The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has backed Italy in favour of the display of crucifixes in public schools.

The court ruled after an appeal hearing that displaying crucifixes in schools in Italy did not breach the rights of non-Catholic families.

In its ruling, the court said that "while the crucifix was above all a religious symbol, there was no evidence before the court that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils".

The first court had said in 2009 that displaying crucifixes in state schools breached religious freedoms enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

The first decision by the European Court of Human Rights had been a victory for Soile Lautsi, a non-Catholic mother who complained that her children, aged 11 and 13, were exposed to crucifixes in classrooms at their school in Northern Italy.

Italy was ordered to pay the mother £4,500 in damages, but Rome decided to appeal to the Court's 17-judge Grand Chamber which overturned the verdict today.

Malta had joined Italy in the appeal.

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