In March of 2011, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled counter to current trends found in many European courts and legislatures as the ECHR affirmed the right of the Italian state to display crucifixes on the walls of its public school classrooms. Those who succeeded in arguing for the presence of crucifixes in Italian classrooms did so not by advocating for the now entrenched human right of the freedom of religious expression, but by suggesting that the crucifix was, in fact, not only a religious sign but also a cultural and historical one. The crucifix, according to many of the religious and governmental claimants to the case, is a symbol that stands not just for Christianity but also for "tolerance" and, therefore, as a sign of secularism. The petitions heard in the Court, its decision, and the concurring opinions are revealing of the ambiguity of the categories of religion and secularism in Europe today. In this article I use the ECHR ruling to explore the lack of agreement surrounding the distinction between the religious and the secular and the implications this shifting boundary holds for different.
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