Religion Teacher Forced to Remove a Crucifix and an Icon

Country: Spain

Date of incident: January 30, 2011

Category: Social Hostility / Intolerance

Attack against: Faith

Area of case: Private



A Catholic religion teacher was forced to remove a cross and an icon from a wall of a shared office in a secondary school in Zújar, Spain because two teachers said they were "offended" by them.

Two teachers at the Institute of Al-Zujayr in Zújar indicated their dissatisfaction with the presence of a cross and an Eastern icon of the Virgin Mary, saying that they were offended by these symbols. They pressured their colleague, the Catholic religion teacher, Susana Fernández, into removing these religious symbols from a wall of the shared office used together by four teachers in the department of social sciences.

Professor Susana Fernandez has removed the two symbols, but she regrets "the intolerant and uncompromising attitude" of her fellows in the department toward these images. The cross and the icon were given by a group of teachers to the institute years ago and have caused controversy for the first time. The two complaining teachers are newcomers to the institute.

As reported by the Odisur (the Information Service to the Bishops of Southern Spain), Susana Fernández has been a teacher for several years, not only at the Institute Al-Zujayr in Zújar but at other institutes as well (in Baza and in Cúllar) and has never experienced this kind of problem until now.

The other religion teachers in the Baza area have expressed support for her and have described the situation publicly "as an act of intolerance that threatens freedom of religious expression."

The bishops of southern Spain announced a statement on "Religious intolerance at the Institute of Al-Zujayr in Zújar", and the Diocese of Guadix-Baza has argued that these symbols "were not in public space, but were in her office." Moreover, these religious symbols are part of materials that can be used in her classes of religion.

Susana Fernández has also received support from the Apprece, the Association of Religion Teachers in State Schools in Andalusia. The president of Apprece, Rafael Martín Gómez, said,  "The situation is now escalating into a new category of intensifying significance, because the persons who are complaining are employees of a secular state, who are required to ensure the rights of religious freedom, also for Catholics."

Students are aware of what happened and have also been supporting their religion teacher, reports Laicismo.org, the Spanish Observatory of Secularism. 98% of pupils in school in Zújar participate in religion classes. As a sign of solidarity with their religion teacher, students started wearing crosses on their necklaces.

The director of the Institute, Pablo López Leyva, one of four teachers using the shared office in the department of social sciences, decided to clarify the problem at the School Board meeting, as was requested by the Government of Andalusia.

The meeting of the School Board members was convened by the management of the school on the 26th January 2011 to address the controversy of the removal of religious symbols and to resolve it by voting, but during the meeting the provincial delegate of the Local Education Authorities in Grenada, Ana Gámez, communicated through the management of school that "legislation prevents the presence of religious symbols in public schools". The School Board was then not allowed to vote, reported ABC, a Spanish national daily newspaper.

The Local Education Authorities in Grenada explained to ABC "that within the framework of respect for the autonomy of the Institute, as regards the present disagreement about the presence of religious symbols: in a secular state the removal of such symbols does not incur infringement of the rights to religious freedom." 

The Diocese of Deguadix-Baza reports on its website that this imposition does not correspond to the feeling of most parents and children of this school, nor to the majority of teachers who have expressed through various media their support for Susan Fernández and for the restoration of the religious symbols to their previous places. 

Read more (only in Spanish):

ODISUR - Information Service to the Bishops of Southern Spain:

http://www.odisur.es/index.php?mod=articulos&secc=articulos&id=8202

ReligiónDigital - Religious Information from Spain and the World:

http://www.periodistadigital.com/religion/espana/2011/01/24/simbolos-religiosos-despacho-compartido-instituto-granada-iglesia-religion-clase-cruz-icono.shtml?sms_ss=facebook&at_xt=4d3df7c4c4c7574f,0

ABC - Spanish National Daily Newspaper:

http://www.abc.es/20110127/sociedad/abcp-instituto-zujar-queda-cruz-20110127.html

DiocesisDeguadixBaza.org:

http://www.diocesisdeguadixbaza.org/2/index.php/multimedia/noticias-escritas/117-en-un-comunicado-la-profesora-de-religion-en-zujar-susana-fernandez-habla-de-lo-sucedido

Laicismo.org - Spanish Observatory of Secularism:

http://www.laicismo.org/detalle.php?pk=4280

Ideal.es - News Service from Granada:

http://www.ideal.es/granada/v/20110120/provincia/consejo-escolar-zujar-tiene-20110120.html

http://www.ideal.es/granada/v/20110126/provincia/consejo-escolar-zujar-aborda-20110126.html