The European Court of Human Rights ruled Friday that crucifixes are acceptable in public school classrooms, and its decision will be binding in 47 countries.
The ruling overturned a decision the court had reached in November 2009 in which it said the crucifix could be disturbing to non-Christian or atheist pupils. Led by Italy, several European countries appealed that ruling.
The case originated in Italy, and Friday's final verdict was immediately welcomed in Rome. "The popular sentiment in Europe has won today," said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
All 47 countries that are members of the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog, will be required to obey the ruling.
The European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg, France, said Italian public schools did nothing wrong by hanging crucifixes in their classrooms, in a case that divided Europe's traditional Catholic countries and their more secular neighbors.
Friday's final decision by the court's Grand Chamber said it found no evidence "that the display of such a symbol on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils."
The case was brought by Soile Lautsi, a Finnish-born mother who said public schools in her Italian town refused to remove the Roman Catholic symbols from classrooms. She said the crucifix violates the secular principles the public schools are supposed to uphold.