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Bishops firing public employees

The Constitutional Court backs a religion teacher who was dismissed for having a civil wedding

Ten long years is the time it has cost the teacher of Catholic religion in a public school in the southern Spanish city of Almería, Resurrección Galera — fired in 2001 by the bishop of the diocese for having married a divorced man at a civil ceremony — to obtain the support of the state against what constitutes a flagrant violation of her right to privacy by the Church.

The effort has been worth it, but at the same time it shows the difficulty of coexistence, in the ambit of the teaching of Catholic religion in Spain, of the Church-State accords negotiated in 1979 with the Constitution of 1978.

After a decade-long judicial ordeal, the Constitutional Court has recognized that this teacher's dismissal violated her right "to non-discrimination by reason of personal circumstances; to ideological liberty in connection with the right to contract matrimony in the legally established form; and to personal and family privacy." Two lower courts that ruled in favor of the Church must now re-examine the dismissed teacher's suit in light of the arguments adduced by the Constitutional Court. Notable among them is this: the civil marriage with a divorced man "bears no relation with the plaintiff's teaching activity, just as it does not affect her dogmatic knowledge or her pedagogic attitudes."

A blunt and clear argument like this one is what has been missing in the legal battle that has dragged on for more than a decade between certain Spanish courts, headed by the High Court of the Canary Islands, concerning certain notoriously unconstitutional aspects of religious teaching in Spain.

The Constitutional Court has at last introduced a note of coherence and common sense that was sorely needed in the outlandish and anachronistic labor regulations relating to the teachers of Catholic religion in Spanish public schools. There still remain, however, many dark areas in the same court's jurisprudence in this delicate matter, which may well be exploited by those who stubbornly resist a constitutional interpretation of the Church-State agreements, and would like the terms of the latter to prevail over those of the Constitution.

Moral profile

In a controversial ruling four years ago, the Constitutional Court recognized the full compatibility of the Church-State accords, in the area of religious teaching, with the Spanish Constitution. It finds no objection to the proposition that bishops can demand a certain moral profile of Catholic religion teachers, non-compliance with which can be grounds for dismissal.

The present ruling in favor of Resurrección Galera, however, denies that actions such as a civil marriage — which has to do with constitutional rights — can be a proper cause for dismissal, however much the Church may consider it part of the moral profile it demands of religion teachers. If there is any contradiction between the two rulings, it seems obvious that the latter is more in line with the Constitution.

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