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Anti-cross judge struck off

Luigi Tosti will appeal ruling

22 January, 16:21
Anti-cross judge struck off (ANSA) - Rome, January 22 - An Italian judge who gained headlines for refusing to hear cases with crucifixes in the courtroom was struck off the judiciary roll Friday.

Luigi Tosti, 61, was removed from his job by the Italian judiciary's self-governing body, the Supreme Council of Magistrates (CSM).

The CSM said in its ruling that Tosti, a Jew, was guilty of refusing to do his job in the Marche town of Camerino from May 2005 to January 2006.

Tosti said he would appeal the sentence to Italy's highest court of appeal, the Cassation Court and, failing that, to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which last year issued a landmark, but non-binding, ruling against crosses in Italian classrooms. "If the Cassation Court agrees with me the CSM's ruling will be quashed. But I would almost be happier if the appeal were rejected and the European Court had to address my case".

The issue was "identical", he said, to that raised by the Finnish-born mother of two in northern Italy who secured the ruling against crosses in classrooms. "I'm curious to see what the CSM writes in its ruling," Tosti added. Tosti, who defended himself without a lawyer at Friday's hearing, repeated his argument that crosses should not be present in courts because of the separation of Church and State Members of the libertarian Radical Party demonstrated outside the CSM in support of Tosti.

The judge had been subjected to disciplinary measures including losing his pay in the past but continued his campaign undeterred.

Last February he got a jail conviction quashed for refusing to enter courtrooms unless crucifixes were removed.

Italy's supreme court overturned a seven-month sentence issued in May 2007.

Judge Tosti first made headlines in April 2004 when he threatened to place symbols of his own Jewish faith, like the menorah candle-holder, in his Camerino court.

He insisted that defendants have the constitutional right to refuse to be tried under the symbol of the cross.

Tosti's ejection from the magistrature came a day after the Italian government said an appeal was ready against the European court's ruling against crucifixes in Italian classrooms, which sparked a storm in this heavily Catholic country.

Cabinet Secretary Gianni Letta said the appeal against the European Court of Human Right's ruling would be supported by "an abundance of documentation and arguments".

He said it had been "easy" to garner the support of "several other European countries" in Italy's favour.

The European Court of Human Rights is not the European Union's top judicial body. That is the European Court of Justice, in Luxembourg.

The head of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, hailed the government's appeal, saying "the sentence goes against European history and religious sentiment".

After the appeal is filed, the ruling panel of the 47-member Council of Europe, which the court represents, will have six months to decide what action the Italian government should take to avoid future suits.

The Strasbourg court ruled on November 3 on a petition filed nine years ago by Soile Lautsi, a 20-year resident of Abano Terme near Padua, who argued crosses in classrooms infringed pupils' religious freedom. Italy's Constitutional Court ruled in December 2004 that crosses should stay in courts and classrooms.

But the Court did not give a juridical explanation for its ruling, and many felt it had washed its hands of a political hot potato.

If it had upheld the separation of Church and State, the high court would have sparked outraged reactions from conservatives who were already incensed when some schools dropped Christmas plays and nativity scenes to avoid hurting the feelings of Muslim children.

The row even prompted a reaction from Pope John Paul II, who stressed that Christmas cribs were a part of Italy's Catholic heritage.

photo: Tosti in April 2004

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