Last Updated 16 October 2020

Spain is a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament. The population of around 46 million people enjoy constitutional guarantees of secularism, though in practice there are extant religious privileges, in particular for the Catholic Church. According to a recent survey, two in three state that they are Catholic, however only 22.7% are practising, a further 29% of the population identify as atheist, agnostic or as a non-believer.1

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Section 16 of the Constitution2 guarantees “freedom of ideology, religion and worship” to individuals and communities with no restrictions other than those necessary for the protection of public order. It goes on to state:

“No religion shall have a state character. The public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and shall consequently maintain appropriate cooperation relations with the Catholic Church and other confessions.”

Subsequent sections of the Constitution provide guarantees for the rights to freedom of expression, conscience, assembly and association. Further laws, further regulate the right to freedom of religion or belief.3 Specifically, the Organic Law on Religious Freedom (Ley Orgánica 7/1980, de 5 de julio, de Libertad Religiosa)4 specifies that freedom of religion includes the right to freely express one’s belief or lack thereof. However, Article 3(2) of the same law states:

“The activities, purposes and entities related to the study and experience of psychic or parapsychological phenomena, or the dissemination of spiritual or humanistic values or other analogous purposes unrelated to religious ones are outside the scope of protection of this Law” (“Quedan fuera del ámbito de protección de la presente Ley las actividades, finalidades y Entidades relacionadas con el estudio y experimentación de los fenómenos psíquicos o parapsicológicos o la difusión de valores humanísticos o espiritualistas u otros fines análogos ajenos a los religiosos.”)

Belief groups are required to register with the authorities in order to be recognized and conferred the associated benefits. Groups registered in the Ministry of Justice’s Registry of Religious Entities may buy, rent, and sell property, and may act as a legal entity in civil proceedings.

To date, the state has cooperation agreements with the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities (Federación de Entidades Religiosas Evangélicas de España – FEREDE), the Islamic Commission of Spain (Comisión Islámica de España – CIE), and Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (Federación de Comunidades Judías de España – FCJE), in addition to a Concordat with the Holy See. Groups with cooperation agreements are also eligible for independently administered government grants

These rights are generally respected in practice, although the Roman Catholic Church continues to receive some privileges that are not available to other religions or groups.

Catholic privilege

The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See5 that grants the Catholic Church additional benefits not available to three other groups with which the government has agreements: Protestants, Muslims, and Jews. Groups without agreements may register with the government and receive some benefits.6

Federal tax law, however, provides taxpayers the option of allocating up to 0.7 percent of their income tax to the Catholic Church or to a nongovernmental organization (NGO), but not to other religious groups. According to Spanish newspaper El País, one third of the population chooses to allocate a portion of the tax to the Church, garnering it more than 284 million euros in the past year.7

Education and children’s rights

Section 27 of the Constitution enshrines the right to education with the purpose of “the full development of human personality with due respect for the democratic principles of coexistence and for basic rights and freedoms.” Guaranteeing “the right of parents to ensure that their children receive religious and moral instruction in accordance with their own convictions.”

A concordat with the Holy See specifically addresses education, stating “the education given in public educational centers will be respectful of the values ​​of Christian ethics.”8 It also grants the Holy See oversight over those permitted to teach classes on Roman Catholicism, as well as textbooks and the curriculum.

The government funds teachers for Catholic, Islamic, Protestant, and Judaic instruction in public schools when at least 10 students request it. The courses are not mandatory. Those students who elect not to take religious education courses are required to take an alternative course covering general social, cultural, and religious themes. Either the national Ministry of Education or the regional entity responsible for education certifies teachers’ credentials. However, religious groups are responsible for selecting teachers for their particular religion.

Family, community and society

Spain’s system of regional autonomy grants significant powers of self-governance to the country’s traditional national minorities, including Catalans and Basques.9

Personal social freedoms are generally respected. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Spain since 2005, and same-sex couples may adopt children.

Violence against women

While there are legal protections against domestic abuse and rape, including spousal rape, both remain significant problems in practise.10 Since 2003, at least 1,051 women have been murdered by their partners.11

In 2018, five men were acquitted of rape and convicted on a lesser charge of sexual abuse in a high-profile 2016 case in Pamplona, but in June 2019 the Supreme Court found the men guilty of rape and sentenced them to 15 years in prison.12 The case fuelled calls to change the law so that specific evidence of physical violence or intimidation accompanying a sexual assault would not be needed to secure a rape conviction.

Expression, advocacy of humanist values

The expression of humanist or secular values is generally respected.

There are some concerns that the Law on Public Safety (2015) places some undue limits on freedom of expression and association on “public order” grounds. Under the law all protests must be registered with a local authority and protesters are forbidden from demonstrating near government buildings. Disseminating unauthorized images of law enforcement can also carry a penalty of up to €30,

Defamation (known as ‘calumny’ or ‘injury’) is punishable by up to two years in prison under Articles 205-216 of the Penal Code.14 The laws have been used to intimidate journalists reporting on allegations of government corruption.15 Further articles of the Penal Code criminalise defamation of the Monarch and their descendants, the State and its symbols.16

Media freedom

While Spain has a free press that covers a wide range of perspectives and actively investigates high-level corruption, consolidation of private ownership and political interference at public outlets are said to pose threats to media independence.17 Political instability and the rise of the far-right in politics has led to a growth in attacks on the media. Political parties like VOX target the media, with its supporters stirring up hate against journalists on social media and physically harassing them on the ground.18

According to Reporters Without Borders:

“Investigative journalists have been subjected to judicial harassment, with several being accused of violating the confidentiality of a judicial investigation and others being the targets of raids and searches. Even if most cases are eventually dropped, there is a growing tendency on the part of the judicial authorities and the police to override the protection of journalists’ sources and to obstruct investigative journalism.”

Artistic freedom

Musicians, particularly rappers, are reported to regularly face accusations of “glorifying terrorism” or “insulting the crown”. According to Freemuse, at least 13 rappers have been convicted and imprisoned on such charges since 2017.19

De facto “blasphemy” law

Articles 522-526 of the Spanish Penal Code20 define crimes against “freedom of conscience, religious feelings and respect for the dead.” Specifically, Article 255 acts as a de facto ‘blasphemy’ law and is sometimes enforced. Article 525 of the Spanish Penal Code reads:

“1. Those that, in order to offend the feelings of members of a religious confession, make public derision, orally, by writing or through any type of document, of their dogmas, beliefs, rituals or ceremonies or mistreat, also publicly, those who practice that religion, will be punished with a fine between eight to twelve month of their salary.

2. Those that make public derision, orally or by writing, of people who do not confess any religion will incur in the penalties set in the previous paragraph.”

There have been a number of prosecutions under this law in the last several years. Most of these cases have been brought by the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers and by a Catholic legal association, the Tomás Moro Legal Center (see “Highlighted cases” below).

Europa Laica, an organization that promotes pluralism and freedom of conscience, campaigns against Article 525 and has initiated a petition for its

Freedom of assembly

Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution, which states:

  1. The right to peaceful unarmed assembly is recognised. The exercise of this right shall not require prior authorization.
  2. In the case of meetings in public places and of demonstrations, prior notification shall be given to the authorities, who may only forbid them when there are well founded grounds to expect a breach of public order, involving danger to persons or property.”

Spanish law requires prior notification in order for a public demonstration to be considered legal. Those who fail to comply with this requirement face fines.

Highlighted cases

In October 2019, the European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear a complaint lodged by the Association of Christian Lawyers against an artist whose 2015 photography exhibition featured the word “pederasty,” formed by consecrated communion wafers. The Association of Christian Lawyers filed a lawsuit against the artist, alleging he committed an “offense against religious sentiments and desecration.” A regional court in Pamplona had previously declined to hear the case, and the country’s Constitutional Court declared it to be inadmissible.22

Three women, Rocío Ballesta, Antonia Ávalos and a third woman who has chosen anonymity, were dragged through five years of criminal proceedings following a peaceful march in 2014, on charges of “crimes against religious sentiment”, before the case was finally thrown out in October 2019. The case dated back to 2014 when the accused carried a large latex model of a human vulva during a general worker’s union march. The model, named the coño insumiso (rebellious pussy) was a parody of the effigies of saints and the Virgin Mary, which are still carried during religious parades in Spain. The three women said they were marching on behalf of the “Guild of the Sacred Rebellious Pussy and the Sacred Burial of Social and Workers’ Rights” in order “to draw attention to their belief that the church’s teaching denied women fundamental rights at a time when the government was planning to introduce a restrictive abortion law.”

The case was first dropped in 2016 because the court found that the defendants were entitled to the freedom of expression represented by “publicly proclaiming that you don’t follow a religious faith”. However, the Association of Christian Lawyers then brought a civil action for “crimes against religious sentiment” and “mocking Catholic symbols and dogma”. During the second trial, defendant Ávalos said, “We feel that we are being persecuted and criminalised for defending women’s sexual and reproductive rights”. Campaigners condemned the new trial as an attack on free expression. Finally dismissing the case on 11 October 2019, the judge said the point of the parade had not been to offend religious sensibilities but to “defend social, workers’ and feminist rights.” This appears to leave the door open to other cases where “offending religious sensibilities” is considered part of the;

In July 2017, the Spanish actor Willy Toledo wrote a Facebook post to express his indignation after three women were charged for offense against religious feelings by parading a large model of vagina through the streets of Seville during what was called the Procession of the insubordinate pussy. The Facebook post read:

“I shit on God and have enough shit left over to shit on the dogma of the saintliness and virginity of the Virgin Mary. This country is unbearably shameful. I’m disgusted. Go fuck yourselves. Long live the Insubordinate Pussy.”

The Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers filed a complaint against Toledo. In May 2018, instead of appearing at court, the actor called a press conference where he stated that he had not committed any crime and therefore would not appear before a judge. In September 2018, the Court of Madrid issued an arrest warrant against Toledo after he twice failed to appear and testify in;

In February 2020, Toledo was acquitted of charges of obstruction of justice and hurting religious sentiments.26



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