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Religions and schooling

Religious instruction in schools

The teaching of Catholic religion in Spanish schools used to, and continues to, play a preponderant role. This is the case for all private establishments, who are recognised by a specific characteristic, and for public and private establishments having passed a contract (concertados) with the State. For the year 2003-2004, there were 15,621 public establishments and 6,131 private establishments (with and without contract). The majority of the private establishments that are under a contract in Spain are Catholic denominational institutions.

Despite the recognition in the Spanish Constitution, and the reaffirmation in the various educational reforms, of the parents’ right to have their children receive a religious and moral instruction in accordance with their own convictions, the possibility to receive religious instruction in school refers in practice, except for a few exceptions, mainly to Catholicism.

The Agreement on Instruction and Cultural Affairs signed with the Holy See (Acuerdo sobre Enseñanza y Asuntos Culturales con la Santa Sede) on January 3, 1979, the Cooperation Agreements signed between the Spanish State and the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities of Spain (Federación de Entidades Religiosas Evangélicas de España), the Federation of the Jewish Communities of Spain (La Federación de Comunidades Israelitas de España) and the Islamic Commission of Spain (Comisión Islámica de España) signed in 1992 are particularly important in this respect (see the texts in the "Main Texts" heading). These agreements guarantee students the right to receive in public and private establishments under contract a religious instruction in accordance with their religious beliefs, provided that this is compatible with the educational spirit of these establishments.

However, so far, the offer of a religious education other than Catholic remains very scarce, according to the main religious federations. The Spanish Islamic Commission (CIE) and the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities of Spain (FEREDE) have recently issued a demand for the actual implementation of the Cooperation Agreements of 1992, and for the improvement of the conditions of teaching of minorities religious education. According to a report done by the Observatorio Andalusí and the Union of Islamic Communities of Spain, the demands for the religious education of Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant students has increased steadily since the school year 1999/2000, but the number of teachers still remains insufficient to cover the demand.

The LODE, the Organic Law on the Right to Education of 3 July 1985 (Ley Orgánica 8/1985, de 3 de julio, de Regulación del Derecho a la Educación), completed in 1990 by the LOGSE, the Organic Law on the General Organisation of the Education System (Ley Orgánica 1/1990 de Ordenación General del Sistema Educativo), guaranteed, in accordance with the constitutional principles, the respect of the subscribed agreements.

The LOGSE established that educational institutions are obliged to offer the students an optional religious instruction. An alternative subject was then introduced, "ethics". This subject would not be evaluated, had a vague content, and only a very small minority of parents were in favour of it. The decree of 16 December 1884 (Real Decreto 2438/1994, de 16 de diciembre) regulated the alternative subjects to religion, viewing them "not as specific areas of study, but as an ensemble of well-ordered activities of analysis and commentary of documents related to the social and cultural life on the content that is not present in other subjects of the educational curriculum, (…) They will consist in the analysis and commentary of texts, images and musical compositions previously selected and adapted to the age of the students and carried out by the students under the supervision of a teacher".

After several years, issues such as the obligatory or optional nature of religious instruction, alternative subjects, their inclusion in the educational evaluation, are all subjects of debate between the different parliamentary groups (see the "Current debates" heading).
The increasing number of students that do not profess the Catholic religion is partially the cause of this phenomenon. This has required the organizing of the teaching of other religions (mainly Protestantism and Islam). It has also contributed to opening the possibility, for the first time in the history of Spain, of a curriculum that does not include religion.

The reform of the educational system of 2002, LOCE, law of 2 December 2002 on the quality of education, Ley de Calidad de la Educación (Ley Orgánica 10/2002, de 23 de diciembre), tried to give greater importance to religious instruction in education. It established that the subject entitled "Society, Culture and Religion" would be mandatory but offer the choice between two topics, one based on religion and the other non-denominational. The subject, regardless of the option chosen, is included in the students’ evaluations, at all non-university levels. However, the rise to power of the Socialist Party and the passing of the new Ley Orgánica de Educación (LOE) in 2006 impeded the implementation of the LOCE.

The LOE, Ley Orgánica de Educación (2/2006, de 3 de mayo) introduced a substantial innovation: the creation of a mandatory subject on Citizenship Education and Human Rights. This subject was not an alternative to religious education. It generated intense controversy among the Spanish population, particularly among the Catholic militant groups, such as the Spanish Federation of Parents Associations (FECAPA) and the Spanish Bishopric.

However, the next education law, Ley Orgánica de Mejora de la Calidad Educativa (LOMCE) (Ley Orgánica 8/2013, de 9 de diciembre) approved in 2013 and implemented in the school year 2014/15, did not include the subject on Citizenship Education any more. This subject was implemented for the last time in the school year 2012/13. Moreover, this last law gives the teaching of religion a greater relevance, by granting this subject full academic value (See
Royal Decrees 126/2014 and 1105/2014 for more information).

The latest education law (Ley Orgánica 3/2020, de 29 de diciembre) recovers and amends the 2006 Organic Law of Education. In the new text, the teaching of religion looses the weight it was given in the 2013 law. Moreover, the 2020 text introduces the possibility of offering a non-confessional subject on the culture of religions in primary and secondary education.

For more information, read the article entitled "L’enseignement de la religion et l’augmentation progressive du nombre d’élèves d’origine marocaine" (in French).

Updated by Julia Martínez-Ariño

D 2 September 2021    APuerto García Ortiz

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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