Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A response to Marc

I could understand and respect an argument maintaing that the crucifix in classrooms is so deeply embedded in Italian tradition (I understand you to so argue in your excellent forthcoming book) that the adoption of a secular state was not intended to provide a foundation for tearing down the crucifixes from the classrooms. (Even in Germany, the crosses remain unless a student complains). What I cannot respect are the arguments made to say that the crucifix transcends religion or the particular arguments that it transcends Catholicism.

I agree that the Italian state is not a theocracy, but its use of religious symbols makes it religious in important ways (symbols matter) and sectarian as well. I do not think it fair to argue that the choice is between a secular state and a theocracy. There are many things in between. I am not as confident as you that secular states do not exist on the planet. Switzerland, for example, does not allow crosses in its classrooms or its teachers to wear headscarfs (I think they got that case wrong). I do not know enough to claim that it does or does not qualify as a purely secular state.  But even if there are no purely secular states on the planet, even if some states are more or less secular than others, I remain convinced that the Administrative Court's opinion is provincial and either ignorant of or disrespectful of the Protestant tradition (a part of the Protestant tradition, by the way that I am not sympathetic to). I am jarred by the irony of a court making pronouncements about theological matters and downplaying the religious significance of the cross while claiming to be secular!


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Steve, thanks for the (as always) fair response. I agree that to say that the crucifix transcends religion is a deeply regrettable way of putting things. I also agree that states can be more or less secular, and think you are right that there may be other states more fully secularized than Italy. France may be one.

Where we may disagree (given your views in The Religious Left and Church-State Relations -- which, as you know, I found an excellent book -- I think this is a disagreement) is on the extent to which it is necessary or positive for a secular state to remove religious symbols which have taken on important cultural valences from the public square.


Posted by: Marc DeGirolami | Jul 27, 2011 2:51:59 PM