Separation Of Church And State at a Crossroads In Spain

February 8, 2009

Author: Christine Spolar

Source: The Chicago Tribune,0,3820009.story

For a country steeped in Catholic tradition, these are alarming times.

Public schools are being told by judicial order to pull crucifixes from their walls. City buses with billboards espousing atheism have been rumbling through the streets here, prompting yowls of blasphemy from Catholic leaders.

"Probably God Doesn't Exist," bleated an ad plastered last month across Bus 14, a normally sunny mode of transport past this city's harbor. "So Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life."

The so-called godless buses — which copy a campaign begun in Britain — have appeared in Madrid and Malaga, Spain, and are planned for elsewhere in Europe. For Spain, the stunt is a provocative sign of the times.

This democracy is engaged in a bracing debate over God and state and deciding whether Catholic or secular visions should mold social policies and young minds.

A new citizenship course, introduced in secondary school in September, left politicians and church leaders tangling over what values should be formally taught. Laws passed in 2005 that essentially recognize gay marriage and ease divorce still rankle Catholic elders.

Now, with crucifixes being removed from some schools in Spain, an age-old symbol of education has toppled. Parents in the northern city of Valladolid went to court to dispute crucifixes in primary classrooms, a touch common in much of Spain. A judge ruled the crosses violated the constitution—that no single religion should dominate in Spain—and ordered them removed.