It is possible that the attempts of Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón to forge links with the most rightwing sector of the Popular Party - by taking a hard line on abortion control and making efforts to control the judiciary - are related to his political ambitions and desire to rise within the party, even if he is almost parodying the Tea Party. If not, it is hard to see why he is walking the same road as the education minister, José Ignacio Wert - a road that does not seem to lead anywhere in political terms.
Yet Wert is the minister who has embarked on two of the biggest ideological confrontations possible in Spain: submission to the will of the Church's Episcopal Conference with regard to education, and the demand to regulate the use of official languages in the regions. The so-called "Wert Law" may go down in history as the first to pass through parliament with the express commitment of all of the other parties to repeal it as soon as possible.
If we look calmly at the problem of education laws in Spain, and their rapid obsolescence, we may conclude that there will never be peace and quiet, or progress toward the necessary consensus, until we rescind the "Concordat" - that is, the agreement between the Spanish state and the Holy See on matters of education and culture, which was signed in 1979.
There is nothing in the Constitution to justify the article making it obligatory for schools to teach religion
Some time ago the Socialist (PSOE) minister Ángel Gabilondo showed, in protracted negotiations, that the PP and the PSOE could arrive at a social and political pact on education, covering more than 150 agreed objectives. All this work - for which we can thank the former education minister's stubborn will, but also the professionalism of the PP negotiators - has been reduced to nothing by the pressure of the Spanish synod and by the pernicious agreement with the Holy See.
Until this agreement is rescinded, it will not be possible for Spanish society to have friendly and normal relations with the Church hierarchy, as would be appropriate. Keep in mind that to rescind this agreement, a simple majority in Congress is sufficient. Obviously, this is not possible in the present legislature, but it should be possible in upcoming ones. The Wert Law is the PSOE's best chance to formalize this desire, by bringing a motion that, though not approved, would underline its commitment to undertake the normalization of Church-state relations - which, since the time of Franco, have been unbalanced.
It is important to clarify that there is nothing in the Constitution to justify the new law's article making it obligatory for schools to teach religion; that it be credit-carrying, that there be an obligatory alternative, equally credit-carrying; and that grades in it be taken into account when applying for study grants. The Constitution merely guarantees the parents' "right to have their children receive moral and religious instruction in accordance with their own convictions." This is a recognition of a liberty, but not of the state's obligation to render a service.
The Spanish Catholic hierarchy's disinclination to actually open up arguments to debate - unlike the French or Italian hierarchies, which are more accustomed to intellectual discourse - leads it to prefer the terrain of myth and pressure. "Religion has always been studied in Spanish public schools!" they say. This is possible, of course, but almost never as an obligatory subject. Indeed, from the first education law of 1857 onward, obligatory courses in religion have existed only in the period 1899-1901, and later during the Franco regime. "In Germany it is considered a scientific, credit-carrying subject!" True, but precisely for that reason, it is the state that decides on its content and credit evaluation, and not the Catholic hierarchy. "In Italy religion is taught in schools!" True, but in a voluntary manner, not with credit, and not with an obligatory alternative activity. Be serious, Mr Wert.