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  • June 2017: Reform of the law of religious freedom in Spain: an on-going 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.

Julia Martínez-Ariño
  • 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.

Claude Proeschel
  • 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.

Fernando Bravo López
  • 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."

Fernando Bravo López
  • 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.

Fernando Bravo López

D 11 January 2017    AClaude Proeschel AFernando Bravo López AJulia Martínez-Ariño

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