Italian Region Bans New Mosques, National Government Demands Repeal

Rome Mosque AFP

The autonomous regional government of Lombardy is having its decision to effectively ban mosques from being built in its territory challenged by the national government, which has asserted the tough new rules on places of worship are unconstitutional.

Lombardy, which is ruled by a right-wing coalition led by Lega Nord, a party which objects to the European Union and mass immigration, passed the new law earlier this year. Although building new mosques has not been banned outright, the rules now state any religion that is not officially recognised by the Italian state must jump through certain loopholes, including restrictions on outward appearance and property size before they can start building. If a new mosque is to be built, it can also be the subject of a local referendum.

At present, Islam is the only major religion not officially recognised by Italy.

Because the law has a major effect on Islam, and the requirement that new religious buildings be in keeping with local architectural heritage would effectively rule out traditionally styled minarets altogether, some have complained that the rules are discriminatory and should be stopped. Italy’s centre-left government has stepped in, and has said it will submit the rules to the constitutional court in Rome.

The constitutional court will deliberate over whether the move infringes the right to freedom of religion, or whether the Lombardians have exceeded their own remit for lawmaking, reports

The restriction of mosque building in Italy is a long standing interest of the Lega Nord, or Northern Legion party, which has been making significant progress in the polls in recent years. The construction of a new mosque in Milan, the capital of Lombardy was protested by a senior member of the party in 2005 by calling for a ‘National Pig Day’, where residents would bring pigs to the proposed land for the mosque and encourage them to play on it.

Senator Roberto Calderoli of Lega Nord said at the time: “I am making myself and my pig available for a walk at the site where they want to build the mosque… [I will eat] a nice plateful of pork chops to show my lack of sympathy for those who consider pork forbidden meat”. A severed pigs head, left on the site of a future mosque or Islamic school is becoming common in some European countries, including Italy, as local residents take matters into their own hands.