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Spain’s Jews Given Religious Equality Under New Constitution

Spain’s 12,000-member Jewish community achieves full religious equality as one feature of the new Spanish constitution approved in a nationwide referendum early this month. “This dramatic change in the situation of the Jewish and other non-Catholic religious minorities in Spain truly deserves to be hailed as one of the major steps toward greater democracy incorporated in the 169 articles of this new, basic Spanish document,” declared Richard Maass, president of the American Jewish Committee.

The key clause in the constitution is its Article 16, which guarantees religious liberty both for individuals and communities, and goes on to declare that no one shall be obliged to declare his religion, ideology or beliets. For Spain’s Jews, the new document marks the accomplishment of a struggle to achieve equality that has taken over 30 years, Maass pointed out.

First, there was the drive to have the right to publicly perform Jewish services, denied under the Concordat between Spain and the Vatican of post-Spanish Civil War days. Then came the building of the first modern synagogue in Spain, in Barcelona, in 1955, but without any exterior sign that it was a Jewish building. Then in Madrid in 1968 came an inauguration of a synagogue in a ceremony marked by the presence of government officials, and with exterior signs that it is a Jewish place of worship.

But even today, certain limitations exist on full Jewish communal exercise — the community, for example, cannot own its religious properties directly — which the new constitution will make possible, Maass noted.

The next step in implementing the constitutional guarantee of full equality will be the passage of a low establishing the relations between the Spanish government and religions in the country. The text of such a law has been the subject of more than a year’s discussion between representatives of the Spanish government and representatives of the different religious communities, Maass said.

BACKGROUND OF CONSTITUTION

He recalled that it was one year ago, in on unprecedented move in Spanish history, that the government authorized the Minister of Justice to bring both Jews and Protestants into full consultation, along with Catholics, on the drawing up both of the constitutional clauses on religious liberty and the draft law on religion.

The AJCommittee made available to leaders of the Spanish Jewish community advice from leading constitutional experts on church-state law in other lands; and a delegation of AJCommittee leaders met with top officials in the Ministry of Justice in Madrid last April to discuss the draft religious law, Maass said.

The fact that the new constitution guarantees equality does not mean there will be the kind of separation of church and state known in the United States, he noted. A first draft of the constitution did declare that Spain should be a “non-confessional” state. This, however, was dropped in the face of strong protest by Catholic authorities, who declared that although not apposed to separation of church and state, they wanted stronger constitutional safeguards on their rights to teach and preach.

The compromise adopted calls for public authorities to “take into consideration the religious beliefs of Spanish society and consequently maintain cooperative relations with it and other religions.” This compromise lays the ground for arrangements whereby methods of financing religious education — but for all religions — will be worked out in cooperation with the state.

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