Church to join protest against education bill

Madrid, Spain - The Catholic Church is poised to join a mass protest against planned reforms of the education system in a fresh confrontation with the Socialist government.

The Spanish Episcopal Conference (CEE) said it will support plans to stage a march in Madrid in November against the reforms, the Spanish daily El Pais reported.

The reforms will make religious education classes optional, not compulsory, and non-gradable for students.

Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, CEE spokesman, said: "The Catholic Church does not call protests. But I hope they are called and that the government makes substantial changes to the law and that it eliminates the obstacles to the

freedom of education."

The reform is a reversal of the 1979 agreement between the Spanish government and the Vatican, which made it mandatory for schools to teach religion, although the classes are optional for students.

Relations between the church and the Socialist government have been worsening in recent months.

Cardinals and bishops joined a mass march in July against the government's legalisation of same sex marriages.

But the government this week extended an agreement whereby the State finances the Church by income tax returns for another year.

In next year's budget, the State will give the Church EUR 144m.