Joseph H. H. Weiler, expert in international law, who has more degrees -earned and honorary- than almost anyone else has written a piece defending the freedom the affix a crucifix. Some of my readers may know him because he is mainly situated at NYU and is a traditional Jew. I was once on a panel with him post 9/11. In the post-EU world, one part of the EU can hold another part to its standards. The placing of a crucifix was brought to court of European Court of Human Rights and banned in school use. Italy appealed the ban. Below is part of the defense of the Crucifix by Joseph Weiler.
13. Consider a photograph of the Queen of England hanging in the classroom. Like the Cross, that picture has a double meaning. It is a photo of the Head of State. It is, too, a photo of the Titular head of the Church of England. It is a bit like the Pope who is a Head of State and Head of a Church. Would it be acceptable for someone to demand that the picture of the Queen may not hang in the school since it is incompatible with their religious conviction or their right to education since – they are Catholics, or Jews, or Muslims? Or with their philosophical conviction – they are atheists? Could the Irish Constitution or the German Constitution not hang on a class room wall or be read in class since in their Preambles we find a reference to the Holy Trinity and the Divine Lord Jesus Christ in the former and to God in the latter? Of course the right of freedom from religion must ensure that a pupil who objects may not be required actually to engage in a religious act, perform a religious ritual, or have some religious affiliation as a condition for state entitlements. He or she should certainly have the right not to sing God Save the Queen if that clashes with their world view. But can that student demand that no one else sing it?
21. Today, the principal social cleavage in our States as regards religion is not among, say Catholics and Protestants, but among the religious and the ‘secular’. Secularity, Laïcité is not an empty category which signifies absence of faith. It is to many a rich world view which holds, inter alia, the political conviction that religion only has a legitimate place in the private sphere and that there may not be any entanglement of public authority and religion. For example, only secular schools will be funded. Religious schools must be private and not enjoy public support. It is a political position, respectable, but certainly not “neutral.” The non-laique, whilst fully respecting freedom of and from religion, embrace some form of public religion as I have already noted. Laïcité advocates a naked public square, a classroom wall bereft of any religious symbol. It is legally disingenuous to adopt a political position which splits our society, and to claim that somehow it is neutral.
23. If the social pallet of society were only composed of blue yellow and red groups, than black – the absence of color – would be a neutral colour. But once one of the social forces in society has appropriated black as its colour, than that choice is no longer neutral. Secularism does not favour a wall deprived of all State symbols. It is religious symbols which are anathema.
24. What are the educational consequences of this?
25. Consider the following parable of Marco and Leonardo, two friends just about to begin school. Leonardo visits Marco at his home. He enters and notices a crucifix. What is that?’, he asks. ‘A crucifix – why, you don’t have one? Every house should have one.’ Leonardo returns to his home agitated. His mother patiently explains: ‘They are believing Catholics. We are not. We follow our path. Now imagine a visit by Marco to Leonardo’s house. ‘Wow!’, he exclaims, ‘no crucifix? An empty wall?’ “ We do not believe in that nonsense” says his friend. Marco returns agitated to his house. ‘Well’, explains his mother, ‘We follow our path.” The next day both kids go to school. Imagine the school with a crucifix. Leonardo returns home agitated: ‘The school is like Marco’s house. Are you sure, Mamma, that it is okay not to have a crucifix?’ That is the essence of Ms. Lausti’s complaint. But imagine, too, that on the first day the walls are naked. Marco returns home agitated. ‘The school is like Leonardo’s house,’ he cries. ‘You see, I told you we don’t need it.’
27. Make no mistake: A State-mandated naked wall, as in France, may suggest to pupils that the State is taking an anti-religious attitude. We trust the curriculum of the French Republic, to teach their children tolerance and pluralism and dispel that notion. There is always an interaction between what is on the wall and how it is discussed and taught in class. Likewise, a crucifix on the wall, might be perceived as coercive. Again, it depends on the curriculum to contextualize and teach the children in the Italian class tolerance and pluralism. There may be other solutions such as having symbols of more than one religion or finding other educationally appropriate ways to convey the message of pluralism.
Notice his definitions of the open society, tolerance and pluralism. A lack of religion in the public sphere is itself a religious decision. Also note how far the defense of the crucifix has no connection to medieval polemics or even the polemics of the age of tolerance and the Enlightenment. One is not proving either side right or wrong, nor is one conflating liberal tolerance with pluralism. Many modern orthodox Jews still respond to questions in medieval terms or attempting to fit Enlightenment tolerance into the classic positions. Neither one is where current discussions of human rights start.
Any thoughts on his arguments? Would Judaism agree? Would Judaism seeking a place to defend its own religious liberty in the US agree?