An old acquaintance of mine opined upon the religious news of Switzerland and Italy (along side the Tiger Woods and other headlines). Maybe you missed it. In Switzerland the majority of people voted to put in place a ban on the construction of minarets (not a dance but the distinctive architectural feature of Islamic houses of worship, the prayer tower of a mosque from which the calls to prayer are issued). It is not that Switzerland was in danger of being overrun by them -- only four existed and they are grandfathered in. But some 57% of the voters agreed to enact the ban which has the force of law. It was opposed by religious groups, political parties, and businesses but this opposition could not stem the growing Islamification of Europe and its fear drove the decisive vote.
In Italy we had a reaction to the European Court of Human Rights which ruled that crucifixes be removed from the classrooms of Italian public schools (yes, that reads public, not Roman Catholic schools, and perhaps a consternation to Americans in which Christmas is the word that dare not be mentioned in most public schools). Fr. Wilken reports that in response hundreds of mayors in Italy passed town ordinances requiring that every classroom display a crucifix. Even in red Tuscany, a historic communist region, the mayors have been sending Carabinieri (the national gendarmerie of Italy, policing both the military and civilian populations; a branch of the armed forces) to the schools to check that every classroom has its crucifix. In one case when a high school teacher tried to remove a crucifix his students revolted, and when the headmaster heard what the teacher had done he suspended him for ten days without pay.
Well.... what are we to make of this all? The first thing we need to do is to view this from outside the lens of American church and state separation and the battles within our own culture. Europe is different. It is distinctly more secular in practice of Christianity but distinctly more Christian in its cultural viewpoint. In other words, Christianity is thoroughly embedded in the culture and history and music and identity of Europe -- whether or not those specific Europeans might be classified as believers. Europe refuses to allow this intertwining of history, culture, and identity to simply disappear or be discarded. Hence the vote in Switzerland and the placing of the crucifix in Italy. In America we have many more actual believing and practicing Christians, but we have a political correctness movement which is determined to remove Christianity from the history, culture, music, and identity of America. Check out the textbooks on schools and how they treat both world and American history -- it is ever so weak on the impact or relation of Christianity to the events being reported. In addition, it is ever so respectful of those movements (Islam among them) which have contributed little historically but which have a more current impact upon American political and cultural identity.
Robert Louis Wilken wisely concludes: The issue is not human rights or religious freedom, but respect for cultural traditions and fealty to those who have gone before. There is no reason to think that prohibiting the erection of minarets in Swiss cities will jeopardize the rights of Muslims to practice their religion. But if a society loses all memory of its Christian traditions, there is a real question whether those things that make western civilization unique, e.g. human rights, freedom of religion, will endure.
As Wilken states, the absence of a minaret does not preclude the practice of Islam in Switzerland. But the removal of the church steeple out of concern for diversity or plurality or secularism will deprive our culture and values from some of those things we hold dearest.
There is no culture of tolerance, no unequivocal stance for human rights, no insistence upon freedom of religion -- apart from the Christian heritage. If these things endure in Europe, in America, or in the world, it will not happen through Islam. Only by keeping touch with Christian history, culture, music, and identity and its interconnectedness to American, European, and world history, culture, music, and identity, will these values endure. So hats off to the Swiss and Italians for their refusal to remove this Christian identity from the radar screen.