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2020

December 2020: Euthanasia rendered legal in Spain
On 17th December 2020, the Spanish Parliament passed a law authorising euthanasia with 198 votes in favour, 138 against and 2 abstentions. The (...)

  • December 2020: Euthanasia rendered legal in Spain

On 17th December 2020, the Spanish Parliament passed a law authorising euthanasia with 198 votes in favour, 138 against and 2 abstentions. The 138 votes against the law belong to two right-wing parties (Partido Popular and Unión del Pueblo Navarro) and one extreme-right party (VOX).

Despite this political opposition, data show a wide support to the law amongst the population. According to a survey conducted by Metroscopia in 2019, 87% of the Spanish population is in favour of the regulation of euthanasia. Interestingly, 59% of those who self-identify as practicing Catholics, 86% as little practicing Catholics and 91% of non-practicing Catholics are also in favour of it. 73% of members from other religions support it as well as 97% of those who self-identify as non-believer/atheist/agnostic.

The public and political debate around the legalization of euthanasia has lasted many years in Spain and has always counted on the vocal position of the Catholic Church against the regulation of this right. Several groups, including a number of pro-life Catholic movements, submitted a petition to the Parliament to stop the law regulating euthanasia and to replace it by one on palliative care.

  • July 2020: Religion, COVID and state secularism

The COVID-19 pandemic has left more than 63,000 dead behind according to data from the Johns Hopkins University. Like for other human tragedies, such as terrorist attacks, the Spanish state commemorated the lives of those gone in a public ceremony. The event, which took place on July 16, 2020, was the first of its kind. For the first time, the state organized a non-religious and a-confessional celebration, where representatives of various religious groups were invited alongside European and state authorities, political leaders, health professionals and families, to participate but not lead the celebration. The gesture was perceived as a change in the historical approach to such kind of events, where religion, and in particular the Catholic Church, has always had a prominent position. Laicist groups, such as Europa Laica, celebrated the change in the orientation of the event.

D 10 February 2021    AJulia Martínez-Ariño

2019

January 2019: Spain’s stolen babies
In June 2018, the first trial concerning the “stolen babies” case took place in Spain. The “stolen babies” is the name given to a set of crimes which occurred in (...)

  • January 2019: Spain’s stolen babies

In June 2018, the first trial concerning the “stolen babies” case took place in Spain. The “stolen babies” is the name given to a set of crimes which occurred in Spain during the Franco regime (and which continued after the dictator died). Newborn babies of families who opposed the regime, or of single mothers, were removed from their parents after their birth in hospital, and given to Catholic families who supported the regime and could not have children. Among those suspect of steeling the babies were gynecologists, one of them found guilty but absolved because the status of limitation applied, and members of the clergy, in particular a Catholic nun, who died in 2013, four days after she was called to a hearing with a judge.

The first cases were brought to light in 2011 by Anadir, the National Association of Victims of Irregular Adoption. Since then, many persons have started procedures to find their biological parents, most of them unsuccessful. Estimations made by this association indicate that around 300000 babies were taken from their biological parents between 1940 and 1990.

The issue has caused much controversy since the first cases were made public. The fact that members of the clergy had been involved in the disappearance of babies, and that most of the crimes had expired at the time they reached the courts, generated an even greater discomfort.

D 21 January 2019    AJulia Martínez-Ariño

2018

September 2018: Freedom of expression, blasphemy, and offense to religious feelings in Spain
A highly politicised debate related to religion is taking place in Spain nowadays. Police recently (...)

  • September 2018: Freedom of expression, blasphemy, and offense to religious feelings in Spain

A highly politicised debate related to religion is taking place in Spain nowadays. Police recently arrested a well-known Spanish actor because he refused to attend a court hearing, after the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers reported that he had committed a crime of offense to religious feelings. In 2017, he had posted comments on his social media accounts “insulting the Virgin and God”, which this association deems to be violating article 525 of the Spanish penal code. The court admitted the case, and the actor is accused of a crime against religious feelings. Although the specific crime of blasphemy had been erased from the Spanish legal system in 1988, the crime of derision is still included in that article of the penal code of 1995. Supporters of the actor and his political opinions argue that he will be judged for blasphemy as a remnant of the Francoist dictatorship, something they deem unacceptable in a modern democracy.

While this is not a new debate in Spain, it has recently gained relevance. Several cases related to offenses to religious feelings have appeared since 2012. Other cases related to “freedom of expression”, not linked to religious issues, have also generated heated debates and concerns have been raised, among others by Amnesty International, about the restriction of individual freedoms more generally.

  • April 2018: Half-mast flag during Easter again

As it already happened last year, a controversy has been generated over the decision to fly the national flag at half-mast in all buildings of the Spanish Ministry of Justice during Easter celebrations, to commemorate the death of Jesus-Christ.
Even though this decision was highly criticised last year by parties in the opposition and some sectors of the public opinion, the Minister of Defence decided to proceed in a similar way this year (see The Guardian).
The debate is about the religious or secular nature of the decision and the incompatibility with the neutral character of the secular state.

D 30 April 2018    AJulia Martínez-Ariño

2017

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 (...)

  • 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 September 2017    AJulia Martínez-Ariño

2016

Debate after sexual abuses in a Catholic faith-based school
Recent complaints to the police on sexual abuses committed by teachers in a Catholic faith-based school in Barcelona have sparked (...)

Debate after sexual abuses in a Catholic faith-based school

Recent complaints to the police on sexual abuses committed by teachers in a Catholic faith-based school in Barcelona have sparked debates about the implication and lack of reaction of the Catholic Church in such matters. The situation, that has taken place in the school some years ago, has also generated speculation: are such cases isolated, or are they just the tip of the iceberg?

The “no-news” period

Spain has undergone a period of governmental exceptionality over the last months. The lack of government for almost one year (from December 2015 until October 2016) has meant the paralysis of any political and legal discussion about religious issues in the country. With the new minority government, the conditions change from past situations in which the government enjoyed absolute majority. The need to negotiate with different political parties will most probably have implications in the political life of the country in general, and can also have concrete consequences in terms of the policies and politics of religion.

D 7 April 2016    AJulia Martínez-Ariño

2015

February 2015: The Catholic education curriculum in Spanish schools
In most Western countries, religious education is a battlefield between the religious and the secular. In the case of Spain, (...)

February 2015: The Catholic education curriculum in Spanish schools

In most Western countries, religious education is a battlefield between the religious and the secular. In the case of Spain, the presence of religious education in the curriculum of public schools raises great controversies and is the cornerstone of the debates between secularists and those who claim a greater presence of religion in the public sphere.

The passing of the new curriculum for Catholic religious education in primary and secondary education in Spain in February 2015 is generating heated debates. The most controversial issues are related to the incorporation of creationist references, as well as the incorporation of praying skills to the evaluation criteria. Scientists, philosophers, and other intellectuals have criticised the new curriculum for being dogmatic and denying some of the well-accepted scientific premises about the origin of the cosmos. Other criticisms revolve around the central role that the Catholic Church plays in designing the curriculum and appointing the religion teachers who are paid through the state budget.

Moreover, opponents to the existence of such a confessional subject also denounce the choice system as inappropriate. Students have to choose between two alternatives: Religious Education and Social Values. For the opponents to this system, all students should be exposed to what in the past existed as “Citizenship Education”.

D 2 April 2015    AJulia Martínez-Ariño

2014

November 2014: Sexual abuse in Granada
Currently, Spain is witnessing a strong and vivid controversy about pedophilia within the Catholic Church. In 2014, a 24-year old teacher from a Catholic (...)

  • November 2014: Sexual abuse in Granada

Currently, Spain is witnessing a strong and vivid controversy about pedophilia within the Catholic Church. In 2014, a 24-year old teacher from a Catholic school in the North of Spain, victim of sexual abuses committed over more than 4 years by priests while he was studying in a Catholic school in Granada (Andalusia), sent a letter to the Pope explaining his case. The Pope contacted him directly by telephone in August and asked him to apologize the whole Church of Christ for the pain he suffered. He also told him that the Vatican had taken action to fight the situation and contacted the diocese to ask for collaboration with the investigation. The Pope also encouraged him to bring the case to the regular judicial system.

Now the case is under police and court investigation. 12 people, among which laypersons and priests, are been investigated. 10 priests have been removed from their duties. 4 people have been arrested so far and the Archdiocese is collaborating by providing the names of potential witnesses. Since the case has become public, the Archdiocese of Granada is investigating four more files, which have also been sent to the Vatican.

The case is very recent but is increasingly present in the media. The public debate about pedophilia within the Catholic Church is not as widespread in Spain as it can be in other countries. However, other issues had already put the Catholic Church under the spotlights in the last years: the collaboration of nuns with the stealing of babies during the Franco regime, or the pressures on the Government concerning the law on abortion. This new question thus contributes in putting the Catholic Church and its hierarchy at the center of the attention.

  • March 2014: The discovery of the Spanish medieval past

The medieval Jewish past of some Spanish villages and cities is increasingly the focus of public and political attention. Local governments have discovered the economic potential of their Jewish ‘heritage’, and are thus increasingly promoting it for touristic purposes. Two initiatives stand out in the touristification of the Jewish past in Spain: the Red de Juderías de EspañaCaminos de Sefarad and the Xarxa de Calls de Catalunya (officially approved by the Catalan Government in 2013). These two networks bring together most of the Spanish and Catalan cities that have a medieval Jewish neighborhood, in order to promote them as touristic destinations.

This tourism to Jewish sites, such as old cemeteries, the juderías or calls (Jewish neighborhoods), is addressed not only to local and national tourists, but increasingly to international tourists, particularly those coming from Israel. In the last years, some regional and local governments in Spain have signed agreements to foster the tourism from that country. Moreover, new travel agencies, shops, and restaurants that offer services concerning the Jewish heritage have been created recently, particularly in Barcelona.

D 14 November 2014    AJulia Martínez-Ariño

2013

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 (...)

- 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.

D 14 August 2013    AJulia Martínez-Ariño

2012

March 2012 : The debate on the abortion law
In early March, the Rajoy government announced a reform of the abortion law, the preliminary draft of which was to be presented in the autumn. Up (...)

  • March 2012 : The debate on the abortion law

In early March, the Rajoy government announced a reform of the abortion law, the preliminary draft of which was to be presented in the autumn. Up until the reform initiated by the Zapatero government in July 2010 (Ley de Salud Sexual y Reproductiva 2010), abortion - considered a crime - was permitted only in three situations: rape (within 12 weeks), malformation of the foetus (within 22 weeks) and serious risk to the physical or mental health of the mother (no time limit). The 2010 reform maintained only one time requirement. The current plan aims to reintroduce the need to specify the reasons, so as to protect the rights of unborn children (no nacido); it is regarded by the opposition as a step backwards for women’s rights.

  • 6 April 2012 : The teaching of Protestantism in Andalusia

Andalusia, Spain’s second region in terms of demographic importance, has been an autonomous region since 1981 (and since 2007 endowed with a new status). On 6 April 2012, an article published in the newspaper El Mundo states that the teaching of the Protestant religion will be compulsorily offered in Andalusian schools during the first and second cycles from 2012-2013, following an agreement signed between the Ministry of Education and the Consejo Evangélico Autonómico de Andalucía (Autonomous Protestant Council of Andalusia). The agreement aims to restore balance and equality of treatment (“normalizar y equiparar”) between Protestantism and other religions, in the words of Luciano Gomez, President of the Autonomous Council of Andalusia.

According to the organic law on education and the royal decree of June 2007, teachers of this subject who are not public servants will receive a contract of employment under ordinary law. It however remains that, according to the Evangelical Council, there are currently not enough teachers to meet the demand that this decision will certainly create.

D 14 September 2012    AClaude Proeschel

2011

17 May 2011 : Draft bill on palliative care and dying with dignity
The Council of Ministers approved on 17 May 2011 a draft bill on palliative care and dying with dignity, which should clarify (...)

  • 17 May 2011 : Draft bill on palliative care and dying with dignity

The Council of Ministers approved on 17 May 2011 a draft bill on palliative care and dying with dignity, which should clarify the rights of terminally ill patients and the obligations of care staff. The law will enshrine the right "to die with dignity, that is to say without pain, when medical science allows". The legislation also recognises the patient’s right to receive the spiritual assistance (s)he desires. The government thereby hopes to make national legislation conform with the existing norm in Andalusia, to ensure equal rights and treatment throughout the territory. Even though most of the rights mentioned had already been implemented by the law on the autonomy of the patient in 2002, several cases had shown the limits of their application.
This law will not however regulate euthanasia or assisted suicide, which remain criminal acts. Although the PSOE had included in its election manifesto of 2004 the creation of a parliamentary committee on this subject, the relevant debate did not take place and no action will therefore be taken until the end of Mr Zapatero’s current term of office in 2012.
NB: The draft makes no mention of any possibility for conscientious objection by health care workers, since the intended acts are considered part of good medical practice and to belong to the indisputable rights of the patient.

D 9 June 2011    AClaude Proeschel

2010

November 2010 : Course on "Islam y principios democráticos"
Since 2009 the Department of Ecclesiastical Law (Departamento de derecho eclesiástico del Estado) at the National University for (...)

  • November 2010 : Course on "Islam y principios democráticos"

Since 2009 the Department of Ecclesiastical Law (Departamento de derecho eclesiástico del Estado) at the National University for Distance Learning (Universidad nacional de educación a distancia), has, in conjunction with the Fondation Pluralismo y Convivencia, been running a course entitled "Islam and Democratic Principles".
Its objective is to "depict the status of Islam within open, diverse, democratic, Spanish society and set the social, political, legal and cultural context in which the Muslim faith, its members and spiritual leaders carry on their activities". Its objective is to "depict the status of Islam within open, diverse, democratic, Spanish society and set the social, political, legal and cultural context in which the Muslim faith, its members and spiritual leaders carry on their activities". This course is aimed, on the one hand, at ministers of the Muslim faith (sic), on the other, at all people or groups who wish to acquire more precise knowledge, whether intellectual or practical, in the field. The course is financed by the students’ tuition fees. The Foundation Pluralismo y Convivencia, in turn, provides scholarships covering course fees for imams and leaders of the Muslim communities who figure in the Registry of Religious Entities held at the Ministry of Justice (Registro de entidades religiosas del Ministerio de Justicia). In 2009, 42 people received a scholarship, in 2010, 65, spread over three locations (Madrid, Tarrasca and Valencia).
A second cycle entitled "Socio-legal aspects of Islam" began in November 2010.

  • 13 June 2010 : Law on religious freedom

After several municipalities (Lleida, Tarragona, Barcelona...) banned the wearing of the niqab or the burqa in "municipal spaces", the debate has shifted to national level.
The town of Lleida was the first to restrict "use of the full veil or other clothing that covers the face completely and prevents identification and eye contact, in buildings, outbuildings and municipal facilities". These, said Mayor Àngel Ros, are spaces of convivencia and social dialogue, incompatible with the wearing of such clothing, which furthermore contradicts the principle of equality. He expressed his desire to deliver a clear message of commitment to gender equality, while reaffirming that integration entails respect for religions and cultural identities. The local government had taken the advice of its legal department on a possible blanket ban in any public place, but the latter said it lacked the jurisdiction to pronounce a blanket, indiscriminate ban on wearing the niqab or any items of clothing that prevented identification, as this was also part of exercising individual freedom.

The prospect of a debate on the future law on religious freedom - which is to replace the 1980 law on religious freedom - has provided several government members with an opportunity to mention the possibility, through this legislation, of national regulation, as requested by several municipalities.
The Justice Minister, Francisco Caamaño, has therefore announced that the future law, which is due to be discussed in the autumn, will address the issue of wearing visible signs of religious affiliation in public areas (espacios públicos). If, according to him, no action should be taken with regard to the hijab, three reasons prove however necessary, according to him, to legislate at national level on the wearing of the burqa: security; preserving the dignity of women; and preventing a repeat of the disorder generated by the specific measures adopted by various municipalities.
It should be noted, however, that this view is not shared by the entire government, with some considering that the current legislation is adequate to protect the dignity of women, while others fear that such measures will confine some women to their homes.

For further information, see the article in El Pais on drafting the new law on religious freedom.

D 2 December 2010    AClaude Proeschel

2009

September 2009 : The towns of Ceuta and Melilla include a Muslim festival in the calendar
In September 2009, town councils in Ceuta and Melilla approved a proposal by Muslim religious (...)

  • September 2009 : The towns of Ceuta and Melilla include a Muslim festival in the calendar

In September 2009, town councils in Ceuta and Melilla approved a proposal by Muslim religious representatives to add a Muslim festival to the calendar of public holidays: Eid al-Adha or Feast of Sacrifice is to be celebrated on 17 November. No non-Christian religious festival had been celebrated in Spain for over five centuries. This celebration marks a recognition of the socio-religious reality of these two towns, where more than half the population is of Muslim faith. It will also help anchor religious diversity in people’s daily lives.

  • 30 August 2009 : The Spanish government is preparing a new law on religious freedom

The Spanish government plans to reform the Ley Orgánica de Libertad Religiosa (Organic Law on Freedom of Religion) by the end of the current parliament in 2012. In December 2008, the Council of Ministers approved it in principle, included within a larger piece of legislation on human rights, the Plan de Derechos Humanos. The announcement of this project has provoked reactions from both the Spanish Catholic hierarchy and those in favour of reinforcing secularity and the non-confessional state. The former considered that "when one claims to make all religions equal, as if they all had the same meaning and same weight historically and socially in the construction of a people, this could obviously only be an egalitarian, falsely democratic, lie". According to them, true respect for religious freedom should allow "the religious faith not to be reduced simply to freedom for all subjective beliefs, but to permeate all aspects of life". (La Razón, 30 August 2009, "La nueva Ley de Libertad Religiosa va dirigida contra los cristianos").
In turn, lay associations (Propuesta de Europa Laica para una proposición de Ley Orgánica de Libertad Religiosa) require of the government that the new legislation responds "to the social and political reality of a democratic and secular state", while the current law grants "countless privileges to the Spanish Catholic Church, which in fact convert the state into a confessional state", discrediting and discriminating against the other convictions.

  • 15 July 2009 : Law on places of worship in Catalonia

On 15 July 2009 the Parliament of Catalonia approved a law on places of worship (Ley de los centros de culto de Cataluña, 16/2009, 22 julio). It aims to fill the existing legal vacuum in this area and the resulting disparity of criteria for obtaining authorisations among the various municipalities. The law "aims to facilitate exercising freedom of worship, provide assistance to mayors in their efforts to facilitate exercising this right and ensure the hygiene and dignity of places of worship. It also aims to avoid any inconvenience being caused to third parties. The law itself will avoid creating problems for places of worship already in operation and which are not causing any problems." Among the measures planned are the obligation for municipalities to provide suitable land and the establishment of a municipal licence to open and use places of worship which will ensure compliance with hygiene and security requirements.
This law, a pioneer in the matter in Spain, has been greeted with optimism by the different religious groups who, in general, have highlighted its positive aspects. Some criticisms have, however, been expressed. One can mention in particular the implications of the retroactive nature of the law, the lack of precision about the new technical requirements that places of worship must comply with and the possibility of misuse or abuse of the law by municipalities tainted by religious intolerance, prejudice or racist attitudes. Some groups also question the constitutionality of a law that could weaken the scope of article 16-1 of the Spanish Constitution: "Freedom of ideology, religion and faith for individuals and communities is guaranteed without other limitations than those necessary to maintain public order protected by the law."

  • January 2009 : Citizenship and Human Rights Education

The Chamber for Contentious Proceedings at the Supreme Court decided in late January 2009 by 22 votes to 7 that there could be no right of "conscientious objection" to the teaching of ciudadanía (citizenship), arguing that it did not go against the right of parents allowing their children to receive the religious and moral education they desired. This decision confirms the compulsory nature of this education and enables a sole principle to be used to counter the hundreds of judgements already pronounced and about to be pronounced by the courts of autonomous communities, which sometimes adopted divergent attitudes.
Citizens in favour of the right of objection have announced their intention to file an appeal with the Constitutional Court to end the compulsory nature of this education. The aspects of the programme to which most objections are raised, are:
- reluctance about the transmission of common moral values, as morality should be imparted solely by families;
- refusal to see declarations of human rights qualified as universal ethical references;
- refusal of certain parts of the programme dedicated to intolerance, which may possibly not be agreed by everyone: "identifying factors of cultural and religious diversity; awareness of and respect for customs, moral values and lifestyles different from one’s own; rejecting attitudes of intolerance and exclusion; fighting social prejudice, racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, sexism and homophobia."
- finally, the explicit intention of this discipline to enable each person to develop his/her analytical skills and autonomy seems for its opponents likely to lead to ethical relativism.

  • January 2009 : Towards the abolition of public subsidies to institutions practising single-sex education

Several autonomous communities (Andalusia, Galicia, Catalonia) have expressed their intention to terminate existing partnership contracts with colleges that maintain a separation between girls and boys, most of which are linked to the Opus Dei. In January 2009, the latter were estimated at around sixty in the whole of Spain.
The education law known as Ley Organica de Educación had opened up the legal possibility of removing subsidies from this type of establishment, by stating the need not to discriminate by gender and affirming in additional provision n°25 that "mixed colleges would be given priority attention". The law, reflecting the official position of the Ministry of Education, empowers each autonomous community with the ability to decide on this matter, which was confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2008.

D 30 September 2009    AFernando Bravo López

2008

September 2008 : Draft Law on Abortion
The Spanish government announced early in September 2008 its intention to proceed within one year with the implementation of a new abortion law. Replacing (...)

  • September 2008 : Draft Law on Abortion

The Spanish government announced early in September 2008 its intention to proceed within one year with the implementation of a new abortion law. Replacing the law in force since 1985, it should be possible, in the words of the Minister for Equality, Bibiana Aido, "to incorporate the best of international legislation" on abortion and ensure "the fundamental rights of women (...) and health professionals". This new law will also aim to ensure equal access and treatment across the various Autonomous Communities.
A committee of experts comprising doctors, lawyers, family planning providers and representatives of the Ministries of the Presidency, Justice and Health was established to advise the government. Their work will be added to that of the sub-committee to be created in the Lower House, in order to obtain, in line with government wishes, the largest consensus possible.
The current law allows abortion only in three cases: rape (within 12 weeks), foetal malformation (within 22 weeks) and serious risk to the physical or mental health of the mother (no limit).
The Spanish Episcopal Conference is said to have been saddened by this announcement, but wishes to remain silent until it knows the details of the reform.
The Cardinal of the Curia, for his part, spoke in favour of a dialogue with the government about the new law, while Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, responded more explicitly, considering that the plan is not based on "the vision of life it creates and on the importance of the dignity of each person that begins with the conception."
The last document on abortion by bishops, dated 25th March 2007, had stated that Spain’s "law-making body is among those in the world that least protect human life".

  • September 2008 : Draft law on assisted suicide

Spain’s Socialist government has announced its desire to implement a better regulation in law of assisted suicide, that is, the possibility for a patient to receive the help necessary to end his/her own life, including when the illness is not terminal. This law is to be drawn up during this parliamentary term and requires an amendment of the Penal Code. A working committee will be created, bringing together experts and representatives of the Ministries of Justice and Health in order to conduct a preliminary study to enable the Government to take a decision.

Please refer to the interview granted by Health Minister, Bernat Soria, in the daily newspaper El Pais of 7th September 2008.

D 22 October 2008    AFernando Bravo López

2007

18 October 2007 : Recognition of the “notorio arraigo”
The Comisión de Libertad Religiosa assented to attribute to Jehovah’s witnesses and the Federation of Buddhist communities the “notorio (...)

  • 18 October 2007 : Recognition of the “notorio arraigo”

The Comisión de Libertad Religiosa assented to attribute to Jehovah’s witnesses and the Federation of Buddhist communities the “notorio arraigo” title (well known deeply-rooted beliefs). For the first ones, the decision was taken on June 29, 2006 but was officially communicated to them on January 16, 2007. For the second one, it was taken on October 18, 2007.
This Commission’s approval constitutes both a symbolic recognition of these communities and a first step towards the possibility of establishing cooperation agreements with the Spanish State. It also allows them to benefit from a favourable tax situation.

For more information: read an article on Webislam concerning Buddhists.

  • 11 October 2007 : The Church of Scientology has the right to be registered

In a October 11, 2007 ruling, the Audiencia Nacional Española (national court with competent jurisdiction in criminal, social and administrative matters) recognized the right of the Church of Scientology to be included in the religious entities register of the Ministry of Justice (Registro de Entidades Religiosas del Ministerio de Justicia).
The ruling based on the appeal lodged by the Church of Scientology, considers as "null" and "against the law" a resolution taken by the Ministry of Justice on February 11, 2005 (and confirmed by another resolution taken on May 17, 2007), which denied the Church of Scientology the right to register.
The Church of Scientology registered on December 19, 2007.

For more information: read the decision on the OLIR website.

  • 13 September 2007 : Conditions concerning the Pastors’ registration to the Social Security system

On September 13, 2007 the royal decree 1138/2007 dating from August 30, 2007 was published in the Boletín oficial del Estado. This new decree modifies the royal decree 369/199 dating from March 5, 1999 dealing with the conditions of registration to the Social Security general system for ministers of religion belonging to the churches of the Federation of evangelical religious entities of Spain (Federación de Entidades Religiosas Evangélicas de España). The new decree takes into account the personal and family conditions of most of them, be they married or fathers. It is not the case for ministers of other denominations.

For more information: read the decree.

  • September 2007 : The wearing of the hijab in state schools

With the first school day, new debates concerning the wearing of the hijab appear. As two girls were wearing it, they were not admitted to a junior high school located in Ceurta. Nevertheless, the provincial direction of the Ministry of Education and Science insistently demanded the high school to allow the two girls back and justified its decision by claiming that they had the right to be educated. A similar case took place in Girona (Cataluña) where an eight year-old schoolgirl has been expelled because she wore the hijab. The Catalan conseller (minister) of education forced the school to reintegrate the girl.
With those two events, the debate concerning the wearing of the hijab in schools and the authorities in charge of this issue starts over again. The Minister of education, Mercedes Cabrera, affirmed that the government does not intend to create a new law. The conflicts are managed case by case.

For more information: read the news concerning the Girona case.

D 26 October 2007    AFernando Bravo López

2006

9 June 2006 : Religious assistance in jails
The Real decreto 710/2006, de 9 de junio, decree of 9 June 2006, aims at developing the articles #9 of the Agreement of Cooperation signed between the (...)

  • 9 June 2006 : Religious assistance in jails

The Real decreto 710/2006, de 9 de junio, decree of 9 June 2006, aims at developing the articles #9 of the Agreement of Cooperation signed between the State of Spain and the three main minoritarian denominations (Protestant, Jew, and Muslim) in 1992. These articles refer to religious assistance and the freedom of cults in jails.
Religious assistance is defined as follows : possibility of performing religious service or religious ritual according to the denomination, religious and moral education and assistance and, if necessary, funeral rite.
The assistance will be taken in charge by ministers designated by the religious communities and authorised by the relevant prison administration. These permits will be valid for a year, with possible renewal.
The authorised ministers will need to have an affiliation to the social security system; this will not follow from their mission in the jail nor from the following income.
The assistance can also be done on a voluntary basis if volunteers answer the necessary requirements as expressed in the decree.
Imprisonned people from these three denominations wishing for religious assistance will ask the prison administration, who will in turn inform the relevant minister. Premisses will be dedicated, although not necessarily solely, to this use.

D 12 July 2006    AFernando Bravo López

2005

May 2005 : The catholic hierarchy’s offensive against the legalisation of same-sex marriage
On 12 January 2005, the Spanish government presented a bill before the conference of deputies on (...)

  • May 2005 : The catholic hierarchy’s offensive against the legalisation of same-sex marriage

On 12 January 2005, the Spanish government presented a bill before the conference of deputies on modifying the Civil Code on marriage. This text authorises homosexual couples to get married. The government followed the path laid out by the Socialist party, which in June 2004 had already presented a similar initiative to the convention.
From that moment, the Bishops’ Conference, an upper organisation representing the hierarchy of the Catholic Church of Spain, declared its opposition to this project in a series of texts, in particular in the manifesto En favor del verdadero matrimonio (In favour of real marriage), where the Bishops’ Conference summarised its position. In it, the Conference expressed that, in its opinion, "marriage can only be entered into by two people of a different sex, a man and a woman. Two people of the same sex do not have the right to enter into marriage. As for the State, it cannot recognise this inexistent right, unless it acts arbitrarily, in a manner that oversteps its prerogatives and would do serious harm to the common good."
The Bishops’ Conference defends the idea of a fundamental right that is above the State and it denies the fact that legislative powers can introduce laws without conforming to the principles of a Higher Law, Divine Law to be specific, which in this case the Conference identifies with Natural Law.

A good part of this polemic comes from the fact that the new law grants homosexual couples the right to adopt children, which is inadmissible according to the episcopal Conference. "It hurts us to think of the damage which will be caused to children adopted by these false couples, and to all the young people who will not be granted the education provided in a true marriage. We also think of the schools and teachers who, in one way or another, will have to tell their pupils that in Spain, the marriage does not mean the union of a man and a woman." (note of the Executive comitee of the ECC).

When the time of the approval of the project came, the episcopal Conference intensified its offensive, in particular by applying pressure upon the Spanish members of Parliament, in order for them to vote against the text, asserting that "the law that is being approved would not really have the character of a law, because it contradicts both the reason and the standard ethics." Moreover, as the law is against the moral order, it is licit not to obey it. Catholics would be forced to refuse to celebrate this type of union." Catholics, like all people of true morality, cannot be unsure or weak with respect to this law, they must oppose to it in a clear and energetic manner. In fact, they will not be able to approve it by their vote, and, in its application, since there is no moral obligation, each person one will be free to assert the right to the objection of conscience.

  • 25 January 2005 : Creation of the foundation "Pluralism and Coexistence" (Pluralismo y Convivencia) for the funding of minority religions

On 25 January 2005 the Spanish Ministry of Justice created the "Pluralismo y convivencia" foundation in order to "contribute to the organisation of programmes and projects of a cultural, educational nature and that foster the social integration of non Catholic religions that have signed an Agreement of Cooperation with the Spanish State or have a notorious presence in Spain" (Text from the creation decree of 8 March 2005).
The religions that signed an Agreement of Cooperation with the State are the Evangelical, Jewish and Muslim faiths. This foundation will be presided by José Maria Contreras, a professor in ecclesiastical law, and will receive three million euros in funding for the year 2005.
The funding problem for minority religions had remained unresolved since democracy had returned to Spain. The absence of resources from the State contributed to the feeling of marginalisation in relation to the Catholic Church, which receives a much of its funding from the State. Until today, minority religions only benefited from the donations of their followers. The 11 March 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid contributed to raising public awareness about the problem and finding solutions, which had been evaded for a very long time. As studies made the connection between certain terrorists and the imams of underground mosques in Spain, the government decided that regulating the Muslim religion would be necessary. For public authorities this would involve releasing the necessary funds to hire imams that were correctly trained and recognised within the institution.

D 6 May 2005    AFernando Bravo López

2004

October 2004: Church-State relations
Over the last years, the issue of religion and, in more concrete terms, the problems in Church-State relations were at the forefront of the news. This was (...)

  • October 2004: Church-State relations

Over the last years, the issue of religion and, in more concrete terms, the problems in Church-State relations were at the forefront of the news. This was primarily due to the role and political action that the Catholic Church, and some ultra-conservative groups within it, was able to exercise with the support of the neo-conservative government of the Popular Party (Partido Popular). The importance of this support, unequalled since democracy was re-established in Spain in 1978, provoked a confrontation between the Partido Popular government and the more progressive groups of society. Dissensions within the Catholic Church also surfaced, between the reformers and the conservatives, which was manifested in the marginalisation of the reformers and the rise of the conservatives to the highest levels of ecclesiastic power.
In order to face all of the issues it inherited, the current socialist government is trying to reduce the Catholic Church’s influence in the political decision-making process. Furthermore, the proposal of several legislative measures intended to increase the level of equality within society provoked great hostility from the Church. The government retorted by rekindling the issue on the funding of the Catholic Church, which has always been favoured in this domain.
Added to these various problems was the issue on mosques. The progressive increase, even more so during the last decade, of the Muslim population was followed by an increase, without order or control, in the number of underground mosques. The 11 March 2004 terrorist attack reinforced the fear in certain members of the media and the government that these underground mosques could be a place where future terrorists could be recruited and trained. For this reason, a political debate was opened on the need for some way of controlling the places of Muslim worship.

  • October 2004: Religion in school

Religious instruction in State schools was one of the first subjects of confrontation between the Catholic Church and the progressive political parties of the new Spanish Parliament. A provision inserted by the Partido Popular government into the Ley Orgánica de Calidad de la Enseñanza, Law on the Quality of Education of December 2002, declaring the obligatory nature of teaching "religion" (Catholic) or "religions" as an alternative to the first, sparked a debate.

When the Socialist Party was in power (1982-1996), religion, which was an optional course in the State education system, had no academic value and was therefore not included in the students’ evaluations. The PP’s reform project was aimed at finding a solution for this situation by giving the subject academic status. It answered the bishops’ preoccupations regarding the deterioration of this type of instruction and more generally, the de-Christianisation of Spanish society (El País, 10 de marzo de 2004: "La asignatura de catolicismo perdió este curso un 6% de alumnos en ESO [Enseñanza Secundaria Obligatoria]"). With the proposed reform, religion acquired a status that was equivalent to that of the other subjects and would be included in the academic evaluation of students. The alternative "religions" course seemed so denominational in nature that many political and social stakeholders were afraid it would be used as an instrument under the influence of the Church (El País, 9 de febrero de 2004: "Lo que los obispos quieren enseñar").
The PP government made no concessions and the reform was adopted. After the PP’s defeat in the elections of March 2004, and the advent of the Socialist Party, the reform movement was frozen.

The new government was therefore confronted with a new, enduring, controversy on whether it is necessary or not to include "religion" as a subject in the Spanish academic curriculum. The government chose to restore the optional aspect of "religion" with no academic value and proposed the creation of a new subject on "public values" as an alternative for students who do not wish to take the religious instruction course.

Furthermore, this controversy also reopened the debate on the instruction of other religions present in the State. If the Catholic Church demands that "its" subject continue to be taught in State schools, then why shouldn’t other religions do the same? According to the agreements of 1992 between the State and the Evangelical, Muslim and Jewish faiths, these three religions have the right to insist on having their own religion courses taught in schools that request them. However, nothing or very little has been done on this subject and Jewish, Protestant and Muslim children develop their religion outside of the school. What is more, unlike the Catholic Church (religion teachers may be chosen by the bishops but they are paid by the State), the other religions do not receive any subsidies for this type of instruction. Moreover, the president of the main opposition party, a member of the government up until the last elections, showed himself to be entirely against the idea of "financing the instruction of religions that do not belong to our culture" referring to religions that "have ‘penal or moral standards’ or that treat women with scorn" (El Mundo, 24 de agosto de 2004). Despite this, the socialist government designated a small portion of the State’s overall budget to finance minority religions, three million euros per year to divide among the various religions. As for the Catholic Church, it will receive approximately 141 million euros (El País, 5 de octubre de 2004).

  • October 2004: Extension of abortion rights and the simplification of the divorce process

Other legislative initiatives of the socialist government heightened the degree of confrontation with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Among them, extending the circumstances that give women the right to abort and simplifying the administrative and legal procedures necessary in obtaining a divorce.
Until now, Spanish legislation restricted abortions to several specific circumstances, which had already been the subject of an intense opposition from the Catholic Church. Today the socialist government wants to widen these circumstances, probably to the point where justifying the reasons for abortion would no longer be necessary as long as the abortion is carried out within the stipulated timeframe.
With regard to divorce, the socialist government proposed that when there is mutual agreement, the divorce does not need to be preceded by a period of separation. The justification of the prior period was in the assumption that the couple was not in agreement regarding the definitive nature of their separation. With the proposed reform, couples who wish to separate temporarily could do so and couples who wish to separate permanently would not be subject to this timeframe.
These reform proposals angered bishops who qualified them as attempts to destroy the family. The Church seems to think that certain regulating standards in the everyday lives of Spaniards are of its sole competence. The Church defends the idea that the Spanish Civil Code has the duty to follow its vision of the family and relationships of the couple.

  • October 2004: Same-sex marriage

The legislative initiative that brought on the most criticism from the Catholic Church was without a doubt the one intended to legalise same-sex marriage. The socialist government justified this initiative - in October 2004 the draft bill was approved – by the need to meet the requirements of equality for all citizens and non-discrimination on the basis of sex outlined in the Constitution of 1978.
For the Spanish Conference of bishops the legislation on this form of marriage would lead to the devaluation of what it considers "real marriage", a union between a man and a woman before God and the Church. It argued in a comment that was made public: "Two people of the same sex do not have the right to enter into marriage. As for the State, it cannot recognise this inexistent right, unless it acts arbitrarily in a manner that oversteps its prerogatives and would do serious harm to public interest." (A favor del verdadero matrimonio. Nota del Comité Ejecutivo de la Conferencia Episcopal Española. Madrid, 15 de julio de 2004). The full text is available on the website of the bishops’ conference.
In this text, the bishops’ Conference assigned procreation as the fundamental purpose of marriage. As a result, since two people of the same sex cannot procreate, granting them marriage rights would mean stripping marriage of its essential meaning. In the same way, the Conference refuses the government’s right to legislate on issues that it considers to be under its scope of competence. The Church thus shows its refusal to recognise the religious neutrality of the State and denies one of the foundations of the democratic system, which is the legitimacy of legislative power, representing the people, to regulate their lives through law. In this way, the Catholic hierarchy itself made the issue regarding the necessity of initiating the separation between Church and State reappear at the centre of the political debate.

  • September 2004: Financing the Church

Faced with the constant oppositions from the Catholic hierarchy regarding its reform propositions, the government was forced to approach the issue of funding the Catholic Church, an integral part of the debate surrounding Church-State relations. Since the Concordat that was signed with the Spanish government in 1979, the Catholic Church has been primarily financed by the portion of the State budget that each government in power has allocated for this purpose. The entire hierarchy of the church, from cardinals to the village priests, receive a proportional percentage of that money. Moreover, each taxpayer can voluntarily contribute to financing the Church by allocating a portion of their income tax to this purpose on their yearly tax return form. The Catholic Church is the only civil institution that can receive this direct contribution by means of the tax return form. This situation is partially the result of the political community’s desire, during the transition from Franco’s dictatorship to democracy, to maintain an understanding with an institution like the Church, which because of its social influence could make the establishment of the new regime more difficult. For this reason, the role and privileges of the Church were never questioned (the Catholic Church, among other things, does not pay taxes).
The persistence of the Catholic hierarchy of Spain to deny the legitimacy of legislation to regulate aspects that the Church considers to be of its competence, the warlike language it uses, going as far as to brandish a threat of a mobilisation of the masses (El País, 24 de septiembre de 2004: "La Iglesia anima a los católicos a manifestarse contra el Gobierno") provoked the Government to threaten the financing system of the Catholic Church. The debate is still open but the last budget presented in Parliament still attributed the Church its usual financial subsidy.

D 21 October 2004    AFernando Bravo López

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