Representatives of FEREDE, the CIE, and the FCJE stated they did not receive all the benefits the cooperative agreements with the government stipulate they should. Protestant representatives stated the government favored Catholicism over other religious groups in various practices, including by permitting citizens to allocate 0.7 percent of their taxes due to the Church (the tax designation resulted in 250 million euros [$263 million] in donations to the Catholic Church, according to news reports). The government also paid retirement pensions to Catholic priests under more favorable terms than to Protestant clergy. According to a report by FEREDE, in addition to being eligible for higher retirement pensions, Catholic clergy could split contribution rates and take monthly deductibles from their pensions to allow deferred payment of back taxes, while Protestants had to pay a lump sum retroactively in order to receive benefits. FEREDE reported no retired Protestant clergy member had yet been able to access social security because these back-taxes requirements were too burdensome financially. FEREDE said the cost of supporting these retirees out of church donations was “at times unsustainable.” Several religious groups, including Protestants and Muslims, continued to express their desire to have their denomination included on the tax form.
In October the Interagency Advisory Commission on Religious Freedom issued its annual report on freedom of religion for 2015. The commission was headed by the minister of justice and included representatives from the Office of the Presidency and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Interior, Education, Employment, and Health, academics, and religious leaders from the Catholic Church, the Federation of Evangelical Entities, the Federation of Jewish Communities, the Islamic Commission, the Mormons, the Federation of Buddhist Communities, and the Orthodox Church. The report cited issues reported by religious groups, government steps to address them, and legal determinations pertaining to religious freedom.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Pastafarianism, reapplied for registration as a religious group. On multiple occasions, the MOJ had previously denied the group recognition. The group elected not to file for registration as an association with the MOI. At year’s end, the MOJ was reviewing the application.
State and local governments failed to universally guarantee accommodating the needs of religious minorities in hospitals, the military and public cemeteries, according to Jews, Muslims, and Protestants. Protestants stated that city governments imposed burdensome and unequal regulations on groups seeking religious licenses or construction permits for places of worship.
In some cases, municipalities required individual houses of worship of registered religious groups to receive authorization at the local level to hold public worship services. Every municipality set its own procedure for applying for authorization. FEREDE attorney Carolina Bueno said it was “very difficult to obtain legal status from cities,” highlighting problems in Madrid. She said the process left many congregations in a precarious position, and FEREDE estimated that about half its places of worship did not have a religious permit because the process was so difficult. CIE Secretary Mohamed Ajana said the difficulty in obtaining religious licenses was “not necessarily [a result of] an internal racism, but an ignorance of the law.” He also cited poor organization and leadership of the religious communities themselves. The MOJ said it had not taken action against any places of worship operating illegally without a license.
CIE Secretary Ajana cited difficulties in raising funds to open a new center of worship, stating there was an “excess of police security” when the community held fundraisers for the purchase or rental of a prayer space. He said there was “always suspicion” that such collections would be used to support domestic terrorism or the terrorist group ISIS and that the resulting intimidation prevented many followers from donating. MOJ affirmed that large donors desiring a tax benefit would be required to provide identification to the Ministry for the Treasury.
The director of the NGO Movement Against Intolerance, Esteban Ibarra, said there had not been many complaints about opening new places of worship, because Muslims “accept being marginalized” and only open new mosques in industrial areas on the outskirts of cities. The Foundation said that many religious communities, including Muslims who worshipped at the Fuenlabrada Islamic Center Grand Mosque outside Madrid that opened in 2003, worked closely with local police on prayer days to maintain public order and prevent overcrowding by closing streets. CIE Secretary Ajana described the relationship between the mosque and city government as “natural” and similar to local churches on major religious holidays. Ajana also said that the mosque was “known for its cultural activities and good relations with the city government.” The city of Fuenlabrada joined the Strong Cities Network, which shares best practices to build social cohesion and community resilience to counter violent extremism.
In May the city of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands provided the land for the Muslim community to build a mosque on the outskirts of the city. The construction approval stirred protests among citizens, including spray painting anti-Muslim messages and leaving pigs’ heads in the area where the new mosque is to be built. Security forces told the media that the mosque would be financed and operated by the Islamic Cultural Center of Madrid, with funding from Saudi Arabia.
Representatives of the Catalan Muslim community blamed religious discrimination for the failure of the community to build a single mosque in Barcelona. In July the Barcelona city government released a 141-page report commissioned by Mayor Ada Colau entitled “The Religious Practice of Muslim Communities in Barcelona” that acknowledged obstacles faced by Muslim communities, including insufficient places of worship and the absence of clear guidelines for educational centers regarding halal food and use of the hijab. The report found that the inability to construct a grand mosque in Barcelona was a longstanding grievance of the Muslim community, and recommended that the city support such construction. The regional government of Catalonia and the Barcelona City Council said there were no outstanding official requests to build a mosque in Barcelona. The officials added that the responsibility lay within the community to raise the necessary funding and submit a request to the city.
On the basis of the July report, the Barcelona administration with the public support of Mayor Colau planned to launch a 28-point action plan in January 2017 to address rising anti-Muslim sentiment. The Plan of Action against Islamophobia would be the first one of its kind and would promote a communications campaign to increase the profile of “Islamophobia” as a form of discrimination in close coordination with the Muslim communities. The region of Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital, is home to some 800,000 Muslims.
Several newly constructed mosques were inaugurated in Catalonia, including in Salt and Cornella de Llobregat.
In the government’s 2015 report on religious freedom, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses cited restrictions on certain activities, such as handing out written religious materials or use of public spaces for cultural or educational activities because they would have been sponsored by a religious group. Mormons stated they sometimes could not put up posters or set up stands about their religion at book fairs. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that in 2015 more than 20 localities had banned them from or fined them for preaching, or confiscated their publications.
Federal and regional governments employed 50 Islamic education instructors nationwide, according to the CIE, which certified teachers. The CIE stated this number was far fewer than the more than 700 Islamic teachers it estimated would be required to meet demand, and called on regional governments to extend Islamic education to secondary schools. CIE representatives, however, commended the region of Castilla y Leon for adding its first Islamic education instructor in September. In response to Muslim community complaints about insufficient Islamic teachers, the MOJ stated the regions were responsible for providing instructors, since most regions oversee education. The MOJ said the CIE’s prior governing structure of two secretaries general created an impasse for proving Islamic education instructors because the two secretaries general maintained separate lists of approved instructors. The MOJ said it expected the reorganization of the CIE in July under a single president would rectify the problem.
FEREDE representatives said the federal and some regional governments failed to fulfill legal and constitutional guarantees, such as providing religious education in public schools when minimum class requirements were met.
Implementation began of a 2015 requirement by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport that Holocaust education take place in the fourth year of compulsory secondary education geography and history class, and the first year of high school contemporary history of the world class. Jewish community members described the Holocaust and Sephardi education provided in public schools as inadequate.
FCJE Director Carolina Aisen said the 2015 law allowing descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled in 1492 to claim citizenship was “functioning well,” despite prior technical problems with the online application. Overall interest in citizenship was high, and the government had received applications from more than 100 countries. Only one person – a French woman in her 80s – had been granted citizenship through the law by year’s end. Aisen commended the law’s clause allowing dual citizenship and said roughly 2,000 applicants were in the process of qualifying for citizenship. In addition, she said a separate but related royal decree also passed in 2015 ended the backlog of 4,300 Sephardis who had been seeking citizenship through a lengthy and complicated prior process. The royal decree granted those 4,300 Sephardis citizenship in a ceremony presided by King Felipe VI in November 2015.
Jewish community representatives praised the right of return law’s passage, but lamented the rise in anti-Semitic public statements from far-left political parties, which often conflated anti-Israel opinions with anti-Semitism. They also said Holocaust and Sephardi education in public schools was not yet far reaching enough to diminish historical anti-Semitism.
The MOJ reported the Bahai community had not yet submitted a formal request for notorio arraigo status.
The Foundation provided legal assistance to city and local governments upon request pertaining to the defense of religious freedom and protections outlined in the constitution and laws. In such cases, the Foundation researched and wrote a report about the community, conducted exchanges and group meetings with local religious leaders, and prepared reports for local authorities to help them understand the constitution and laws governing religious freedom. Communities could bring complaints about local and regional governments not fulfilling their obligations to the Office of Religious Affairs for mediation. If mediation was unsuccessful, religious community members could file a legal petition claiming a violation of fundamental rights. The CIE filed such a complaint against the region of La Rioja for not providing Islamic education in public schools. The case was under review at year’s end. Neither the Foundation nor the MOJ’s Office of Religious Affairs provided legal advice to citizens.
The Foundation completed rounds of legal assistance with 10 municipalities, and initiated assistance meetings with another six, which were among the 25 most diverse in the country and included cities in the regions of Andalusia, Valencia, Madrid, Castilla y Leon, Galicia, and Castilla la Mancha. The Foundation provided lists of local places of worship and religious cemeteries for Jewish and Muslim burial, and explained to local government officials the laws pertaining to the rights of minority religious groups. The Foundation informed local governments of their responsibilities towards minority religious groups, especially in cases of local regulations or restrictions interfering with the right to worship.
The Office of Religious Affairs maintained an online tool since 2015 to make information available about registered minority religious groups. The tool could be used by a new immigrant or citizen moving into a community to find his or her locally registered religious community and place of worship online. The MOJ reported the tool provided no personally identifiable information and abided by the information protection law.
Religious groups said government support for social programs through the Foundation remained at low levels. Religious representative bodies, including FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, indicated that they depended heavily on governmental support through the Foundation (70 percent of their operating budget or more) to cover administrative and infrastructure costs. Some religious groups and NGOs complained that they lacked additional subsidies to support programming that might help counter stereotypes and discrimination in society. The Foundation had a budget of 1.5 million euros ($1.58 million), up from 1.38 million euros ($1.45 million) in 2015, attributed to carryover funds from canceled projects. Of the total 2016 budget, 992,000 euros ($1.05 million) was granted to religious communities for social projects, with most (700,000 euros, or $738,000) going to the federations representing religious groups with agreements with the state (Jewish, Muslim, and Protestants). Another 200,000 euros ($211,000) was awarded in small grants of less than 5,000 euros ($5,300) to dozens of local religious associations. Foundation grants to minority religious groups also covered social programming, including projects promoting tolerance and dialogue, conferences on religious diversity, research about religious minorities, and cultural projects to increase knowledge of minority religious groups.
In August the MOJ confirmed the results of the CIE’s election of a new permanent commission, board of directors, and president. By agreement with the CIE, the MOJ reviewed and confirmed the new CIE-enacted statutes, approving them on October 20. The CIE reorganization followed a lengthy battle between the two secretaries general. The CIE had entered into a transition agreement with the government in September 2015. In July a majority of the CIE regional delegates present voted to overhaul the CIE statutes, including the establishment of a single president to replace the two existing secretaries general, part of an effort to streamline decision making and bring it in line with the practices of other notorio arraigo religious associations in the country who have a single leader. Approximately 30 percent of Muslim association leaders boycotted the vote because they disagreed with the move to confer authority to a single leader, according to a former secretary general. The move left vacant five of the CIE’s 25 national seats.
Muslim and Jewish communities continued to report difficulties over cemetery access. The CIE awaited the implementation of a promise by the Madrid city government to designate a part of the Carabanchel Cemetery in Madrid for Muslim burials. The issue lay with a health code requirement that bodies must be interned in a casket, while Muslim religious practice was to wrap the bodies in cloth and bury them directly in the soil. According to the government’s religious freedom report, the Muslim community said it needed cemeteries in each of the Balearic and Canary Islands and in each autonomous region. The FCJE also cited administrative delays in approving public land for Jewish cemeteries. The FCJE finalized an agreement for a new cemetery in the city of Valencia, and reported that, by year’s end, it was still negotiating an agreement to dedicate a Jewish cemetery in Alicante. Buddhist Federation President Luis Morente said he still hoped health regulations governing mortuaries and the handling of bodies before burial would eventually change to allow Tibetan Buddhist burials, and was seeking such a change at the European level.
The government’s report on religious freedom in 2015 said Orthodox Jews and Seventh-day Adventists had experienced problems because tests and civil service exams had been offered on their Sabbaths. The FCJE stated it was “very satisfied” with the decision to allow Jewish students to take the annual Saturday state medical board examination after sundown, when the Jewish Sabbath had ended.
According to the government’s report on religious freedom, Muslim prisoners were sometimes reluctant to seek religious counsel because of fears the prison authorities might think the prisoners would be radicalized. The report also stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses said they often could not counsel prisoners in private.
The government reported Protestants said they often could not access adequate worship spaces at hospitals and in military facilities and had to pay their own expenses while providing counseling; Roman Catholic military chaplains were funded by the government.
In July the Supreme Court ruled that freedom of expression could not be used as a legal defense to justify hate speech, including religious hate speech, because those crimes “humiliate the victims, affecting their honor and dignity and perpetuating their victimization.”
For the first time, a business entity was penalized in connection with a religious hate crime after authorities charged its owner, Pedro Varela, with such a crime in federal court in Barcelona. Authorities closed down Varela’s bookshop and websites, pending a verdict in his trial. Varela, whom the judge and the Barcelona Prosecutor Against Hate Crimes and Discrimination Miguel Angel Aguilar called an active neo-Nazi, and heir of the historic neo-Nazi group “Cedade,” had been arrested in Barcelona on July 14 on charges of distributing books promoting hate and discrimination through his Ediciones Ojeda publishing house. He was released on bail of 30,000 euros ($31,600). The public prosecutor expected the case to be heard early in 2017.
In May Benet Salellas of the far left Candidacy of Popular Unity (CUP) Party in Catalonia called Uriel Benguigui, president of the Jewish Community of Barcelona, a “foreign agent” belonging to a “Zionist lobby” that defined the agenda of parliament. Esteban Ibarra, director of the NGO Movement Against Intolerance, said the statement was indicative of the rising permissiveness of the government toward such public, anti-Semitic discourse.
In July the communist United Left (IU) party in Madrid posted a cartoon on its Twitter feed during a visit by President Obama showing President Obama accepting money from an Orthodox Jewish man while explosions were taking place nearby. The party later tweeted a picture of the Israeli prime minister visiting terrorist victims, with a caption that read: “But if only there was an opportunity to visit wounded soldiers of the Islamic State.” The FCJE denounced the cartoons as anti-Semitic. An unidentified IU source reported in the press that the cartoons were not meant to offend Jews but to demonstrate the party’s opposition to Israeli policies.
In August Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena became the first Spanish mayor to sign the Mayors United Against Anti-Semitism statement initiated by the American Jewish Committee, against anti-Semitism in Europe. The Madrid Municipality promised to condemn hatred against Jews in all its manifestations and to broaden educational programs, among them Holocaust studies, in order to create an increased awareness of acts and attitudes of intolerance and discrimination.
On December 14, 2015, the first practical manual for the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes was released at an international conference in Barcelona attended by judicial officials, lawyers, academics, and the general public. The manual was prepared by prosecutors, magistrates, and academics and coordinated by Barcelona Prosecutor Against Hate Crimes and Discrimination Miguel Angel Aguilar. It defined hate crimes and the obstacles to prosecuting such crimes. The publicly available manual cited best practices and called for more training for judges, legal aides, law enforcement, and others, greater institutional coordination, the updating of protocols, and the tracking of statistics.
Protestants reported difficulty obtaining visas for family members of foreign religious workers, according to the government’s report on religious freedom. They stated the problem appeared to be that visas for foreign religious workers did not extend to family members. Tibetan Buddhists also reported “serious difficulties” obtaining any kind of official documentation from the government, including religious worker visas, residence permits, and Spanish nationality when the applicant was of Tibetan origin, according to Buddhist Federation President Luis Morente. Morente attributed the difficulties to pressure from the Chinese embassy and commercial ties to China.
In its 10 years in existence, the Foundation stated it had made contact with approximately 58 percent of Muslim communities, or some 870 of the 1,500 registered, to offer services and assistance protecting their religious rights. In some cases, the Foundation provided grants to communities and religious associations. Foundation representatives said that they did not discriminate with regard to religious affiliation, but stated that communities that were better financed – from abroad or domestically – tended to request less assistance. The Foundation also said it did not have relationships with Salafi communities, which it said were perceived to be a threat by security forces and often described as such by the media.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.