SENIOR FIGURES in the Catholic Church have condemned a Ministry of Education directive that withdraws crucifixes from schools, charging that the cultural basis of the Portuguese people is being undermined.
The President of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, D. Jorge Ortiga, said he did not understand the reasons behind such a determination to remove religious symbols. In the north of Portugal, where religious traditions are particularly rich, the move was strongly denounced.
Father Abílio Pereira from S. Vicente do Bico, Amares (near Braga), stressed that the Christian symbol does not exclude or disrespect other faiths. “Will Christmas parties and biblical displays also be banned?” he asked. The president of the Families’ Associations, Carlos Aguiar, also voiced his opposition. “The withdrawal of Christian symbols by political decree is an affront to citizens’ values,” he said.
The Education Ministry claimed they were only abiding by the Portuguese Constitution, which declares that the State must not direct education and culture according to any philosophical, aesthetic, political, ideological or religious bias.
Left-wing presidential candidates Francisco Louçã and Manuel Alegre also supported the decision. Louçã, the leader of the Bloco de Esquerda, declared that the withdrawal of crucifixes should have happened immediately after April 25, 1974.
Last year, a law was passed in France banning the display of religious symbols in state schools. Included in the ban were symbols of all religious denominations, including Muslim veils or scarves, the Jewish Star of David and the crucifix.