Presentation of UAAR
Presentation of Unione degli Athei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti (UAAR), Italy
(Translated by Lorenzo Lozzi Gallo)
UAAR is a comparatively new organization. It was founded in 1987 and adcquired a legal status in 1991. Before that, Italy had never had any organized atheist / agnostic / freethinker movements.
Even though most of the Italian politicians start their carreer as anti-clerical (for instance Benito Mussolini and, in later years, Umberto Bossi, Italy's answer to Jörg Haider), they soon change their mind after coming to power. Maybe not everybody knows that Mussolini in his first speeches, as a socialists, made schocking declarations such as: "a man with religion is a degraded form of human being". Everybody knows how it ended, with Mussolini giving in to the Catholic Church and making huge concessions, especially (but not only) in the first Concordat, that has since been a model for the Church for the immense power it yelds. Since the fall of the Pope's temporal domain over a large part of Italy, the Catholic Church has been gaining more and more power on the society again. It is recenty history that just a few months ago, a law on artificial insemination was voted by the Parliament, in which it is stated that a hembryo is a citizen from the moment of its conceival and for the first time mentioned homosexual (which means lesbian, of course) couples in the law - to forbid them access to insemination.This law seriously undermines the right to abortion, that in Italy is guaranteed by law within three months of conception, and introduces new elements of anti-homosexual discrimination in one of the largest countries of the EU. Both right- and left-wing MP's voted in favour, so that the law passed with an overwhelming majority, and the only associations to oppose the law were the gay people's associations, the feminists, and UAAR.
Before Berlusconi's government, UAAR's concerns had been mainly in three directions: 1) to guarantee the free right to exit the Catholic Church, 2) to struggle against the presence of crucifixes in public buildings and institutions and 3) to resist attempts to undermine the state schools to fund private, confessional education (nearly all in the hands of the Catholic Church, of course).
1) Until a few years ago, it was impossible to exit the Catholic Church, in fact, because all its statistics of members were based on the registries of baptisms, and the Church had always refused to be cancel people at their request, as it was deemed impossible to "cancel the divine seal of baptism', and 'to intrude in a foreign country's legislation'. Of course, this was only a swindle: what nonbelievers and freetinkers really wanted, was the possibility not to be counted as catholics if they did not feel to be. Anybody will agrre, that an atheist will hardly believe on a such a thing as an invisible seal on his/her equally invisible immortal soul and require the upheaval of a non-existent thing. At last, the Authority for Privacy ruled out that it was impossible to have one's name cancelled from the registry, but that the vicars will have to notate on the registry that the person in question did not belong to the Catholic Church any more, and to give a response in writing, if so requested, that the notation has taken place. This has been done for the past two years, and has produced many interesting effects, with priests refusing hysterically to accept the law and trying to bully people, especially youngsters, by exerting illegitimate pressure on their parents. There have been no processes yet, but it is possible that soon people will start demanding that the law be enforced and the unwilling priests punished.
2) Another point, mainly symbolic, is the presence of crucifixes everywhere in public institutions, paid, of course, with all taxpayers' money. There is no law about crucifixes in public places, there are some directions, though, that have been issued under the Fascism; now it is been questioned whether this directions, issued under a different Constitution, (whose first article was: "Italy is a kingdom, whose official religion is Roman Catholic Christianity") still hold under the new Constitution, where the first article says only: Italy is a country grounded on work. Suvereignity belongs to the people, who exert it in ways stated by the Constitution itself", and whose 3rd article states that there should be no discrimination on grounds of religion. Until now, Institutions have always sustained that "Christianity is an important part of the history of our country, therefore it deserves special protection".
Recently, though, the Constitutional Court has ruled that the law that forbids to exhibit any symbol whatsoever on the occasion of the vote includes the crucifixes. Since this law is largely disattended, there have been many raws between our associates and clerical presidents of electoral seats. This time, UAAR has officially demanded the Ministry of Interior to issue a direction for the next election, but until now no steps have been taken. In the meantime, some of the MP's of the Lega (an extreme right-wing movement, much as Le Pen's Front National or Haider's Republikaner, who is in the government) intend to introduce a new law that will make the crucifixes compulsory everywhere in Italy, even in airports or other structures that had been immune up to now. This project risks to delete all the work that has been done by the UAAR up to now, and it will be extremely important to have a strong disapproving movement outside Italy supporting us in the struggle.
3) At present, confessional education in state schools is guaranteed by the Italian Concordat of 1984. This states that all schools must have religious education, that is de facto compulsory, as there is no available alternives and many teachers threaten children into taking it, so that rates of participation to this apparently voluntary lessons range between 93-96% on a national level. Recently, Berlusconi's government has taken a new step towards clericalisation of state schools: all religion teachers must be approved by the local Bishop. In case they lose this approvation, before they had just been fired. Now, they will have to be absorbed in schools, jumping all graduatories. Thus, it has been reckoned that in a few years nearly 100% of the teachers will be former religion teachers, not necessarily possessing any title (religion teachers are not assumed by graduatory, but under recommendation). Last but not least, Berlusconi's government will now go against our Constitution that states that forbids the State to finance private schools; thus, most of the students will go to private (mostly catholic-owned) schools, that are easier and have better services. UAAR has been lobbying on this theme, but it is extremely difficult to receive support from any party, no matter whether left or right wing. In a country where high Church officials explicitly say "We will only support those that give us some 'gifts'", there is little chance for non-clerical politics. This means, that UAAR is bound to rely on political pressure from the other, more civilized European countries to get relief from a clerical pressure. This will not be a help for Italian atheists and agnostics, but also for the whole European Union, as Italy is one of its largest State-members and has a determinant importance in the European Parliament (as Forza Italia's admission to the 'Popular' group in the Euro-parliament has shown).