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2009-12-14 - Superior Court of Justice of Castilla y León, n. 257/2009

Public space · Spain · Crucifix · Religious symbol

Religious symbols in public schools can be removed at the request of the parents

Key facts of the case - Appeal filed jointly by the Government of Castilla y León (Junta de Castilla y León) and by the association E-Christians against a Judgment by the aforementioned lower local court which upheld a claim issued by the Cultural Association Laic School of Valladolid (Asociación Cultural Escuela Laica de Valladolid) whereby the removal of all religious symbols in the State School Macías Picabea of Valladolid was requested.
The appellants allege that keeping religious symbols in the aforementioned State School does not violate Articles 14 and 16 of the Spanish Constitution (hereinafter CE).
The Cultural Association Laic School of Valladolid requests the dismissal of the appeal and alleges that the cooperation of the authorities with the Catholic Church may not be construed as a sign of adhesion to the catholic faith.

Main reasoning of the court - The Court partially upheld the appeal
The Court alleges that the doctrine of the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter ECHR) must be relevantly brought to attention, particularly that of the case Lautsi vs. Italy (the applicant alleged that the display of the sign of the cross in the classrooms of the Italian state-school attended by her children was incompatible with the freedom of belief and religion), in which the ECHR warns that the state must refrain from imposing beliefs in places where persons are dependent on it. The Court deems that the display of any symbols whatsoever may lead some students to feel that they are educated in an environment more akin to a specific confession.
The decision of the school board to keep religious symbols based on articles 16 and 14 CE, article 9 of the Convention of Rome of the 4th of November 1958 and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights of the 19th of December 1966, must be pronounced to be null and void. However, the presence of religious symbols in schools may not be generally deemed to be contrary to the Constitution. There is conflict only where there is an express request for removal.
Consequently, religious symbols must be immediately removed for the school year, from the specific classroom or state-school for which a petition of removal has been filed.
The Court partially upholds the appeal in view of the conformity or non-conformity to law of the decision by the schools’ board.

Comment - The Court partially upholds the appeal and states that religious symbols must only be removed from those classrooms attended by students whose parents have requested the removal of any religious symbols.