Page 4, 31st October 2003

31st October 2003
Page 4
Page 4, 31st October 2003 — Court orders removal of crucifixes from nursery

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Locations: Verona


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Court orders removal of crucifixes from nursery

Simon Caldwell reports on the triumph of Muslim activist Adel Smith

A counT in Italy has ordered the removal of crucifixes from the walls a state-run nursery attended by Muslim children.

It ruled in favour of a case brought by Mel Smith, the Scottish-born president of the Union of Italian Muslims, who wanted the symbols removed from the Navelli kindergarten and elementary school, where he sends his children.

Judges decided that the displaying of crucifixes was "deeply wrong because it manifests the state's unequivocal desire to put the Catholic faith at the centre of the universe as an absolute truth, with the least respect for other religions".

The decision of thc high court in L'Aquila, in the Abruzzo region, has angered the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Ersilio Tonini of Bologna said: "1 am dumbfounded. You can't just get rid of a symbol of religious and cultural values of an entire people simply because it could annoy someone."

A statement by the Italian bishops' conference said the court had acted "in contradiction with state law that no parliament or even the Constitutional Court ever has changed".

The practice of hanging crucifixes in classrooms dates back to at least the 1920s when Catholicism was the official religion of Italy.

The repeal of the statute formed no part of the 1984 revised concordat between the Vatican and the Italian state that effectively severed the close relationship between the two, but the presence of a crucifix in a classroom was left to the decisions of individual teachers.

The school in L'Aquila now has 30 days to comply with the court's decision to remove the crucifixes.

However, Justice Minister Roberto Castelli said he would order an inquiry into whether the decision conformed with Italian law.

Only last month Education Minister Litizia Moratti said the crosses should remain in state schools and hospitals.

She also endorsed plans by the government for the state funding of Italian private Catholic schools.

Mr Smith, 43, took his case to court after his request that symbols from the Koran should be hung alongside the crosses was refused.

After the ruling, he said: "I have no fight with the crucifix. I have simply been granted a constitutional right that religious symbols should not be on display in the classroom where my children study."

It is not the first time, however, that Mr Smith has campaigned for the removal of crucifixes from classrooms.

Appearing on Italian television in 2001, Mr Smith said crucifixes were symbols of "violence".

He called them "execrable" and described them as "awful, shrunken dead bodies on hits of wood".

Mr Smith, who converted to Islam in 1987, is understood to have few friends among fellow Italian Muslims.

Yet he has become a public figure because of his continuous assaults on Italy's Christian heritage.

Besides demanding the removal of crucifixes from schools, Mr Smith has also called for the removal of a 15th century fresco from the Bolognini Chapel of the Cathedral of San Petronio, Bologna, because it depicted the founder of Islam in Hell.

The fresco, painted by Giovanni da Modena, shows the Prophet Mohammed tormented by demons in the ninth circle of Hell, the place in Dante's Divine Comedy that was reserved for religious schismatics.

Mr Smith also made headlines in January when he was physically attacked twice in the same week on live Italian television shows.

Almost two dozen members of a right-wing group angered by Mr Smith's anti-Christian rants stormed into the Telenuovo studios in Verona, beat him and then covered him with eggs.

Days earlier viewers watched him come to blows with the conservative columnist Carlo Pelanda on Padua's Teleserenissima.

The fight began when Mr Pelanda slapped Mr Smith across the face mid-way through • a tirade against Israel.

The Union of Italian Muslim Organisations, an umbrella group for Italy's 700,000 Muslims, has tried to distance itself from the views of Mr Smith.

A spokesman said that his "offensive public statements against the Christian tradition" were in stark contrast to

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