Is it illegal in Spain to insult God and the Virgin Mary?

An arrest warrant has been put out for Willy Toledo, an actor and activist who has attracted a lawsuit from a Christian association over comments he posted on Facebook

Actor and activist Willy Toledo.
Actor and activist Willy Toledo.Santi Burgos (EL PAÍS)
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Spanish actor faces arrest after ignoring court summons over religious offense claim

The Spanish actor Willy Toledo is not, despite some reports to the contrary, facing arrest for having insulted God and the Virgin Mary. Instead, a Madrid judge issued a warrant for his detention on Tuesday after he failed to appear in court on two occasions.

The origin of the case lies with a Facebook post that the actor and activist published regarding a court case relating to three women in Seville who organized a satirical religious-style procession, which, in place of an icon from the Catholic Church, featured an icon of female genitalia.

Until now, no one has been deprived of their freedom for insulting God or the Virgin Mary

Spokesperson Cristóbal Gázquez

In his comments about the fact that the case had reached the courts, Toledo wrote: “I shit on God and have enough shit left over to shit on the dogma of the saintliness and virginity of the Virgin Mary. This country is unbearably shameful. I’m disgusted. Go fuck yourselves.”

The expression “shit on God” (cagarse en Dios) is often used by Spaniards in everyday discourse, along with a number of variations, many of them with other religious references.

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These comments drew a legal complaint from the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers on the basis that Toledo had offended their religious feelings.

But is such a thing punishable under Spanish law? Lawyer Borja Adsuara explains that the lawsuit has to be admitted by the court, given that the offense does indeed figure in Spain’s criminal code. “[The article] is wide-ranging enough that it doesn’t just include the Catholic religion, but also humiliation and ridicule of atheists for being atheists. Looking at it another way, the offense against religious feelings can be interpreted as a crime of intolerance of other people’s religious beliefs,” Adsuara tells Verne via a telephone interview.

People have started using the hashtag #MeCagoEnDios (I shit on God) on Twitter, to express their support for the actor

“While no one can understand how it can be that doing something that Spaniards do every day can land you in court, like shitting on God, Willy Toledo is someone who is an uncomfortable presence for those in power,” explains Cristóbal Gázquez, the spokesperson for BGD Abogados, the law firm that defended Cassandra Vera in 2017 for free, after the young woman posted jokes on Twitter about the death of Spanish Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco in a bomb attack, which took place in 1973. She was given an 18-month jail term for her actions, but acquitted in March by the Supreme Court.

“In recent years, freedom of expression is being persecuted in Spain under three accusations,” explains Gázquez. “A hate crime, praising terrorism or for offending religious sentiments. Until now, he adds, “no one has been deprived of their freedom for insulting God or the Virgin Mary, nor has an excessive fine been applied in a bid to make an example of someone.”

In fact, as a result of the controversy that has been sparked by the arrest warrant put out for Toledo, people have started using the hashtag #MeCagoEnDios (I shit on God) on Twitter, to express their support for the actor. People have also been using the same terms that he did in his Facebook post.

“I shit on God. And the priests. And the Virgin Mary. And on the bishops. And on the sainted Catholic Church. OK?”

“I don’t shit on God, nor do I like it when others do. But it’s completely crazy for it to be considered a crime.”

“Images from the arrest of Willy Toledo.”

“This is a reaction that the Association of Christian Lawyers has brought about on themselves thanks to this rather unintelligent lawsuit,” says Borja Adsuara. He believes that the association has done “little for its cause, given that the alleged offense has now appeared in all the newspapers,” comparing the case to a Spanish youngster who was fined €480 for photoshopping his face into a picture of Christ and publishing it on Instagram. “No one had seen it until the lawsuit appeared in the press,” says Adsuara.

The arrest warrant against Toledo was not for the alleged offenses he has committed, “but rather for not appearing before the judge,” explains Adsuara. “This could also have happened to him in the case of a traffic fine.”

While Toledo might think that this is all a farce, refusing to appear before the judge is not going to turn out well Spokesperson Cristóbal Gázquez

That is why Cristóbal Gázquez, from BGD Abogados, recommends that Toledo “adopt a different strategy, because the matter is not going to be dropped given pressure from, among others, the Association of Christian Lawyers.”

“While Toledo might think that this is all a farce, refusing to appear before the judge is not going to turn out well,” Gázquez continues. “It’s better for him to appear, with a legal strategy. In the case of Cassandra Vera, one of the options she had was to apologize before the judge. She chose not to do that. We opted for another legal strategy and she ended up being acquitted.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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