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"Religious Liberty" Update

Italian Jews Demand Removal of Crucifixes

by Christopher A. Ferrara

One of the themes of this column is that the novel notion of "religious liberty" condemned by the preconciliar popes  —  i.e., that the State must grant all religions, true or false, equal standing under the law  —  is actually a form of persecution of the Catholic Church. For this notion of "religious liberty" involves nothing other than a thinly veiled, State-imposed religious doctrine. That doctrine is that no religion can lay claim to being the only true one, so that all religions, along with creeds that deny God’s existence, are equally entitled to propagate themselves in society.

States which adopt the modern notion of "religious liberty" are actually adopting official state agnosticism as their policy. But in order for the State to become officially agnostic, it must make of necessity a religious choice that discriminates against Catholics.

In his homily on the Feast of the Assumption, Pope Benedict issued the laudable exhortation that "In public life, may God be present in signs of the cross in public buildings. May God be present in our community life …" Now, of course, the Crucifix should be displayed on public buildings in Italy, for Christ is the true God and Italy is the cradle of the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, the public reverence for the true God by the State as well as the individual is precisely what the preconciliar popes insisted upon.

But how can one square the Pope’s exhortation to display the Crucifix on public buildings with "religious liberty," which presupposes that the State cannot take a position on which is the true religion without "violating" the "rights" of the adherents of other religions? For that very reason, Italy’s Jews are now demanding precisely the opposite of what the Pope recommends: they are calling for the removal of all Crucifixes from Italy’s public buildings. As reported in the European Jewish News of August 23, "the leader of the Italian Jewish community has called for public displays of crucifixes to be outlawed. In a statement released last week, Amos Luzzatto, Chair of the Italian Union of Jewish Communities (UCEI) spoke out against the symbols as irreflective of all members of society."

And the Italian judicial system is acceding to this demand. As the article notes: "In 2000, the Court of Cassation [Italian appellate court] ruled as illegitimate the presence of the crucifix in polling stations. And, in its court order fours year later, the Italian Constitutional Court recognised that ‘The mandatory display of the Crucifix in classrooms would violate the state’s duty of equidistance with respect to different faiths and would contradict the need for a neutral public space’."

Is this not a case, with all due respect, of the Pope wanting to have his cake and eat it too? If, as His Holiness rightly observes, the Italian State should reverence Christ with public displays of the Crucifix, does this not mean that only Christ is worthy of such State veneration because only He is the true God? And if only He is the true God, how can the State remain "neutral" with respect to His existence without implicitly denying His existence and thus becoming officially agnostic  —  indeed officially atheistic? What is the point of displaying the Crucifix on public buildings if the State is not also going to follow to its logical conclusion the truth that Christ is God by insuring that its laws and institutions conform themselves to the dictates of the Gospel?

Here we see the self-contradictory nature of post-Vatican II thinking on the relation between religion and the State. This is what happens when the luminously clear and logical teaching of the preconciliar popes on the duty of the State toward the true religion is abandoned, in yet another sign of what Sister Lucy of Fatima described as "diabolical disorientation" in the Church.