Tortellini-Gate And Contested Crucifixes: Why Are Italians Getting Upset?

The last few weeks have been very rough for the average Italian, as two main attacks were carried out on authentic pillars of their lives: religion and food.

The last few weeks have been very rough for the average Italian, as two main attacks were carried out on authentic pillars of their lives: religion and food

First, the Minister of Education Lorenzo Fioramonti dared to attack religion in the context of schools, stating that “instead of a crucifix, it would be better to see our constitution and a map of the world.” Never has a topic been so divisive. In fact, almost every predecessor of his had to face the controversy over the crucifixes in public places, especially in schools.  

Shortly after the interview, there was a lot of talk, especially from Catholics and the right-wing parties. Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern League, along with Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the national conservative party Brothers of Italy, thundered that “the crucifix is untouchable” and pushed on by saying there should be “one crucifix in every municipal office and school.” They believe that Italy cannot simply give up on its Catholic traditions so easily, especially when immigration puts centuries of religious culture at risk.  

But what is the real picture then? Is there a legal obligation to show the crucifix in every public office?  

Crucifixes in public places: a contested area

Considering the topic, it is worth highlighting that, according to the constitution, the Italian Republic is a secular state, meaning that there is no obligation to follow a religious affiliation. Consequently, the national legal order entirely separates political and religious spheres, so that each power shall not interfere with the other.  

Secularism can be practiced in two different ways. The first brings forward a strict separation between the State and religion, which is confined to the private sphere (like in France, where any obviously religious symbols or clothing are outright banned). The second, on the other hand, defends the religious practice without discriminating against any of them (like in the US where religous practices are not allowed on school grounds but one can wear and eat what they want).  

Italy has opted for the second, in order to guarantee pluralism among all. But why are crucifixes still exhibited as a cultural symbol?  

The situation was handled by the European Court of Human Rights, which in the 2011 Lautsi vs Italy case said that it was legal to display it in schools. While settling the dispute, the Court recapped the historical and legal journey of the crucifix in Italy. From a regulatory perspective, there are two Royal Decrees in 1924 and 1928 that made it obligatory to have crucifixes in schools, and which are still effective. On top of that, from a jurisdictional point of view, all the Administrative Tribunals supported the crucifix, stating that it is worth displaying because of Italy’s cultural roots, which are strongly linked to Christianity. Moreover, the crucifix represents values like “tolerance, human dignity, freedom and therefore secularism,” which are common in both the Italian constitution and Christian principles. 

Once the Court summarized the main points of the issue, the Court followed the Italian tribunals’ attitude, declaring that exposing the crucifix in schools does not affect students’ behavior and education, being a carrier of high moral and constitutional principles. 

Secularism in Italy

While the crucifix’s controversy in schools always inflames the public opinion, another trend concerning secularism is worth analyzing. In fact, one can observe that secularism has had two main phases. The first saw a deep expansion of the principle, coinciding with a critical period for human rights in Italy. In fact, in the 70’s and 80’s many laws concerning divorce, abortion, workers’ rights and religion were taking place, fostering the institutions’ neutrality with respect to religious influences. That phase came to an end after 2000, when immigration started — according to many people’s opinions — to put Italian culture and traditions at risk.  

That’s the crucial point. Nowadays the debate on secularity is no longer pivotal, since immigration has completely stolen the spotlight. Thanks to a ruthless and boorish propaganda, people are so scared that, while in the past they were fighting against atheism, right now they are clashing against any religion different from Catholicism, especially Islam. In that sense, the concern about the neutrality of institutions towards religions has completely disappeared. 


That matter found further confirmation in ‘tortellini–gate’, when the promoting committee of the Bologna patronal feast decided to offer, among the traditional tortellini with pork, some kilograms of the famous pasta with chicken. Later the promoters reported that they made that choice in order to let other people (who, for religious beliefs or other reasons, can not eat pork) to taste them. The tortellini of discord has risen up a little hell out there, as sovereignists like Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni rise up against a few kilograms of pasta made in the name of hospitality.  As usual, an innocent culinary initiative that was not sacrificing traditions was twisted in order to support a hoity-toity political campaign that divides the country on a sensitive topic. 

“Italians lose wars as if they are football matches, and football matches as if they are wars,” said Winston Churchill. Nothing has changed since that day, as it goes without saying that Italians lose their tempers when others touch petty things like tortellini or the crucifix. Hell yes, it is not a problem that the country was risking a V.A.T. increase thanks to the governmental crisis this summer, but don’t you dare touch my tortellini or crucifix!  

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