Heavily Catholic Poland has joined the Vatican in criticizing a European court ruling against the display of crucifixes in Italian schools.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski said his country will never agree to remove crosses from its schools.

The Nov. 3 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights does not require that Poland remove the crosses that hang in most public schools. It could, however, eventually force a review of the use of religious symbols in government-run school across Europe.

The decision touched a nerve in Poland, where religious symbols were banned from public buildings under communist rule but embraced with the return to democracy 20 years ago as an expression of national sovereignty.

During Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday in Warsaw, Kaczynski said that "nobody in Poland will accept the message that you can't hang crosses in schools."

"One shouldn't count on that. Perhaps elsewhere, but never in Poland," said Kaczynski.

Lech Walesa, the pro-democracy dissident and former president — himself a believer who often wears a pin of St. Mary on his lapel — also defended his country's right to display a symbol central to the nation's Christian heritage.

"Minorities must know their place," Walesa said on Thursday during an interview with a TVN24 television station. "We must respect minorities but also protect the rights of the majority."

About 90 percent of Poles are Catholic, and regular church attendance today remains much higher than in more secular Western Europe.

Poles' strong identification with the church goes back centuries but in recent decades has been strengthened by Polish-born Pope John Paul II, who led the church for 27 years until his death in 2005.

The Vatican has also denounced the European court's ruling.