The government passed a Sephardic Jew right-of-return law on June 11to allow descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 to reclaim citizenship after proving their Sephardic heritage and fulfilling a series of requirements. The Jewish Federation of Spain lobbied for the law, and its passing was widely praised by the Jewish community, with some concerns expressed regarding the difficulty of passing civics and language tests and the costs associated with the application and travel requirement. The application fee is 100 euros ($109), and if the application is accepted the applicant or his or her legal representative must ratify the petition in person. The law went into effect on October 1, when the MOJ launched an online application form. Jewish community sources stated they estimated up to 200,000 of the four million global Sephardic diaspora may apply from Israel, the United States, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, and Latin America. Jewish communities stated they expected particular interest from Jewish communities in Turkey and Venezuela, although they added that the bar for fulfilling the language, travel, and application fee requirements might be an inhibiting factor.
The Bahai community in Madrid worked with the MOJ to develop its request for notorio arraigo. As of the end of the year, the Bahai community had not been granted that status.
In some cases, municipalities required individual houses of worship of registered religious groups to receive authorization at the local level to hold worship services. Every locality set its own procedure for applying for authorization.
Some Islamic groups, such as the Federation of African Muslim Communities, stated levels of government support that were cut following the 2008 economic crisis were not restored, inhibiting their ability to travel to conferences and properly represent the growing Muslim community.
In June the National Court rejected a suit by the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities, part of the Protestant religious community registered with the state, that had requested a box be added to tax forms allowing citizens to make donations to the Evangelical Church in the same manner that individuals may donate to the Catholic Church. The court said the Ministry of Finance was correct in rejecting the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities’ request because the entity did not have a cooperation agreement with the state.
In September the MOJ signed an agreement with the two secretaries general of the Islamic Commission to reorganize the body’s statutes and representation before the government. Some 800 Muslim community members protested the move, which the MOJ said it made when a majority of Muslim community representatives complained that the system of two secretaries general was ineffective. The reorganization created a six-month transitional body and called for elections by 25 nationwide Muslim community representatives for a single Islamic Commission president to replace the two secretaries general. No date was set for the adoption of new statutes or the election of the new president.
On March 4, Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz signed an agreement with the evangelical, Jewish, and Muslim religious groups facilitating assistance for individuals to practice their faith in Foreign Internment Centers (CIEs). The executive secretary of the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities, and the secretaries general of the Spanish Islamic Commission were the other signatories. The Ministry of Interior had previously signed a similar agreement with the Episcopal Conference of Spain.
The MOJ’s then‑liaison to religious communities, Ricardo Garcia, said that between June 2012 and December 2014, 280 Muslim places of worship had opened, averaging one every three days, an indication that the problem of municipalities not granting licenses to religious communities had been resolved.
Despite protections at the federal level, some minority religious groups stated they continued to experience difficulties receiving building and other permits for places of worship from local governments. Muslim groups continued to report difficulties in obtaining building permits for new mosque construction, especially in central, urban locations. They stated local municipalities delayed decisions on requests for land on which to establish places of worship, with some requests going unanswered for years. Several municipalities in Catalonia issued a moratorium on the opening of new places of worship; these municipalities stated their city councils needed more time to study the impact of such spaces.
Several Islamic groups wanted to build the second-largest mosque in the world in Medina Azahara, near Cordoba, to serve as a center of Islam in Europe. The mosque would be financed with Saudi and/or United Arab Emirates financing. The land had already been purchased through intermediaries, but the municipal government continually delayed the project and citizens questioned the building of such a large mosque in a city with no more than 1,000 Muslims (the local Muslim association claimed there were 4,500 Muslims.)
Similarly, a group of Muslims funded work on a mosque in the city of Salt in Catalonia. Due to a shortage of funds, work ceased. The city ordered that work be resumed as soon as possible to free up spaces currently serving as prayer centers so that they could be used for other purposes. Work on the mosque resumed in late September 2014 and continued through the end of the year, but stopped again in 2015 for lack of funding. Some observers explained the prohibition in Islam against paying interest on loans could explain the community’s lengthy construction process. Representatives of the Catalan Muslim community, however, blamed religious discrimination for the failure of the community to build a single mosque in all of Catalonia.
The state employed 49 Islamic education instructors nationwide, according to the Islamic Commission, which certified teachers.
Some representatives of the Jewish community stated political motives during an election year prevented them from receiving “militarized” protection following the January 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, although they said the authorities increased security measures and police protection at Jewish community centers and places of worship. According to one Jewish community leader, the increased police presence made neighbors feel threatened because of their proximity to a synagogue could make them more of a terrorist target. This fear increased tensions between neighbors and the Jewish community.
There were no reports indicated of municipalities enforcing the ban on facial veils.
The Autonomous Region of Madrid and the regional government of Catalonia continued to monitor hate crimes, which included certain religiously motivated crimes. Hate crimes increased 13 percent since 2014, and 23 percent were related to religion.
In June it became public that Madrid City Councilman Guillermo Zapata had re‑tweeted anti‑Semitic comments in 2011. After a public outcry, he resigned his new position as the head of the city department of culture and sports, but retained his city council seat.
The Office of Religious Affairs created an online tool to make information about minority religious groups available, including places of worship, availability of cemeteries, and laws providing guidance on the rights of minority religious groups. The office was tasked with informing local governments of their responsibilities towards minority religious groups, especially in cases of local regulations or restrictions interfering with the right to worship.
The government Foundation for Pluralism and Coexistence continued its outreach to municipalities and local governments with large Muslim communities to improve or establish dialogue, and ensure religious rights were understood and respected. The foundation also took on a new role to work with Muslim communities to detect signs of radicalization as part of the national government’s new National Plan to Fight Radicalization, approved January 30. As part of its mission, the foundation provided funds to minority religious groups for projects promoting tolerance and dialogue, including conferences on religious diversity, research about religious minorities, and cultural projects to increase knowledge of minority religions in society.
A new interagency advisory commission on religious freedom, created by the MOJ in January, was tasked with compiling an annual report on religious freedom. The commission is headed by the minister of justice and included representatives from the Office of the Presidency and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Interior, Education, Employment, and Health. Representatives from the Catholic Church, the Federation of Evangelical Entities of Spain, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, the Spanish Islamic Commission, the Mormons, the Federation of Buddhist Communities of Spain, and the Orthodox Church of Spain participated in the advisory commission.
On February 3, the president of Catalonia hosted a reception for the leaders of all the religious communities in the region to commemorate World Interfaith Harmony Week.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.