Reply to Stanley Fish on “Crucifixes and Diversity: The Odd Couple”

Stanley Fish doesn’t understand how the European Court of Human Rights can approve of the practise of the Italian government, in which crucifixes have long appeared in public schools.

Here is my reply, under moderation at this time.

I’m afraid that “the laugh test” is jejune. Grow up.

Italy’s Constitution does guarantee freedom of religion but in a very different way from the US Constitution.

Italy’s clause: All have the right to profess freely their own religious faith in whatever form, individual or associate, to propagate it and to exercise it in private or public cult, provided that the rites are not contrary to morality.

The better known US clause: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

Here is the EU’s charter of human rights which controls as long as Italy is an EU member: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

Finally, here is the UN’s declaration of human rights: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

What’s interesting is that except for the US Constitution, no other of the above limits the freedom of a government to recognize a religion that in Italy’s case is part of culture, in a way that does not limit the freedom of the *individual* to practice her religion. It may not, under the Italian, EU, and UN laws and declarations, do so, so strongly as to limit individual freedom, but up to that point the government of Italy may do things forbidden in the USA.

Cheap journalists and unprincipled academics continually try to use religion in the way of the 14 year old who sets fire to the mosque. You just don’t seem to see that Christians may behold a Muslim with tolerance and love, or that a Muslim might not see the crucifix in the same way. With your contempt for the ordinary person, you want to divide us.

The US amendment together with its interpretation over time has always been taken to limit the freedom of Federal, state and municipal governments to put up crosses or Christmas displays. This was also the case with predecessor colonial legislation such as found in Baltimore. not only does the US citizen have the freedom to practice religion AS A CONSEQUENCE of “Congress shall make no law”, but also, the US government, together with states and municipalities may not “respect” an “establishment of religion”.

Neither the UN declaration, nor the EU law, nor the Italian constitution (or any other European constitution, to my knowledge), follows the US wording. This allows Britain, Sweden and a few other countries to have monarchies linked to religious ceremonials and it allows German taxpayers to support the church of their choice.

Cuius regio ejus religio (look it up, Stan) is still a living part of European law owing to the fact that, whether you like it or not, the Peace of Westphalia 1649 still controls the domestic law of European nations.

Yet this does not seem to damage freedom of religion in Europe. Freedom of Catholic worship in the United States is in fact under threat in rural Protestant communities and owing to the kulturkampf waged on Catholic property by lawyers who have used the behavior of a small minority of priests to dispossess the Church and damage its ministry. Freedom of Muslim worship is more under threat in the USA.

Jews, like you, should know that there is a continuity between religion and culture. The crucifix is not only a religious but also an artistic symbol in Italy.

For practicing Catholics, it may represent “salvation through Christ”, although for practicing and orthodox Catholics, it doesn’t represent a guarantee, for good works are also required. For ex-Catholics who feel culturally Catholic, it is a reminder that their faith was founded by a condemned man, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” and this is indeed the source of a post-Christian compassion and tolerance which issues in the form of human rights.

You have said before as an axiom that decency and tolerance have to be based on religious belief, and this is utter nonsense. The history of Europe itself, including the Thirty Years’ War, show that religious belief is logically independent of personal decency, and the legions of men and women who, over time, have acted decently independent of their religious faith, or in opposition to it (such as William of Nassau, the founder of the Netherlands, who was assassinated because of his commitment to tolerance) show this.

“Post-Christian” doesn’t mean “anything goes”. It means that if God is dead, we’re even more responsible for ourselves and each other. Why? Because some things do have to be axiomatic in the sense of there being a starting place. I like my axiom better than yours.


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