NEWS

Religious icons may have to go

Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis admitted yesterday that Greece will have no choice but to remove religious icons from school classrooms and other public buildings if the European Court of Human Rights stands by a ruling it made earlier this month. «If the European Court of Human Rights sticks to its original decision that religious symbols should be removed from all public buildings, then I think our country will have to adapt to the new situation arising from this decision,» said Kastanidis in response to a question from right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) MP Asterios Rondoulis. However, Kastanidis added that any change to the status quo, which sees icons of the Virgin Mary hung in classrooms, courtrooms and public service offices, would take place «only after agreement has been reached with the Church of Greece.» However, it seems that the Church is highly unlikely to concede to the removal of icons or crucifixes from buildings. The Church of Greece reacted angrily to such suggestions when it emerged earlier this month that the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that the presence of crucifixes in classrooms was a breach of human rights after hearing a case brought by a mother from Italy. «It is not only minorities that have rights, the majority has them as well,» said the head of the Greek Church, Archbishop Ieronymos, adding that the matter would be discussed by the Holy Synod if necessary. «Youngsters will soon not have any symbols to inspire and protect them,» said Bishop Nikolaos of Fthiotida. Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki said he hopes Greek officials will appeal any decision by the court in Strasbourg. The European court found that the right of parents to educate their children according to their own beliefs, and children's right to freedom of religion, were breached by the presence of a crucifix in classrooms.

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