Conservatives pleased about crucifix verdict

Crosses hung up in kindergartens are no “preference in favour of certain religions”, according to the Constitutional Court (VfGH).The federal panel announced in Vienna today (Weds) that kindergartens in Austria were not discriminating against other religious communities by displaying crucifixes at their facilities.The issue had to be dealt with by the VfGH after a Lower Austrian atheist took provincial childcare and education authorities to court. The family father argued he wanted his daughter to grow up “in an open-minded world of pluralism.”The court’s verdict says that crosses were no violation of religious freedom. Judges said the same about religious celebrations at kindergartens since children do not have to attend.The VfGH stressed its decision would not contradict a verdict of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, from 2009.The court said at that time it was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to hang crucifixes on classroom walls. Italy is the only state directly affected by the verdict since the issue was raised by a family mum in the country. Other states may however be forced to reform their federal regulations based on its ruling if parents file a lawsuit over the issue.The VfGH argued today the situation in Austria could not be compared with the legal framework and situation in Italy and other countries. The court however added it may take the European Court of Human Rights’s decision into account in the future.Lower Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Governor Erwin Pröll announced he was “very happy” with the VfGH’s verdict. The conservative opinion leader stressed Lower Austria was a “tolerant province” which was aware of its roots and principles at the same time.The Viennese branch of the ÖVP and Freedom Party (FPÖ) boss Heinz-Christian Strache also appreciated today’s decision.Strache – who was confirmed aged 40 in a church in Wiener Neustadt, Lower Austria, only in 2009 – said the crucifix was “the symbol of our tradition and system of values”. The right-winger pledged he would ensure its status.The FPÖ chairman came under fire for wielding a crucifix during a speech against the expansion of an Islamic community centre in Vienna around two years ago.Most Austrians are Catholics, but the Roman Catholic Church in the country has been suffering from allegations that hundreds of children were sexually abused at boarding schools managed by the Church in past decades.It was announced in January that – with 87,393 – 63 per cent more people than during the previous recorded year 2009 left the Church last year.Around 500,000 of the 8.5 million people living in Austria are Muslims.