The Case of Secularism in Italian Classrooms


  • Niek Houterman



Mrs. Lautsi challenged the board of her children’s school and consequently the Italian Republic for the legally obligatory presence of a crucifix in the school’s classroom. She argued that this violated the principle of secularism. After unsuccessful attempts in regional and national courts she appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in 2006 which initially ruled in favor , but after an appeal of the Italian Government to the High Chamber, ruled against her. The Lautsi case provoked significant societal debate concerning the role of religion in public space. One of the key players in this debate is Professor Joseph Weiler, who intervened in the case on behalf of several third party states. Weiler’s argumentation will be subject to Analytical Discourse Evaluation in this paper. The goal of Weiler’s argument is to prove that the Chamber’s initial ruling, before Italy’s appeal, was based on a conceptual error of what can be regarded as ‘state neutrality’. Professor Weiler argues that secularism is mistaken to be defined as neutral and Italy should be allowed to prescribe crucifixes in classrooms. The analysis shows that Professor Weiler’s argumentation is flawed and this paper will present a more viable, alternative argument.


Weiler, J. Oral Intervention by Professor Weiler on Behalf of Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Russia, and San Marino - States Who Intervene as Third Parties in the Lautsi Case Before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, accessed July 29, 2013, .

European Court of Human Rights, Grand Chamber. Lautsi and others v. Italy, Application no. 30814/06, 2010.

Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s.v. “Secularism,” accessed July 29, 2013,