MILAN (Christian Examiner) – The tiny town of Pontoglio, Italy, has posted signs at its boundaries making it clear that those who visit the town – whether Italian citizen, tourist, or migrant – should abide by its "western culture and profound Christian traditions" or hit the road.
The sign, as explained by the town's mayor in a letter, is not about worship, but about adhering to the values of tolerance, openness in culture, appreciation for the arts and respect for women, Italy's English-language news site The Local reported.
In the letter, Mayor Alessandro Giuseppe Seghessi said the town was experiencing a "transitory period" where it was compelled to safeguard both the lives and wellbeing of its citizens, as well as its culture. Presumably, the "transitory period" references the waves of immigrants flooding into Europe from North Africa and the Middle East.
"It's our job to ensure that all comply with rules that govern civil life," the mayor said in the letter. His goal, he added, was to keep the people of his town safe and its culture intact.
Already the sign has been criticized by European and U.S. media outlets as anti-Muslim and racist, but the mayor insists the sign is an invitation to "mutual respect." He told the Italian news site Corrier Della Sera that respect for others "is, for us, the first real form of civilization and liberty."
Some, such as the Italian Association for Legal Studies on Immigration, have promised that if the mayor will not take the sign down, they will sue to have it removed, even though it was placed with the consent of the local city council. The town's priest also opposes the sign.
"By closing the doors to our brothers and sisters, we cannot be followers of Jesus; the gospel comes from God and speaks only of welcome. The true Christian is the bearer of Jesus, not of culture and traditions," parish priest Don Angelo Mosca told Corrier Della Sera.
Laura Castelletti, deputy mayor of Brescia, a larger city near where Pontoglio is located in Lombardy, also criticized the placement of the sign. She said Italy is a "secular state."
"I was also convinced that there was no state religion in Italy," Castelleti said.
Paolo Bocchi, a local councilman, said there was "nothing racist" about the sign and the controversy over it is about "interpretations being made."
"This is purely information about our history, our tradition. I challenge anyone to say that Pontoglio's story is any different," Bocchi told The Local.
In spite of his words, however, The Local reports that northern Italy, which includes the region of Lombardy between Venice and Milan, has strongly opposed the resettlement of immigrants there. That much is evident by the more than 700 comments left on the Pontoglio's Facebook page.
Some have posted comments critical of the sign, but others have claimed it is a wise course of action to avoid being "trampled under the feet" of illegal aliens. Another posted a statement that if trumpeting western and Christian values in order to protect Italy is racist, then he is racist as well.
According to The Local, Pontoglio officials have also posted signs about the town council's view on "gender ideology" in the past. On those signs, the town disapproved of the move to blur the lines of gender.