The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] on Wednesday held a Grand Chamber hearing [press release] regarding its decision in Lautsi v. Italy [judgment, in French; JURIST report], where the ECHR found an Italian school's display of the crucifix in classrooms violated Articles 2 and 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], regarding religious and educational freedoms. Italy appealed the decision, arguing that the crucifix is a part of the country's national identity [Reuters report]. Ten other countriesArmenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, Romania and Russiajoined Italy in its appeal. One lawyer argued the ban would force countries to remove religious references from their flags and national anthems. The 19-judge chamber is expected to announce its ruling in September or October [AP report].
In November, the Greek Orthodox Church urged Europeans to unite in protesting [JURIST report] the decision. Earlier this month, the ECHR overturned a Russian ban on Jehovah's Witnesses [JURIST report], finding that the ban denied congregations their right to religious freedom. In December, a Swiss Muslim filed a complaint in the ECHR after Swiss voters approved a ban on construction of Islamic towers [JURIST reports] known as minarets, alleging violations of religious freedom and freedom from discrimination. The ECHR could take up to 18 months to decide if it will hear the case.