Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Religious Pluralism in Spain: Striking the Balance between Religious Freedom and Constitutional Rights

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Religious Pluralism in Spain: Striking the Balance between Religious Freedom and Constitutional Rights

Article excerpt


The words "religious pluralism" and "Spain" are not heard together all too often. An overwhelming majority of Spanish citizens belong to the Catholic Church-over ninety percent of the population is baptized Catholic.1 Different options in religious matters are therefore quite limited. Nevertheless, in recent years more and more religions have entered Spain and sought official recognition.2 Religions such as the Buddhist Association of Spain, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints have all only recently achieved official recognition.3

With this growing number of religious movements in Spain, state treatment of these bodies becomes increasingly important. With new denominations that often advocate values or beliefs foreign to those held by most Spanish citizens entering the country, Spain must decide when to give such movements legitimacy and support through official recognition. While tolerance and religious pluralism are positive values in any government, if left unchecked, these values could potentially jeopardize the State's underlying institutions. On the other hand, repression of religious movements could potentially lead to tyranny and the denial of basic human rights. This Article seeks to find the balance between these sometimes conflicting norms of tolerance and institutional stability. Ultimately, it argues that the only way to achieve this balance is to impose limits on religious practice only when such a practice violates clear state constitutional principles or universal values.

This Article will address the landscape of religious pluralism in Spain and the unique challenges Spain faces in balancing between protecting religious minorities and remaining true to its constitutional framework and core values. The Article argues that this balance can only occur by recognizing the need for tolerance institutionally while requiring that any restrictions on religious liberty be based on clear universal principles and core principles of Spanish law. Part II of this Article provides a brief introduction to the religious landscape in Spain, particularly focusing on historical development, demography, and legal recognition of religions. Part III briefly summarizes the vitality of religious pluralism. Part IV examines how the Spanish legal system has evolved to accept and tolerate religions. Part V discusses several government practices that may hinder this advancement of religious pluralism. Part VI provides two case studies that illustrate the difficulties presented by alternative belief systems. In order to accommodate these different religions, Spain must approach all religions with tolerance while preserving the integrity of its constitutional principles and fundamental rights. Part VII offers a brief conclusion.


In order to understand the legal and cultural norms influencing Spanish treatment of religious denominations, it is first necessary to trace the history of religious development in Spain. Such a discussion begins in the Middle Ages, where religious pluralism existed to some degree. During this period in Spain, three predominant religions existed in relative harmony: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.4 Although each religion generally tolerated the personal beliefs of the members of the other religions such that each religion was able to regulate its customs and its own laws, this tolerance did not translate into equality. In both the Christian and Islamic kingdoms, nonbelievers were subjected to certain restrictions (payment of special taxes, exclusion from public office, imposition of special clothing, etc.) not faced by members of their own religious community. As these restrictions became more and more harsh, mutual tolerance among the three religions began to erode.5

In the Christian kingdoms of Spain, the era of the Catholic monarchs eventually brought an end to this limited religious pluralism. …

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