Let me make it clear to begin with that I’ve never needed the prop of a primitive Hebrew sky God to get me through life – never needed the support of any desert derivatives of that God, either! No praying; no rituals; no icons or relics of varying degrees of religiosity.

Even as a little boy at school with morning assembly and prayers every day, I didn’t “believe” (couldn’t “believe”!) in this “personal God” (of the Jews and of the Christians) who listened in to everyone’s prayers, occasionally answering them, more often not bothering; this God who was interested in my daily transgressions, regardless of how big or small they may have been; this God whose power and actions appeared totally arbitrary to me then (and now); and whose “outlook” and “expectations” seemed more those of an ill educated desert patriarch than a “God”! I saw him (her? It?) as some sort of Jewish, Christian, Muslim Zeus! And equally as mythic!

However, I did like some of the hymns, and I absolutely loved the Christmas carols!

So, you see, I have no particular axe to grind over organised religion: orthodox Jews who wish to practice three thousand year old rituals today, well, good luck to them. Christians who hijacked the Hebrew sky God two thousand years ago, and gave him a Son made flesh, good luck to them too. And to the followers of Islam, the religion of submission, that flowered into existence in north-west Africa in the seventh century, if it provides the necessary crutch for them to face each fresh day, well so be it, and best of luck to them, also. May they all live in peace and harmony with each other and their God (Gods?).

After all each of these religions are primarily about guilt, it’s only the holidays (Holy days?) that differ.

So, what’s my point? Well, yesterday someone mentioned my blog to me: in particular they happened to mention my comments on the European Court’s ruling on the crucifix; they were “puzzled” (and I quote) by my response. It took me a moment to understand exactly what they were referring to: it’s this HERE, harmless enough on the surface, but apparently it was my subsequent comments that caused concern and confusion.

I am of an age where I’m able to create confusion wherever I go (or so it frequently seems to me and to others?). There’s no defense against this. It’s a totally natural phenomenon with which I find myself gifted (a gift bestowed, perhaps, by the smile of Vishnu; or there again, the subtlest hint of early onset Alzheimer’s? I can’t be certain which). Anyway, I digress. Confusion has arisen. So I dedicate this blog entry to clarification of what for me is a particularly difficult subject:

Democracy, the rights of the child, and the crucifix – for crucifix you could, if you wished, substitute any religious iconography: the crescent, for example; the Star of David; the depiction of Mary with little Jesus. It really doesn’t matter. For according to the European Court, Italy, by displaying crucifixes in the classrooms of state schools, is breaching the rights of the attending children.

One question I would ask at the outset: exactly what “rights” does a child have in reality? I thinks this is important: not theoretical “rights”, but actual “rights”? Do they, for instance, have the “right” to choose whether to attend school or not? Can they decline participation in any or all of the various activities found in the average school, assuming they wish to attend in the first place? And are the child’s “rights” the same regardless of the age of the child?

I would suggest that the answer to my first question is NO! Within Europe school attendance is mandatory for children. So, there is an element of compulsion involved in school attendance. A child, possibly against his or her will, is forced into school. But what of his or her “rights”? A child may have the “right” to an education, but if he or she doesn’t wish to attend school – what then? Isn’t compulsion a breach of that child’s human “rights”?

Apparently not. It seems there’s a universal desire on the part of European governments / societies to say “BOG OFF! You go to school and that’s it! End of story!” Children have no real say in the matter; no “right”, in fact, to object.

At this point I will introduce a personal anecdote from my own school days. I hated…no! I HATED geometry and Latin. Learning by heart all those bloody theorems and then having to stand up in class and recite them – without really understanding what the hell they meant – caused me more psychological damage than any morning assembly with its twee prayers and motivational sermon.

Often at night I’d lay awake and imagine my Geometry master being burned at the stake as a witch or idolater; or by mistake, instead of the straw-filled Guy on the fifth of November. His pain as those flames licked about his feet and legs was as nothing in comparison to mine struggling with all those theorems!

And the Latin? The Latin was hell, too!

“O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.”

My Latin master was a Frenchman (this gets better: my French master was a lovely gentleman from northern India! Consequently, all over France when I speak to people for the first time, they frown, puzzled, and they ask: ‘Excuse-moi. Êtes-vous sur les Indiens?’ Apparently it’s my French accent that’s the problem). Our Latin master was also mentally unstable. Any error in Latin translation by one of his pupils would be rewarded by an hysterical outburst where he’d jabber away in French, and literally froth at the mouth!

On such occasions where were my “rights”? Where were the “rights” of children then?

Answer: Off to hell in a hand cart! We didn’t have any!

However, this digression aside, the European Court has decided that a Child does have “rights” which by its ruling seem confined to a “child’s right to freedom of religion.”

The Strasbourg court found that: “The compulsory display of a symbol of a given confession in premises used by the public authorities… restricted the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their convictions.”

Ummm, I see.

It also restricted the “right of children to believe or not to believe”, the seven judges ruling on the case said in a statement quoted by AFP news agency.

The “right of children to believe or not to believe” – so, what about all those children who have to attend church, synagogue, mosque on a daily, weekly basis in company with parents or guardians? Especially when they don’t want to be there. What about them?

What about those children “forced” into a faith school?

Oh, wait, I see. A parent has the “right” to inflict their convictions on a child; but not the state. Is that it? Is that what this nonsense is about? The child has the “right” to be subjugated to the religious convictions of parents/guardians, and all the religious iconography that may entail. Oh, WOW, that’s quite a “right” to have, isn’t it? Bet all the children across Europe are sleeping happily in their beds with that knowledge to comfort them.

But the more one studies the ruling of the seven Strasbourg judges all dressed in their Bible black gowns, the more absurd it seems!

The case was brought by Soile Lautsi, a mother of two who claimed public schools in her northern Italian town refused eight years ago to remove the Roman Catholic symbols from classrooms. She had maintained that the crucifix violates the secular principles the public schools are supposed to uphold, and the right to offer her children a secular education.

The court’s final decision created uproar in Italy – understandably so. Because 55.8 million (96%) of the population of Italy (57.6m) is Roman Catholic! But worse still, believer or unbeliever, they see this as an imposition from OUTSIDE of their country; and from OUTSIDE of their culture!

And that, too, is what I have a problem with! This solution is being imposed from the OUTSIDE without due consideration of the majority of people living in Italy.

The court said the crucifix: “could easily be interpreted by pupils of all ages as a religious sign and they would feel that they were being educated in a school environment bearing the stamp of a given religion”.

No kidding? They wouldn’t have realised this from the thousands of Churches all over the country, or from the 50,000 Roman Catholic Priests working in the country, or from the situation of the Pope in the Vatican in Rome? No? Or from the many Priests teaching in the state schools which they attend?

Like it or not, even without the crucifixes, Children will still feel they are being educated in a “school environment bearing the stamp of a given religion”. Unless they’re plain stupid? How could it be otherwise?

The Italian government launched an immediate appeal against the court decision.

The EU Parliament decided in December to postpone its vote on a resolution concerning the judgment of the European Court. MEPs held a heated debate on the issue but decided to check the admissibility of the vote and the resolution!

It gets better and better!

Meanwhile, the Italian Constitutional Court have quietly ruled that where conflict exists between Italian legislation and rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, only the Italian legislation will be seen as legitimate and enforceable:

“where rulings by the European Court of Human Rights conflict with provisions of the Italian Constitution, such rulings lack legitimacy”.

In most areas of the country, local officials have acquired dozens more crucifixes to display in public schools; in Montegrotto Terme, the digital billboards normally used for public information are now displaying the crucifix with the phrase, “We will not take it down.” And according to the Italian daily “Avvenire,” the mayor of Sezzadio, Pier Luigi Arnera, has leveled a fine of 500 euros against anyone who removes a crucifix from a public place!

Oh, well, that’s one piece of legislation that worked! Bless the European experiment! It’s united Italians almost unanimously behind the Roman Catholic Church and the crucifix.

On a personal note this situation has introduced an element of déjà vu into my life. There have been a number of confrontations in the past between Catholic Italy and the European Court. None of them have been particularly uplifting experiences.

The Court has made a number of sweeping pronouncements over the years; it is present, like God, in every aspect of its “creations” and, unlike God, it makes mistakes; upholding the ban of female headscarves in Turkey. The new Turkish government simply shrugged (metaphorically speaking) and ignored the ruling. Even more controversial has been the Court’s support of France in suppressing or removing religious iconography and dress in public places. Unfortunately, some of these rulings, while well meant, cause cultural dislocation. These decisions do not take into consideration the desires of the majority of the population concerned. They are undemocratic, if you will.

Put simply, all this is yet another example of “one size does not fit all”.

For a child it may seem they exist in a monstrously unjust society. All is compulsion and coercion. In an ideal world crucifixes or religious symbols would not be on school walls – any school walls. But change will only come through increased consciousness not compulsion.

The European Court’s decision is stupid. Logically, if their concern is the child, then wouldn’t it be more consistent to ban children under the age of eighteen from attending ANY church, synagogue, mosque, whatever, when they will be of an age to make up their own mind about religion?

Instead we have this peculiar, semi-logical elastoplast of a ruling which has pissed off a whole country and done nothing, absolutely NOTHING for the “rights” of children in Italy or anywhere else come to that!

Does this clarify my comments in the earlier blog entry? I’m not sure.

My final suggestion would be for the passing of “constitutional” laws making it impossible for anyone who believes in an intelligent God, bearded or otherwise, to be elected to any important position in government in the UK, the EU and the USA. Will it happen? No, it won’t. Nor will they take the crucifixes down in Italian schools within my lifetime. No matter what the wise and the good of Strasbourg may have to say about it.