The predominantly Catholic Spain along with Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Poland called for a formalized recognition of the Christian heritage in the future EU constitution in a statement made Wednesday, December 17.
The statement placed religious instruction in par with other general subjects taught in school. The foreword to the programme, which will become law next year, does not mince its words in stressing the need for religious instruction in school -- preferably of a Catholic nature.
Students of other faiths -- or atheists -- will also receive up to three hours a week of religious instruction -- but only in the context of the 'history of religions' taught by history and philosophy professors.
Previously, such students would study ethics or other activities whose content was largely left to a school's discretion.
Catholic students, the government estimates, have a duty to "know the love of Jesus Christ" and trumpet the "values of marriage" as part of a programme laid down for state schools to follow closely alongside the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.
"An integral, and thus quality, education cannot exist unless all of a human being's inherent capacities, including the spiritual, are developed," says the text.
More specifically, "a pupil is going to discover (its spiritual capacity) in the language of the Bible, in Christian models of identification and notably in the presence of Jesus Christ," says the text, which also implicitly recommends Catholicism as the path to follow.
The legislation provides for all children receiving from the age of 12 instruction such weighty matters as the "finality of sexuality", as well as "the sacrament of marriage" and "divorce and the problems associated with it."
Youngsters will also be encouraged to learn "how to apply the fundamentals of Christian morality" to their sexual existence in the document drawn up by a committee of priests.
However, French President Jacques Chirac avidly protested the move. Recently, France ruled Muslim pupils would be unable to vear the veil as a cultural and religious symbol within public school walls.
Leftist groups also opposed the statement, calling it unconstitutional; the 1978 Spanish constitution guarantees the right to confidentiality regarding one's religious views.
"It is a very serious matter that completely legal positions should be criminalised in all state schools, financed as they are by all Spaniards," said Socialist Party education spokesman Amparo Valcarce.
In October, a parents’ association went to court over the belief that the requirement to receive religious instruction "violates laws of equality and lay principles regarding aspects of neutrality and the separation of church and state."
Unions and pro-communist groups have thrown their support behind the parents.
Colleagues speak of a "major backward step," pointing to the increased moves towards multiculturalism in Spain where a recent rise in immigration is bringing with it a wider gamut of religious practice.