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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The 1978 Constitution, which declares the country to be a secular state, and various laws provide that no religion should have the character of a state religion. However, the Government treats religions in different ways. Catholicism is the predominant religion and enjoys the closest official relationship as well as the most benefits, including financing collected by the Government through the tax system. The Government supports the Catholic Church with an amount close to $1 million annually. Jews, Muslims, and Protestants also have official status but enjoy fewer privileges. These religions have bilateral agreements with the Government, and receive some financial assistance from the Government. Other recognized religions, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), are covered by constitutional protections but have no special agreements with the Government.

The Organic Law of Religious Freedom of 1980 implements the constitutional provision for freedom of religion. The 1980 law establishes a legal regime and certain privileges for religious organizations. To enjoy the benefits of this regime, religious organizations must be entered in the Register of Religious Entities maintained by the General Directorate of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Justice. The register was established in 1981, and was updated most recently in 1998. In order to register with the Ministry of Justice, religious groups must submit documentation supporting their claim to be religions. If a group is turned down, it may appeal the decision to the courts. If it is judged not to be a religion, it may be included on a Register of Associations maintained by the Ministry of Interior. Presence on the Register of Associations grants legal status as authorized by the law regulating the right of association. Religions not officially recognized, such as the Church of Scientology, are treated as cultural associations.

The Catholic Church does not have to register with the Ministry of Justice's religious entities list; however, some entities do register for financial or other reasons. The first section of the Register of Religious Entities, called the special section, contains a list of religious entities created by the Catholic Church and a list of non-Catholic churches, confessions, and communities that have an agreement on cooperation with the State. In 1992 agreements on cooperation with the State were signed by three organizations on behalf of Protestants, Jews, and Muslims. The organizations were the Federation of Evangelical Entities of Spain (FEREDE), the Federation of Israelite Communities of Spain (FCIE), and the Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE).

The Catholic Church hierarchy maintains that 93.63 percent of citizens are declared Catholics. However, many persons argue that this figure is based on numbers of baptisms, weddings, and first communions, events that are essentially social rites, and which are practiced by many who do not attend church regularly or believe in its teachings. In a poll done in April 1998 by the Center for Social Research (CIS), only 1.4 percent of respondents said that they belonged to a non-Catholic religion. The Federation of Protestant Churches represents 350,000 Protestants. The Federation of Spanish Islamic Entities (FEERI), located in Cordoba, estimates that there are more than 450,000 Muslims, not counting illegal immigrants (who could number a quarter million). There are approximately 25,000 Jews registered with the major Jewish organization. However 50,000 persons attend Jewish religious services in 13 of the country's 17 regions. There are 3,000 Buddhists registered, but according to their president, there are three times that many in practice.

There are 11,081 entities created by the Catholic Church in the first section of the Register of Religious Entities, and 570 non-Catholic churches, confessions, and communities. The second section of the register, called the general section, contains non-Catholic churches, confessions, and communities that do not have an agreement with the State, and their creations. There are 329 entities in this section. The third section contains canonical foundations of the Catholic Church. There are 153 entries in this section.

There are a total of 899 non-Catholic churches, confessions, and communities in the register. These consist of 747 Protestant church entities, which have 1,643 places of worship. These include: Charismatics--89 entities and 113 places of worship; Assemblies of Brothers--120 entities and 143 places of worship; Baptists--213 entities and 247 places of worship; Pentecostals--64 entities and 259 places of worship; Presbyterians--36 entities and 58 places of worship; one entity of the Evangelical Church of Philadelphia, which has 613 places of worship; Church of Christ--9 entities and 19 places of worship; the Salvation Army--1 entity and 9 places of worship; Anglicans--17 entities and 26 places of worship; interdenominational churches and entities--60 entities and 13 places of worship; Churches for Attention to Foreigners--25 entities and 9 places of worship; Adventists--3 entities and 76 places of worship; and other evangelical churches--106 entities and 53 places of worship. In addition, there are also: Orthodox--5 entities and 5 places of worship; Christian Scientists--3 entities and no places of worship; Jehovah's Witnesses--1 entity and 873 places of worship; Mormons--1 entity and 30 places of worship; other Christian confessions--10 entities and 29 places of worship; Judaism--15 entities and 15 places of worship; Islam--99 entities and 45 places of worship; Baha'is--2 entities and 12 places of worship; Hinduism--3 entities and no places of worship; Buddhism--13 entities and 13 places of worship; and other confessions--3 entities and 12 places of worship.

Foreign missionaries proselytize in the country.

Religion courses are offered in public schools but are not mandatory. There are religious schools, supported by the Catholic Church.

There are some allegations that the Government discriminates against non-Catholic religions. A senior Protestant leader stated that Protestants want the same tax exemptions as Catholics, the same access to legal services, the same right to establish foundations, the same presence in the communications media, and better treatment in the matter of religious groups.

According to a senior Muslim leader, in 1999, 30 Muslim girls in Granada were required to remove their veils for their national identity card photos; Catholic nuns are not required to remove their head coverings for their identity card photos.

The Defense Ministry requires soldiers to declare their religion before allowing entry into military barracks by any religious figures other than Catholic army chaplains. The State funds Catholic chaplains who serve in hospitals.

The government income tax form includes a box that allows taxpayers to assign 0.5239 percent of their taxes to the Catholic Church. Protestant and Muslim leaders would like their adherents to have a similar option. The Government is agreeable to adding the three "established religions"--Protestants, Jews, and Muslims--to the income tax check-box list, and opened negotiations with the Protestants on this subject on April 15, 1999.

However, the Jewish community wants to receive money from the Government, but does not want to be included in the check-box list on the income tax form. This reticence is attributed to the community's past history, which included persecution and expulsion from the country in 1492. In addition to an annual subsidy, the Jewish community is asking for a one-time reparations payment for the community's historic experience of suffering. A spokesman for the Jewish community said that Jews would not claim compensation for their lost patrimony, but would like the State to take back part of what was once theirs and is now in the hands of the Catholic Church. These properties could then be used jointly by Jews and Catholics. The Jewish community also wants the Government to resolve problems associated with Jewish cemeteries. (Under the law, land for cemeteries is not granted in perpetuity, and it is expected that cemeteries may be moved and the land developed for urban uses if the need so arises.)

In May 1999, the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament approved a non-binding resolution calling on the Government to reinforce measures against the activity of destructive "sects" in the country and to create a permanent observatory to monitor these organizations. In press reports, sources cited figures attributed to the Interior Ministry stating that there were 200 destructive sects in the country, which have between 100,000 and 150,000 members. The Law of Sects in Spain, passed in 1989, authorizes the police to investigate sects with a destructive character. As a result, a special unit was created within the police to investigate allegedly destructive sects.

The paramilitary Civil Guard (GC) initiated, then backed away from, an investigation of Jehovah's Witnesses early in 1999 following the death under unusual circumstances of a Belgian woman in Alicante, apparently during rites of a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation. On March 20, 1999, Natalie Castleford died of asphyxiation, while rolled up in a carpet. Her death initially was attributed by the authorities to the rites used by the congregation of which she was a member. The GC initially let it be known that it was investigating members of the congregation. However, the commander of the GC of Alicante subsequently wrote to Jehovah's Witnesses stating that the GC legally could not investigate religious associations as long as they were constituted legally, even if some of their members were implicated in criminal activities. Jehovah's Witnesses have been recognized legally since July 1979.

In April 1999, the police arrested a woman in Torremolinos, whom they alleged had deceived and ruined at least 20 persons as a member of a sect called The Orientation. The woman, a Spanish citizen of Norwegian origin, known as Teresa, was known among her followers as the Madame. She began her activities in Torremolinos 4 years ago. She called herself a psychic teacher, and allegedly lured adolescents and adults who came to consult her into a process of reeducation. She isolated her followers from their families and friends and convinced them to donate their money to the sect. She threatened those who tried to leave with physical violence. Ultimately, eight of her former followers lodged a formal complaint against her, and the Malaga provincial police began an investigation.

The government of the Canary Islands, one of Spain's 17 regions, refused to grant permission to the Salvation Army to open a center for needy children, on the grounds that the Salvation Army is a "destructive sect."

In early April 1999, the Helsinki Human Rights Federation, presented a report to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), that included criticism of Spain for failing to implement its commitment in the 1994 Budapest Document on freedom of religion and conscience. The report criticized Spain for discrimination against "new religions," which often are considered by authorities to be dangerous and destructive, while older, established religions continue to receive financial and other privileges from the State.

The regional government of Catalunia effectively shut down three of the Catholic Church's FM radio broadcasting stations by failing to renew their licenses. (Technically, the licenses were owned by the group known as the Network of Popular Spanish Airwaves, or "Cadena Cope," a network of broadcasting stations supported by the Catholic Church. On May 13, 1999, the Church's highest executive organ, the Spanish Episcopal Conference, announced that it would take the regional government of Catalunia before the Superior Court of Justice of Catalunia in an attempt to regain the lost stations. Thirty-three licenses--21 new and 12 existing--were awarded. The 3 lost by the Church were among the 12. Aspirants for the licenses were required to fill out and submit a questionnaire on how they ran or planned to run the stations. The questions included the number of songs in the Catalan language to be broadcast. The Catalan government suggested that the Church broadcasting channel did not take the RFP seriously and assumed that it would automatically have its licenses renewed. The Church did not get any of the new licenses. The majority of the licenses went to media groups close to the Catalan government and current premier Jordi Pujol. The three stations had a combined regular listening audience of 120,000 persons. They had never been sanctioned previously or found guilty of any infraction or violation of their licenses.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations between the various churches are amicable.

According to the president of the Federation of Protestant Churches, there is full religious tolerance in law but not in practice.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. Embassy officials meet with religious leaders of the various denominations.

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Revised last: 10-09-1999