti first made headlines in April 2004 when he threatened to place symbols of his own Jewish faith, like the menorah candle-holder, in his Camerino court.
He later changed his mind after The Union of Italian Muslims (UMI) went to Camerino to demonstrate their support for his initiative.
The Union of Italian Muslims is headed by Adel Smith who for some time has been in the public spotlight for his campaign to have crosses removed from schools and hospitals.
In 2003 Mr. Smith won a court order for the removal of crosses at the school his children attended. The order was later reversed after a nationwide protest.
Judge Tosti insists that defendants have the constitutional right to refuse to be tried under the symbol of the cross.
The Constitution, he says, establishes the separation of Church and State and gives equal status to all religions.
This means that judges and lawyers can refuse to perform their duties under the symbol of the cross which would violate a defendant’s right to a fair trial and counsel, he argues.
However, the Constitutional Court ruled in December 2004 that crosses should stay in courts and classrooms.
The Court did not give a juridical explanation for its ruling, and many felt it had washed its hands of a political hot potato.
If it had upheld the separation of Church and State, the high court would have sparked outraged reactions from conservatives who were already incensed when some schools dropped Christmas plays and creches to avoid hurting the feelings of Muslim children.
The row even prompted a reaction from Pope John Paul II, who stressed that Christmas cribs were a part of Italy’s Catholic heritage.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a February 21, 2008 article by over ANSA