Summary paragraph: In November the MOJ issued its 2016 annual report on religious freedom in the country, which had the stated objective of gathering data on problems as a starting point to resolving them. The report cited concerns of religious groups, including seeking authorization to provide services in hospitals, prisons, refugee centers, and the military and equal treatment in establishing and retaining places of worship. Several groups complained about obstacles to providing religious education in schools. Groups said they received unequal benefits and treatment from the government. Multiple groups asked the government to be more responsive to offenses against religious sentiment and incitement to hatred. FEREDE criticized the report because it lacked a plan of action. The Foundation worked to educate local governments on their responsibilities towards minority religious groups. Between January and July the government granted citizenship to 1,091 descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in 1492. A court upheld a regulation banning prisoners from wearing the hijab. Protestant leaders expressed concerns about difficulties in obtaining permits to operate or build places of worship. Jews and Muslims had still not obtained access to additional land for cemeteries, although they said they had made some progress. Muslims stated there were not enough Muslim religious teachers in public schools and cited discrimination against women wearing hijabs. Religious minorities called for the government to allow their members to allocate a portion of their taxes to their churches in the same way that Catholics could. The MOJ began compiling a list of recognized religious clergy who could perform religious acts with civic impact, such as marriages. The MOI launched an outreach effort to Muslims to seek their collaboration in combating religious discrimination and integrating the Muslim community.
The interagency Religious Freedom Advisory Committee, led by the minister of justice, continued to hold plenary and standing committee sessions to review issues pertaining to religious freedom in the country. The committee comprised representatives from the Office of the Presidency; the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Interior, Education, Employment, and Health; academics; and religious leaders from the Catholic Church, FEREDE, FCJE, CIE, the Mormon Church, the Federation of Buddhist Communities, and the Orthodox Church. It had working groups to address the following issues: the annual report on the status of religious freedom in the country, issued by the MOJ and approved by the committee; the establishment of places of worship; the scheduling of school exams on religious holidays and establishment of dress codes in public administration employment; cemeteries for minority faiths; and religious dietary requirements.
FEREDE executive secretary Mariano Blazquez said he was the only committee member to withhold his signature on the 2015 and 2016 reports by the MOJ on the state of religious freedom in the country. Blazquez said he had withheld his signature because the reports lacked a plan of action. Citing Article 9 of the constitution, he stated that the state failed to protect the liberty and equality of the individual by not acting on the problems described in the report. FEREDE, according to the religious freedom report, recommended the committee undertake its own analysis of the state of religious freedom in the country and make its own proposals for advancing religious freedom. Commenting on the 2015 report, the director of the NGO Movement Against Intolerance, Esteban Ibarra, said the government attributed little importance to the commission due to internal strife within the group. A Foundation representative, however, stated the government valued the contributions of the commission.
The Barcelona Prosecutor Against Hate Crimes and Discrimination, Miguel Angel Aguilar, distributed a manual on investigating and prosecuting hate crimes, including religiously motivated crimes, for the Catalan region’s penal judges and prosecutors and to all the hate crimes prosecutors in the country. The manual defined hate crimes and the obstacles to prosecuting such crimes and cited best practices. It called for more training, greater institutional coordination, the updating of protocols, and the tracking of statistics. Officials used the manual in administering training for judges, legal aides, law enforcement, academics, and others.
Movement Against Intolerance Director Ibarra stated authorities should apply the criminal code pertaining to hate crimes, including religiously motivated crimes, more widely. He criticized public prosecutors and police, saying they were not prepared to combat intolerance.
On November 7, the Madrid Municipal Police Diversity Management Unit opened a headquarters office, staffed by 32 agents, to respond to victims and pursue criminal complaints related to hate crimes, including religiously motivated crimes. The launch was accompanied by an awareness campaign to fight hate crimes in the capital and encourage victims to report them.
The Foundation informed local governments of the rights of minority religious groups and the governments’ responsibilities toward those groups, especially in cases of local regulations or restrictions interfering with the right to worship. It also provided local governments with research about religious communities, met with religious leaders, fostered dialogue between municipalities and local religious leaders, and provided lists of local places of worship and religious cemeteries for Jewish and Islamic burial. The Foundation completed rounds of legal assistance with eight municipalities during the year, including the cities of Santander, Logrono, Albacete, Guadalajara, and Toledo. Movement Against Intolerance Director Ibarra described the Foundation’s role as “weak,” suggesting it could do more to combat anti-Islamic sentiment with public information campaigns.
FCJE Director Carolina Aisen reported implementation of the law allowing descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in 1492 the right to gain citizenship ran more smoothly during the year, following prior technical problems with the online application. According to Aisen, who said she met monthly with the MOJ to discuss progress, 1,091 Sephardi descendants had obtained citizenship between January and July, compared with only one in all of 2016. Approximately 5,000 Sephardis had started the application process. Applicants were from more than 100 countries, with the bulk of recent applicants coming from Venezuela. Other applicants were from Israel, other countries in Latin America, and the United States. The Jewish community said burdensome financial and administrative requirements, such as a requirement to self-fund a trip to the country for the personal interview, reduced the response to the law. Aisen said MOJ officials had assured her the law would be extended beyond its scheduled 2019 expiration date.
The Office of Religious Affairs continued to maintain an online portal for information about registered minority religious groups to aid new immigrants or citizens moving into a community to find his or her locally registered religious community and place of worship. The MOJ reported the tool provided no personally identifiable information and abided by the information protection law.
Religious groups reported progress with state and local governments to accommodate the needs of religious minorities in hospitals, the military, and public cemeteries, according to representatives of FCJE, CIE and UCIDE’s Andalusian Observatory, and FEREDE. According to the MOJ’s 2016 report on religious freedom, however, FEREDE, FCJE, and the Romanian Orthodox Church all called on the government to guarantee or facilitate access for all religious groups so they could provide religious services in such locations as hospitals, penitentiaries, refugee centers, and in the armed forces.
In July the National Court prohibited a Muslim prisoner, Soukaina Aboudrar, from wearing the hijab in jail. The court stated the prohibition did not violate her right to religious freedom. Citing security concerns at penitentiaries, the court said the hijab “…only leaves visible a reduced part of the face, which makes identification difficult, going against security protocols, and the possibility of hiding prohibited objects.” The court also based the prohibition in part on “the use made by the prisoner of such garment as a jihadist claim in the work of radicalization of other inmates of her own religion, as appears from the reports.” The court left the door open to wearing a veil smaller than a hijab. The case set a precedent for similar cases that might arise in the future, according to media reports. In an agreement with prosecutors in July, Aboudrar pled guilty to being a member of ISIS and received a three-year prison sentence.
According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, several groups cited local government restrictions on their ability to proselytize or manifest their faith in public spaces. FEREDE said religious group members had received fines and penalties for carrying out religious activities in public or distributing leaflets with religious content. According to FEREDE, city councils were increasingly willing to restrict these actions through their municipal bylaws. As an example, it cited the Huelva City Council, which in 2016 excluded religious bodies from using public municipal spaces. In addition, according to the report, Mormons said their missionaries faced obstacles in disseminating their ideas through banners or stalls at book fairs. Jehovah’s Witnesses cited some problems in preaching in public spaces, although they said the number of city councils placing obstacles had decreased.
Protestants stated again that city governments imposed burdensome and unequal regulations on religious groups seeking licenses or permits for places of worship. FEREDE Executive Secretary Blazquez said obtaining city permits to construct new churches or keep current churches open, especially in Madrid, remained a challenge. FEREDE estimated that about half its places of worship did not have a permit because the process of obtaining one was so difficult. For example, FEREDE stated its churches must meet the same soundproofing building codes as nightclubs. Blazquez said this requirement was too burdensome for new churches and put existing ones at risk of closure.
The government’s report on religious freedom cited a call by FEREDE for the government to take into account the needs of religious groups when engaging in urban planning to ensure all religious groups received equal treatment in the establishment of places of worship. According to the report, FCJE asked for clear norms to guarantee religious groups the right to open places of worship, while CIE called for the government to take steps to overcome obstacles to the opening of mosques. The report also stated FCBE outlined a need for legislative action to protect minority religious groups from forced expulsion from, or expropriation of, places of worship.
Muslim and Jewish communities reported improved collaboration with municipalities over cemetery access and establishment, although no new cemeteries were opened or expanded to include access during the year. CIE negotiated a 108,000 square-foot parcel of the Carabanchel Cemetery in Madrid for Islamic burials, and was in final negotiations at year’s end regarding maintenance costs before interment could begin. CIE reported Muslims could already receive a religious burial at Grinon Cemetery in Madrid. CIE reported there still were no Islamic cemeteries in the regions of Galicia and Extremadura. FCJE reached agreement with the cities of Valencia and Alicante under which the cities would provide Jewish cemeteries. FCBE President Luis Morente said an agreement reached with the government in 2016 for refrigerating bodies prior to Tibetan burials in order to abide by health regulations was functioning well.
According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, FCJE said there was still room for improvement in its access to parcels of land for use as burial plots, and the CIE called for regulations governing burials without coffins and the granting of land parcels for Islamic burials in municipal cemeteries.
In July the city of Getafe threatened to close the local mosque for building code violations, citing overcrowding on prayer days because of the growth of the Muslim community. After negotiations with CIE and the Foundation, the city and local Muslim community agreed to repurpose the building for activities other than worship, such as religious education, where participants would not exceed the maximum building capacity. Muslims were reportedly worshipping at another location in the city.
The Catalan Muslim community stated the Barcelona city government supported the building of a mosque, unlike in previous years, when there was both local and neighborhood opposition to a mosque. The Muslim community, however, lacked the necessary funding. Both city and regional government officials said that, as with other religious groups, the Muslim community was responsible for raising the necessary funding to buy land and build the mosque and submitting a request to the city.
Regional commitments to provide religious education to minorities, as prescribed in 1992 agreements, remained problematic, according to Gabriel Jairodin Riaza, the author of the annual report on Islamophobia in Spain by the Andalusian Observatory, an NGO under UCIDE auspices. He said that whether a region fulfilled its obligation to provide religious education to children depended on the will of local politicians. Riaza also stated that some politicians deliberately stalled Muslim initiatives by, for example, failing to contract Islamic education instructors.
Jairodin stated the fundamental problem with the regional governments’ failure to provide Islamic education instructors was difficulty in implementing the national protocol for collecting the minimum of 10 requests from parents for religious education. The NGO Al Ihsan Women’s Association in Melilla reportedly met with the provincial education director in the city in 2016 to discuss religious education. It then educated Muslim parents of their rights under the law to request religious education in secondary schools. The NGO’s director, Mimuntz Mohamed Hammu, said more than 10 requests were submitted in each of the city’s seven secondary schools; in every case, the school refused to receive the letters, stating it did not have necessary authorization from the provincial education office of the MOE. Mohamed said the provincial education director had not yet responded to a formal letter of complaint.
Federal and regional governments employed 56 Islamic education instructors nationwide, according to CIE, which certified teachers. CIE stated this number only allowed for religious education for 20 percent of the Muslim students whose parents desired such education for their children. CIE again emphasized the need to extend Islamic education to secondary schools, targeting adolescent Muslims, who it said otherwise sought answers about Islam on the internet and might become susceptible to radical influences. CIE Secretary Mohamed Ajana commended the region of Castille and Leon for adding five Islamic education instructors during the year. The MOJ said it worked with CIE to intercede with regional governments that were not providing Islamic education instructors, helping to forge agreements that avoided costly and lengthy court battles.
On November 3, a Muslim family won an appeal of a suit filed in 2016 on behalf of a group of Muslim students against the region of La Rioja for not providing Islamic education in public schools. The La Rioja High Court ruled the regional education authority was required to provide religious education to the students, overturning a lower court decision in April in favor of the local government, which stated the CIE had failed to provide a list of instructors. Muslim leaders stated the region of La Rioja had long opposed providing Islamic education in public schools. Before the higher court decision in November, the MOJ said it had mediated between the CIE and the La Rioja education counselor after the April ruling. It stated the region had expressed willingness to incorporate Islamic religious instruction in schools. The region would pay for the instructors and use the national government’s Islamic education curriculum.
The MOJ’s report on religious freedom also cited complaints by several religious groups, including the Catholic Church, FEREDE, FCJE, and CIE, about the inability to provide religious education and the integration of religious teachers in schools.
Holocaust education in secondary school curricula continued to expand in accordance with an MOE mandate contained in two existing royal decrees. The subject was included in fourth-year compulsory geography and history class and first-year contemporary history of the world class. Jewish community members, however, described the Holocaust education provided in public schools as inadequate, especially in regions outside Madrid. Regional governments compiled Holocaust and Sephardi history curricula with input from the FCJE and the MOE.
Approximately 40 teachers from across Spain whose responsibilities included Holocaust and Sephardi education traveled to Jerusalem in July using funds from the state-supported cultural center “Centro Sefarad-Israel”, the MOE, and the Madrid regional government. They completed coursework at the study center of the Israel Museum of the Holocaust to enhance their classroom instruction. Centro Sefarad-Israel said more than 600 instructors had taken part in the program.
FEREDE said that because of the stricter pension eligibility requirements for Protestant ministers, no retired Protestant clergy member had yet been able to access a government pension. In November the Supreme Court ruled in favor of FEREDE in a suit the group had filed in 2015, protesting the unequal pension eligibility requirements. The court decreed FEREDE clergy should be eligible for pensions under the same terms as Catholic priests. The ruling was not retroactive to clergy who were already retired and applied only to Protestant ministers. FEREDE said it hoped government promises to modify the law in the wake of the Supreme Court decision would rectify the pension problem for both its retired and active clergy.
Representatives of FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE stated they did not receive all of the benefits to which they were entitled under their cooperative agreements with the government. Mormons, according to the MOJ report on religious freedom, said groups with notorio arraigo status, but which had no cooperative agreement with the government, did not receive the same benefits, such as tax exemptions and the right to provide religious assistance and instruction in public institutions, as religious groups that had concluded such agreements. FCBE and the Romanian Orthodox Church also noted the disparate treatment in tax exemptions, according to the report.
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 yielded an estimated 250 million euros ($300 million) in annual donations to the Catholic Church, according to news reports.
Equal opportunity to allocate a portion of an individual’s taxes to a chosen religious group remained an issue of debate; several religious groups, including Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, and Mormons, continued to express their desire to have their groups included on the tax form so they could be eligible to receive the 0.7 percent allocation from taxpayers. In June during the Second University Conference of the Association of Young Researchers on Religious Sciences, representatives of FEREDE and FCJE stated they did not oppose the voluntary income tax payments to the Catholic Church, but would like to see the same benefit provided to minority religious groups. FEREDE Executive Secretary Blazquez said, “It is better to collect through the income taxes box than through a direct assignment. Evangelicals [i.e., Protestants] do not want that money to be used to pay pastors’ salaries, but for solidarity activities.” FEREDE said possible uses of such revenue could include support for a food bank, residences for victims of violence or refugees, worker training programs, and social reinsertion programs for ex-convicts. Isaac Querub, president of FCJE, said, “I do not mind the tax allocation to the [Catholic] Church, since 90 percent of Spaniards are Catholics, but the same allocation should be studied for Jews.”
Religious groups said government support for social programs through the Foundation was inadequate. Religious representative bodies, including FEREDE, CIE, and FCJE, indicated that they depended on governmental support through the Foundation (70 percent of their operating budget or more) to cover administrative and infrastructure costs. The Foundation had a budget of 1.4 million euros ($1.7 million) to support religious groups. Of the total budget, 900,000 euros ($1.1 million) went to religious communities for social projects, down from 992,000 euros ($1.2 million) in 2016. Most of the grants (780,000 euros, or $936,000) went to the federations representing religious groups with agreements with the state (Jews, Muslims, and Protestants). Another 120,000 euros ($144,000), down from 200,000 euros ($240,000) in 2016, was divided into small grants of less than 5,000 euros ($6,000) awarded to dozens of local religious associations. According to the Foundation director, the 2016 grants were unusually large because they included carryover funds from winning projects not executed in 2015. Foundation grants to minority religious groups also funded projects promoting tolerance and dialogue, conferences on religious diversity, research about religious minorities, and cultural projects to increase knowledge of minority religious groups.
In June the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that certain tax exemptions to the Catholic Church might constitute unlawful state aid. The case involved a municipal tax refund a Catholic school was seeking in connection with the construction of a school building. The congregation filed a legal suit after local tax authorities denied the refund, and the courts referred the case to the ECJ. The ECJ declared that the tax exemption would use state resources to give a selective economic advantage to the congregation running the school. It referred the case back to Spanish courts to determine whether the exemption would meet the minimum threshold for unlawful state aid.
According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, the CIE asked the government to take steps to prevent discrimination against some Muslim women, particularly in schools and in the workplace, for wearing the hijab.
Members of the large Muslim community in the North African exclave of Ceuta reported widespread discrimination. A Muslim merchant in the Muslim-majority neighborhood of Principe opined that Catholics had limited the opportunities and influence of minorities so they could “take back Spain for Spaniards.” Representatives from the federal and city governments denied there was discrimination against Muslims. One government official said the two Muslim-majority political parties in Ceuta used a message of exclusion and victimization to rally supporters and extract political concessions.
In August the MOJ began working with religious entities to compile a list of clergy, including imams, to be included within a Register of Religious Entities. This would identify religious officials from all groups empowered to perform religious acts with civil effects, such as marriages. The new registry, completed in November, was a voluntary, comprehensive, and private list of all clergy belonging to religions with notorio arraigo status, according to the MOJ. The MOJ added that while contribution to the list was voluntary, groups were required to submit the names of clergy authorized to perform religious weddings with civil effects. CIE secretary Ajana said the list would protect believers by ensuring that imams were registered and the marriages they officiated were legal.
On September 6, the MOJ again denied the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Pastafarianism, recognition as a religious group. The group took its case against the MOJ to the national court, which has national jurisdiction and hears cases affecting more than one region. At year’s end the case was pending. The Office of Religious Affairs and the Foundation said the Church had never requested a meeting.
The Attorney General for Hate Crimes launched an investigation in January and initiated a legal process in October to determine the criminal responsibility of municipalities that supported the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, considered by FCJE as an Anti-Semitic movement. In November a district court in Seville issued a writ of interim injunction against the City Council of La Roda de Andalucia, suspending its participation in BDS, which it had joined in 2014. The court’s injunction was the result of a suit brought by the NGO The Lawfare Project in Spain.
On January 26, politicians on the city council of Valencia voted down a BDS motion introduced by the Valencia en Comu coalition. The anti-BDS NGO Action and Communication about the Middle East had told the council that participating in BDS proposals was illegal, based on convictions against those participating in similar actions in several other municipalities. Xeraco, a town of 6,000 inhabitants near Valencia, was under investigation by local prosecutors for BDS support. On January 26, Judicial Court 10 of Valencia halted Xeraco’s Israel boycott.
The Parliament of Catalonia approved a motion July 27 requesting the regional government to submit within 90 days an action plan to combat anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Semitism. The government had not presented the plan by year’s end. Based on a 2016 report on the religious practices of Muslim communities in Barcelona, Mayor Ada Colau and the city administration announced a “Plan of Action against Islamophobia” on January 17 to address rising anti-Muslim sentiment. As part of the plan, the first of its kind in the country, municipal authorities conducted seminars and training and published educational materials to sensitize the population to anti-Muslim sentiment and its impact. The plan also outlined a communications campaign, in partnership with Muslim communities, to highlight anti-Islamic sentiment as a form of discrimination, but the city had not launched that campaign by year’s end.
In July the MOJ, the Foundation, and the Center for Intelligence Against Terrorism and Organized Crime (CITCO) held their first meeting with CIE leadership to explain the government’s National Plan Against Radicalization (PNCR). Although the central government announced the PNCR in 2015, it had implemented little programming under the plan since its passage, relying instead on local municipalities to implement their own counter-radicalization and community engagement measures with guidance from CITCO. The CIE offered to collaborate on radicalization detection and on the plan’s implementation, specifically offering religious sensitivity training to help rectify what it described as racial profiling by police at the local level. CIE Secretary Ajana said security forces often relied erroneously on aspects of physical appearance such as a beard, or the wearing of a hijab, as indicators of radicalization. By year’s end, the government had not responded to CIE’s offer to provide sensitivity training related to the PNCR. CIE confirmed it had longstanding programs to conduct such training for new Civil Guard cadets and UN Peacekeepers before their deployment.
On September 9, representatives from MOJ, the Foundation, and CITCO met with approximately 30 young Muslims in Madrid to discuss problems in the Muslim community and to explain the PNCR to Muslim youth. An MOJ official and the Foundation’s director said Muslim youth were able to share their opinions about the PNCR and discuss problems related to anti-Islamic sentiment, religious freedom, and preventing radicalization in their communities. The group included men and women ages 18-30 and converts to Islam. The CIE president later said he believed such meetings would be more effective if they targeted all youth, not just Muslim youth.
According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, FEREDE and FCJE called for greater neutrality on the part of the national and local governments in conducting certain official activities, for example by not organizing Catholic state funerals. FCBE called for better training of civil servants pertaining to the treatment of religious minorities under the law, for example in the registration of religious marriages. The report cited concerns by the Catholic Church of acts by local governments the Church considered to be anti-Catholic, for example, a prohibition against the celebration by police of a local patron saint’s feast day or the cancellation of religious festivities or limitations on Catholic liturgical acts.
On October 2, the national government, in collaboration with Menendez Pelayo International University, held a celebration in Cuenca to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of a 1992 state pact with leaders of the three principal minority religions: Judaism, Islam, and Protestantism. The all-day ceremony and workshops included participation by the government and religious leaders, including a roundtable discussing how to fully execute the 1992 accords and best practices in ensuring religious freedom.
In April Criminal Court 16 of Barcelona convicted Barcelona bookstore owner Pedro Varela of intellectual property crimes for selling Mein Kampf without authorization from the state of Bavaria, Germany. The court sentenced Varela to six months in prison and ordered him to pay Bavaria 67,637 euros ($81,200), the total profit obtained from the sale of the book. Varela had edited and sold more than 4,300 copies of the book between 1997 and 2010 through his bookstore in Barcelona and other establishments in the country and abroad. Authorities continued to investigate Varela on criminal charges that he sold books promoting religious hatred and discrimination. Authorities had arrested Varela and closed down his bookshop and websites in 2016, the first time the government had acted against a business in connection with religious hate crime charges. The judge and Barcelona Prosecutor Against Hate Crimes and Discrimination Miguel Angel Aguilar called Varela an active neo-Nazi. Varela remained free pending an appeal of his intellectual property violation conviction.
According to FCJE Director Aisen, while membership in ultra-right parties had not increased, the parties had gradually expanded their online and public presence, including through public meetings, marches, and statements in the press. She said that even though they had gradually increased incidents of hate speech – which included propagating anti-Semitic hate speech, writing, and cartoons through social media – her organization still viewed the parties as marginal. She said far-left parties were generally intolerant of the role of religion in any aspect of public life. Aisen emphasized the connection between anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism. She stated, however, that politicians had reduced their casual use of historical Spanish phrases that were critical of Jews. She added that police generally pursued violators of laws against religiously motivated hate speech.
According to the MOJ’s report on religious freedom, the Catholic Church stated the government was not responding to a growing number of attacks on Catholic religious sentiments as called for by law, while CIE recommended the government take measures to combat an increase in offenses against religious sentiment and hate crimes. The report also cited FEREDE’s call on the government to pay greater attention to a growing number of cases of offenses and incitement to hatred against Christianity, many of which involved vandalism, but that the government did not classify as religiously motivated, according to FEREDE.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.