Religious symbolism in Schools

Engel v. Vitale


The French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools is an amendment to the French Code of Education banning students from wearing conspicuous religious symbols in French public, primary, and secondary schools.The law expands principles founded in existing French law, especially the constitutional requirement of laïcité: the separation of state and religious activities. This amendment prohibits conspicuous religious symbols and clothing being worn by students in public primary and secondary schools. The amendment further supports the French constitutional provision of freedom of opinion, including religious opinion.The bill has passed France's national legislature and was signed into law by President Jacques Chirac on March 15, 2004 (thus the technical name of law 2004-228 of March 15, 2004). It came into effect on September 2 at the beginning of the new school year.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that crucifixes are acceptable in the continent's state school classrooms, describing them as an "essentially passive symbol" with no obvious religious influence. In its judgment, handed down in Strasbourg, the court found that while the crucifix was "above all a religious symbol" there was no evidence that its display on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils.The ruling reverses their earlier, unanimous decision from 2009 in favour of a Finnish-born mother who said that state schools in the Italian town of Abano Terme, where she lives, refused to remove the Roman Catholic symbols from classrooms.Soile Lautsi said the crucifix violated the secular principles that state schools were meant to uphold. The court agreed, saying children were entitled to freedom of religion and that although "encouraging" for some pupils, the crucifix could be "emotionally disturbing for pupils of other religions or those who profess no religion".

Stone v. Graham

United States

449 U.S. 39 (1980), the Supreme Court ruled that a Kentucky law that required the posting of the Ten Commandments on the wall of every public-school classroom in the state violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment because the purpose of the display was essentially religious.

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