17 July 2013 : the burka ban in Catalonia
On July 17th, the Catalan Parliament passed a motion urging the Catalan Government to regulate the covering of the face in public spaces. The motion was promoted by CiU (Convergència i Unió), the political party currently governing the region. It was also supported by the PP (Popular Party), the PSC (Catalan Socialist Party) and C’s (Citizens Party). The remaining parties voted against it : ICV-EUiA (Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds – Esquerra Unida i Alternativa) and CUP (Candidatures d’Unitat Popular), or abstained from voting : ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya). The arguments used to defend this motion were phrased using security concerns, not religious terms.
Many actors, beyond the political parties, have taken part in this debate. Ten associations, among them Amnesty International Catalonia, SOS Racism Catalonia or the Association of Muslim Women of Catalonia, signed a manifesto rejecting the motion two days after it was passed.
The debate on banning the use of the burka and the niqab is not new in Catalonia. In October 2010 the City Council of Lleida (Catalonia) passed a motion adding the ban of the full veil in public municipal facilities to the Civic Regulation of 2007. Other cities, such as Barcelona and Tarragona, also banned the same year the use of burka in public facilities. However, although Catalonia has been the most active region in banning the burka, the issue has also come to the fore of national politics and other cities like Sa Pobla (Balearic Islands), Galapagar (Madrid) or Coín (Andalusia) have banned it as well. Moreover, in 2010, the socialist Spanish Minister of Equality claimed the need of a general regulation of the use of the full veil in Spain. The Popular Party also presented a motion in the Spanish Senate to ban the use of burka in the national law. These policies do not however seem easy to apply. In the case of Lleida, the Catalan Justice Supreme Court supported this measure in June 2011, but it was later annulled by the Spanish Supreme Court in February 2013.
May 2013 : Religion in public schools
The subject of religion in public schools has always raised lively discussions in Spain and has been one of the dividing lines between the right and the left.
The last reform project of the Spanish education system (LOMCE), approved by the Council of Ministers the 17th of May 2013 to be discussed in the Congress (and presumably passed with the absolute majority of the right-wing Popular Party), grants more presence in schools to the subject of religion. The subject of Citizenship and Human Rights Education, introduced in 2006 by the Socialist Government, will disappear. Instead, students will have to take confessional religious lessons or the alternative subject called “Cultural and Social Values” in primary education and “Ethic values” in secondary education. Moreover, the grades obtained in the subject of religion will again count for the average marks of students, as they did until 1990. The reform also maintains the public funding for private sex-segregated schools, a controversial issue which is currently in the public debate and which has been taken to court in several Spanish regions.
The reform is being highly contested (for different reasons) not only by the political parties in the opposition (PSOE, IU, UPyD, among others), but also by a great part of the educational community et le State Council. This last organ criticizes the teaching of “cultural” values and demands the inclusion of an education to citizenship as a mandatory subject in the curricula. It also questions the public funding of sex-segregated schools, in line with the decisions of the Spanish Supreme Court. The State Council states that the new status given to the confessional subject of religious education means a step back from the current situation.