Veils, Crucifixes, and the Public Sphere: What Kind of Secularism? Rethinking Neutrality in a Post-Secular Europe

Journal of Intercultural Studies 35 (4):385-402 (2014)
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The Lautsi case in Italy attracted widespread attention in Europe and beyond. Though the issue under contention was a Christian symbol, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgements showed changes in assessment both about religion (in contrast with former cases regarding Muslim veils) and secularism (which did not have the same meaning for everyone). In light of those rulings, this paper reflects on the concepts of neutrality and secularism and their normative implications for European citizens in terms of belonging, solidarity and cohesion. An open and plural public sphere, in which intercultural exchange can flourish, is crucial if Europe is serious about the integration of its immigrants, many of whom possess a Muslim background. A ‘post-secular’ Europe may have to reconsider long-held stereotypes about religion and nuance its self-understanding as ‘secular’, in a way that religious citizens can identify with Europe too. The discussion will draw on the ideas of Taylor, Casanova, Habermas, Weiler and Beck to illustrate some of the political, ethical and theoretical complexities of the Lautsi case, specifically issues to do with neutrality, secularism and the role of religion in the public sphere.
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