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School crucifixes 'do not breach human rights'

Displaying crucifixes in schools in Italy does not breach the rights of non-Catholic families, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.

The court ruled there was no evidence that a crucifix hung in a classroom would influence pupils.

The ruling overturned a previous decision made in November 2009, which angered the Roman Catholic country.

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The hanging of crosses in public buildings is not compulsory in Italy but it is customary

Friday's decision was welcomed by Italy's foreign minister as a win for European "popular sentiment".

"The decision underlines, above all, the rights of citizens to defend their own values and their own identities," Franco Frattini said, according to Italy's La Repubblica newspaper.

"I hope that following this verdict Europe will begin to examine issues of tolerance and religious freedom with the same courage," he added.

'Historic decision'

The Vatican too welcomed the decision. Its spokesman Federico Lombardi called it "an important and historic ruling".

The original case was brought by a Finnish-born mother-of-two who said public schools in the Italian town where she lived refused to remove the Roman Catholic symbols from classrooms.

The hanging of crosses in public buildings is not compulsory in Italy but it is customary.

Soile Lautsi had argued that the crucifix violated the secular principles the public schools are supposed to uphold.

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