Freedom of religion is always a right

Steno Sari

by Steno Sari — From birth, religious ideas are transmitted to us by our parents, and so the religion we profess as adults almost always becomes a family tradition that often leads us to passively accept the choices decided for us by others. This is a very delicate issue in a State governed by the rule of law like ours, where religious choice and practice is protected by Article 19 of the Constitution. Let's think, for example, of what can happen when, in the case of separation, in a religiously divided home, one parent wants to impart his religious education to his minor child while the other opposes it.

A decision of the Court of Cassation, filed in recent days, has upheld the right of a Jehovah's Witness mother to give her minor child his religious education despite the opposition of her separated husband. The Court of Cassation recalled that "all religious denominations" have "equal dignity before the law" and that, in case of disagreement between parents on the education of children, the judge does not have the task of expressing a judgment on which religion is better for him; he must only verify whether a certain education causes concrete damage to the child.

The decision came after two degrees of judgment involving a Jehovah's Witness from the Como area. After the separation, although the son had been entrusted mainly to his mother, the father had insisted that he be educated exclusively according to Catholic principles. He therefore asked the court to prevent his wife from sharing her religious beliefs with the child and from taking him to Jehovah's Witnesses religious meetings. The father's request was granted both at first instance and on appeal. In the first instance ruling, the Court had motivated the decision by denigrating the mother's religion, and had even stated that it had a "cultic nature". The judgment of appeal had confirmed the previous decision on the grounds of "not creating confusion in the child, proposing at the same time different teachings, with the risk of disorientating him".

The Court of Cassation ruled that the judgment of the first instance was based "on an unacceptable assessment of the value of the Jehovah's Witnesses religion" and that the Court of Appeal had "also committed a misapplication of the principles of equality and religious freedom" by showing "a prejudice against the [Jehovah's Witnesses] religion". The Court of Cassation also pointed out that the Court of Appeals had issued the discriminatory sentence without bothering to listen to the opinion of the minor (aged seven) and without giving any explanation for this omission. The Supreme Court therefore returned the decision to the Court of Appeal which, on the basis of the principles of law mentioned above, will have to review its previous ruling.

The lawyer Lucio Marsella, of the young mother's counsel, commented: "Once again the Supreme Court has been vigilant in ensuring respect for the Constitution and the law by overcoming stereotypes and prejudices, including cultural ones. It has guaranteed the right of a minor to fully receive the spiritual and cultural heritage of each of his parents, regardless of the orientations of the majority. We hope that, thanks to this ruling, tolerance and mutual respect will become more established, values that must find special protection in a judicial court".

The principles crystallized in the Italian Constitution go in the direction of the secularity of the State that supports the moral and juridical equality of parents, religious freedom even within the family, the equality of all religions, without expressing value or merit judgments as if there were series A and series B religions.

Source: «Libero» of September 13, 2019