An Italian court has banned crucifixes in schools. As the judge points out, the crucifixes show an intent to portray Catholicism as the center of everything, even though the Vatican has accepted since 1984 that Catholicism is no longer the religion of the state. Since that’s so, the decision makes sense. The Church has already agreed that the Italian state will recognize something other than Catholicism as the final truth of things. But then why shouldn’t the same principle apply to state education?
Of course, the decision raises an issue as to just what the state will recognize—and state schools teach—as the ultimate standard. Cardinal Tonini says the crucifix should be kept as a symbol of popular religious and cultural values. The reason for having the crucifix is that people are used to it and most of them like it. The state and education, it seems, should be based on the habits and will of the people. That’s not a reasonable view, though. The people and their will aren’t such unequivocal realities that it makes sense to treat them as ultimate authorities. And there’s even a logical problem—if the will of the people is the ultimate standard, then what to standard should the people look in deciding what to do? The presence of the crucifix suggests it’s Christ, but that’s just the position the 1984 concordat rejected.
So people can squawk, but I expect classroom crucifixes in Italy to go the way of Roy’s Rock. All coherent human activities are based on some final standard. The Vatican itself has agreed that the final standard for Italian government will not be Christ but will be something else. Given the intrusiveness of the modern state, that final standard can hardly be different from the one insisted on as publicly authoritative in society at large. So the 1984 concordat was a fundamental decision regarding the status of Catholicism in Italy. How can government schools fail to reflect it?