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A Comment on Lautsi

Published on March 19, 2011        Author: 

Dr Lorenzo Zucca is Reader in Jurisprudence at the King’s College London School of Law.

Jesus can be left hanging:  A Pontius-Pilate-like Strasbourg Court decided not to remove him from the cross – pardon, from the wall of Italian classrooms.  In more technical jargon, yesterday the Grand Chamber of the ECHR reversed the decision of the second section in the Lautsi case  and concluded that the presence of the crucifix is not incompatible with the right of parents to have their children educated compatibly with their own philosophical convictions (see Joseph Weiler’s comment on previous decision here).

The decision is a defeat for everyone, not just for the appellant. It is a defeat because the Court does not provide a much needed reflection on the question of the presence of religion in the public sphere. The quality of its reasoning is very poor and unsatisfactory, as it has been noticed times and times again, even when the Lautsi decision went the other way. The Grand Chamber does not articulate its reasons, its assessment is short and brutish and only consists of 20 short paragraphs where the courts simply hides itself behind the screen of the margin of appreciation, a rather laconic euphemism for deference to the national authorities. True, deference serves the purpose of legitimizing the international court vis-à-vis ferocious national criticism which was very vocal recently in the UK parliament. But what the ECtHR does not seem to understand is that its legitimacy as an international court of human rights also crucially depends on the quality of its reasoning, that should be regarded as exemplar in articulation and depth. Without those qualities, any decision is a defeat for Justice even if it may be a Pyrrhic victory for institutional respectability.

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