Bishop Demetrio Fernandez of Tarazona (Spain) has written a pastoral letter in which he points out that the Spanish bishops agree on the need to update the country’s law on religious freedom, but they fear a reform would be an excuse to impose fanatical secularism that would expel all religion from the public square.
In response to plans by Socialist leaders to reform the law on religious freedom, Bishop Fernandez said, “We are not concerned that other religions present in Spain acquire recognition of their civil rights,” because “before the Spanish government said anything, Vatican II proclaimed it to the whole world 40 years ago, and we hope citizens of all countries on earth acquire these rights.”
“There are many places,” he said, “where Christians are still persecuted in the name of a ferocious and outdated atheism or a fundamentalism that rejects any other religion besides its own.”
For Catholics, the bishop continued, “All people have the right to live according to their faith, to educate their children in accord with such convictions and to spread that faith publicly.” For this reason, he added, the State should exercise a healthy form of secularism, “that is, the autonomy to legislate for all in accord with the common good. The State is non-sectarian in order to support all religions, not to go against any particular one.”
What the bishops are concerned about, he went on, is that the proposed reforms are inspired by a desire to eliminate all public expressions of faith. This kind of secularism is contrasted with that which prevails in the United States, he said, quoting Benedict XVI, “where the religious dimension, in the diversity of its expressions, is not only tolerated, but is valued as the ‘soul’ of the nation and the fundamental guarantor of the rights and duties of the human being.”
“If the reform of the law on religious freedom is based on this healthy secularism, there is nothing to fear,” Bishop Fernandez stressed. “But if it is based on a radical secularism, we fear the majority in parliament will trample upon the fundamental rights that our Constitution recognizes, and we will take a step backwards in the area of freedoms.”