Protestants call for 'equal treatment'
("El Pais," December 10, 2007)
Barcelona, Spain - Spanish Protestants ended a two-day conference in Barcelona on Sunday demanding "equal treatment" from the state and claiming they continue to face discrimination compared to Catholics and followers of other religions.
"We have to make progress toward the neutrality of the state in order to ensure effective and respectful cooperation between public powers and religious traditions," José María Baena, the president of the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities of Spain, declared Sunday.
Though freedom of religion is one of the rights protected by the Spanish Constitution of 1978, Spain's 1.5 million Protestants have long felt underrepresented compared to members of other minority religions, among them Muslims and Jews. In the view of Baena, Protestant representation has yet to parallel the real expansion of the religion in Spain, where the number of worshippers has increased fivefold in the last 40 years. Immigrants account for 10 percent of Protestant worshippers.
"We want greater religious, social and even political projection," Baena said.
The weekend's Spanish Evangelical Congress served to raise some of those issues among around 2,000 representatives of different Protestant denominations, including Anglicans, Baptists and Pentecostals. Methodists and Presbyterians refused to attend, however, because they claimed that speakers from more liberal Protestant sectors had not been invited.
In the view of Baena, one of the biggest hurdles facing Protestants of all denominations at present is the ability to open new places of worship.
"Some towns have shut down Evangelical places of worship for technical or noise reasons, something that hasn't happened with other minority religions such as Buddhists or Muslims," the federation president noted. "Why us?"
He suggested that the reason could be that other minority religions are viewed as "something exotic" while Protestant churches continue to be seen as "dangerous sects."
Having made inroads into Spain in the Middle Ages, Protestantism was crushed by the Inquisition in the 16th century. The Spanish Revolution of 1868 allowed Protestantism to return, although 70 years later Protestants once again faced persecution under the Franco regime.
The Law of Religious Freedom of 1968 and the Constitution of 1978 ended that situation, although Protestants argue that they are still far from obtaining equal footing with Catholics.
Speaking at the Barcelona congress on Sunday, Justice Minister Mariano Fernández Bermejo offered a glimmer of hope, saying that if re-elected next year, the Socialist Party would work to put into practice the full extent of an accord signed in 1992, including helping Protestant churches set up places of worship.
"We are conscious of the importance of religion," Fernández Bermejo said.