eurel     Données sociologiques et juridiques sur la religion en Europe et au-delà


  • June 2017 : Reform of the law of religious freedom in Spain : an ongoing and never-ending debate

The update of the 1980 organic law of religious freedom has been an ongoing discussion in Spain over the last decade. Attempts to reform the law have taken place at different moments in time, not one of them, though, leading to any actual modifications. The modification of such a law is particularly difficult because it is an organic law, which requires the vote of the absolute majority of the parliament to be modified.

At the end of 2010, the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero had already disregarded the idea of reforming the text that had been discussed in the months before. The lack of political consensus made the government discard the possibility of generating an updated version of the law. Some of the changes that were considered and debated within the Socialist Party itself were to remove religious symbols from public buildings and the elimination of state funerals (see article in El País).

In 2015, Podemos, the newly created political party lead by Pablo Iglesias, included the passing of a new law on “Freedom of consciousness” in its electoral programme. According to this programme, the new law would grant the secular character of the state (“la laicidad del Estado”) and its neutrality towards all religious confessions. The programme also included the elimination of the Concordat Agreement with the Holy See and the 1992 Cooperation Agreements with the Muslim, Protestant and Jewish federations, among other measures.

In June 2017, the Catalan Republican party ERC brought up once more the debate in the congress. ERC reminded the Socialist Party (PSOE) its promise to change the current law in 2010. Similarly to some of the changes proposed by Podemos, ERC suggested the removal of religious symbols from public schools and buildings, the transformation of state religious funerals into secular ones, and the elimination of tax exemptions for religious groups, among others (see article in El Periódico).

To date, no changes have been made to the 1980 organic law of religious freedom and the current fragmented composition of the parliament does not seem to provide the consensus needed for such a modification.

See also "13 June 2010: Law on religious freedom".

  • April 2017 : Half-mast flag during Easter

On April 2017, an internal order from the Spanish Ministry of Defence stated that “the national flag shall be flown half-mast in all units, bases, centres and barracks from 2pm on Holy Thursday until 00:01 of Resurrection Sunday”. This included the building of the Ministry itself. This measure, at the edge of the 684/2010 royal decree regulating the use of the half-mast, was already justified by the Ministry of Defense both in 2013 and 2014 alluding to the respect to the freedom of religion and the existence of secular traditions of the army that do not clash with the law. For example, in a response to a parliamentary inquire by the Socialist Party in 2014, the PP government affirmed that “The half-mast flying of the national flag at certain dates is part of the secular tradition of the armies and is integrated into the normality of the acts of internal regime that are celebrated in the military units” (El País, 15.04.2017, referring to Granada Hoy, 29.07.2014). Drawing on a judgement from the Constitutional Court, the government added that “When a religious tradition is integrated into the social fabric of a particular group, it cannot be maintained that, through it, public authorities intend to transmit support or adherence to religious postulates".

The measure has sparked debate on the illegal character of the use of a national symbol as a sign of mourning and commemoration of the death of Jesus-Christ during the celebrations of Easter. The main party in the opposition, the Socialist Party, has asked the Minister of Defence to account for the decision (see more in El Paìs and El Diario).

  • February 2017 : Local Plan to Fight against Islamophobia

The government of the region of Barcelona launched in December 2016 a local plan to fight against islamophobia. The plan, awarded 55.000€ for 2017 and 47.000€ for 2018, aims at fighting against hate speech and hate crimes, and at granting social cohesion and human rights. The plan is oriented by a human rights and intercultural perspectives and was drafted after a participatory process involving experts on Islam, human rights associations and the local Muslim organisations.

This policy tool is part of larger strategy called “Barcelona, City of Rights” that aims at promoting diversity, and ensuring equal access to human rights recognised and granted in the city. The plan is hosted under the Direction of Citizens’ Rights and Immigration of the municipality. Its three main objectives are : 1) to render islamophobia visible as a form of discrimination ; 2) to counteract the generalisation of negative images about Islam and Muslim people and to normalise the religious diversity within the city ; and, 3) to strengthen the existing mechanisms to fight against the discrimination of Muslims. These objectives are translated into concrete actions, such as sensibilisation campaigns, creation of a protocol to mediate in the process of opening of places of worship, creation of an education program on hate crime discrimination for schools, promotion of religious diversity in mass media.

  • January 2017 : The Protestant Churches in Spain will not get funding through the tax declaration

The Spanish Supreme court has ruled against the Spanish Federation of Evangelical Entities (Federación de Entidades Evangélicas de España, FEREDE), who had claimed for equal treatment in raising taxes. The Federation had asked the Ministry of Finance to include a checkbox in the income tax form, where tax-payers could indicate their will to give 0,7% of their contribution to the Protestant Churches, in the same way as it is done for the Catholic Church. The court considers that the negative response of the Ministry of Finance does not violate the fundamental rights of Protestants. The Ministry argues that the special situation of the Catholic Church stems from the agreements with the Holy See.

The Federation argues that this situation violates the right to religious freedom and the right to equal treatment in front of the law. The representative body of the Protestant Churches in Spain will appeal in front of the Spanish Constitutional court. If this court turns down the appeal, the Federation will sue the Spanish court in front of the European Court of Human Rights.

D 15 septembre 2017    AJulia Martínez-Ariño

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