14 November 2009

European court of human rights bans crucifixes in Italian schools

In 1920, when Italy was a fascist state, crucifixes were made compulsory, by law, in the classroom.

Recently, an Italian mother (born in Finland), Soile Lautsi, who wants to give her children a secular education, brought a case, against the depiction of crucifixes, to Italy's Constitutional Court and her case was thrown out. She appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. And she won. The seven judges said state schools had to "observe confessional neutrality". Well-said. Article from the Guardian here. Article from BBC here.

Not surprisingly, there was an uproar in Italy by fascistoids (Berlusconites and the Northern League), by Catholics, and the Vatican. Outside Italy, the first to react was another reactionary organization, the Greek Orthodox Church. Even though they believe and teach that the Pope is a fool, they decided to offer their unanimous support to those Italians opposing the Human Rights Court decision.

In Greece, things are just as ridiculous as in Italy, or even worse: In the courts of law there are icons (not just symbols) of saints from above the judge's bench. The gospel is be used for swearing oaths in the witness box and every time one assumes a public post (e.g. professor in a university). Crucifixes abound in Greek schools, just as in Italy. Education in Greece is intricately linked to Greek Orthodoxy. Everybody in Greece pays the salary of Orthodox priests via taxes--no exceptions made. The Greek Church is afraid to lose all its state-supported advertising. And this may have financial cosequences: The Greek Church is ridiculously wealthy, usurping a large fraction of the Greek Economy.

A human rights group called Helsinki Monitor is seeking to set the Italian case as a precedent in Greece. In fact, I hope they do. I am going to write to the European Court of Human Rights asking them to apply justice to the theocratic state of Greece as well.


  1. I would have thought a lot of even the practicing Catholics in Italy would be quite secularist. How is the situation in Greece -- how much support do you think secularism has from the average person?

    Would be interested to hear what you write to the European Court -- if there are no issues with it maybe post the letter on the blog?

  2. I don't know the answer for sure. I would say the following: There are many people who rarely go to church but are religious, in the sense that they feel the need for religion, will pray or go to church twice a year (and, perhaps, for weddings and baptisms of friends which still, to a large extent, take place in church).

    Secularism is rarely contemplated upon in Greece. Even the most open-minded Greeks will argue that Orthodoxy and Greece are one and the same thing and Greece cannot exist without it. I've had conversations with students who find, for instance, procelytizing unacceptable, who will never go to church, not even once a year, but who, on the other hand, argue that there is nothing wrong with the church being part of common life in Greece and that they *must* respect all Christian Orthodox symbols even though they themselves won't use them.

    I think that secularism is, simply, not part of the vocabulary of the majority. Just as the word "privacy" never existed in the Greek language [and it's only a few years ago that a two-word description (private life) was coined in], similarly, the word secularism is not part of the common vocabulary even. (E.g., no entry on secularism in the Greek wikipedia.)

    One doesn't know how to start investigating the subject of secularism in Greece because it is almost a taboo. Of course, there are exceptions.

  3. Just to test my theory that "secularism" is not a common Greek word, I checked some English-Greek dictionaries online and here is what they gave:

    babelfish: It cannot translate "secularism". But for "secular", it gives "κοσμικός" which means "worldly".

    ectaco: secularism = υλισμός, λαϊκισμός, αντικληρικισμός. Very unfortunate terms. They mean: materialism, laicism, anticlericalism.

    lingvozone: Exactly the same as above.

    mydictionary: Again the same.

    babylon: Same.

    in.gr: Secularism = δόγμα της απαλλαγής του πνεύματος από θρησκευτικές επιρροές, "εκκοσμίκευση".
    Wooaoo! It gives a definition of it as dogma of freedom of spirit from religious influences. And then it gives a one-word translation, "εκκοσμίκευση", which does not (yet) exist in Greek; it means: make-wordly.

    mymemory: This site gave me many texts which were both in English and in Greek (they seem to have been taken from European proceedings of sorts). In most of them, secularism is translated as "διαχωρισμός εκκλησίας και κράτους" i.e. separation of church and state. In one entry it was translated as "κοσμικότητα" i.e. "wordliness"--not a very good term.

    So I can be reasonably sure about my hypothesis that secularism is not part of the common Greek vocabulary.

    How can it then have much support in Greece?



What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
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Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
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