Home  
About ECLJ   
ECLJ Cases  
ECLJ At the UN  
ECLJ at the COE  
ECLJ in the News  
ECLJ Press Releases  
Europe News  
Resources  
Photo Gallery  
Contact Eclj  
Search Eclj  
Pakistan  
europeNEWS
ECLJ Deeply Concerned After Spanish Government Censors Freedom of Expression/Religion of Catholic Media Group


July 06, 2010


(Strasbourg, France) -- The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) is deeply concerned about a decision by country of Spain to punish a Christian-inspired media group for defending the traditional family.  The ECLJ believes the decision is a dangerous restriction on freedom of expression of religious media.

Spain’s Ministry of Industry, the government department responsible for regulating telecommunications and audiovisual media, fined Intereconomía, a Christian-inspired multimedia communication group, which owns among other things, ALBA - a Christian-inspired weekly. The media group was fined 100,000 Euros for airing a promotional advertisement in defense of traditional family. The specific advertisement came as part of a larger public campaign defending family values throughout the country. The Government claimed that the advertisement, which aired approximately 273 times, violated a broadcasting law that prohibits advertisements from discriminating based on race, sex, religion, nationality, and opinion.  The advertisement, however, showed only actual footage of homosexuals marching and dancing in Gay Pride Day parades and asked the simple and poignant questions: “Is this the type of society you want?” Are these the examples you want for your children?” “Proud . . . of what?” The ad also sought to oppose Gay Pride Day by recognizing the 364 other days of pride for heterosexuals.

Intereconomía said it was appalled with the decision, noting that Spain did not create a democracy in order to have a “thought police.” It also noted that the sanction represents a direct contradiction to a fundamental democratic principle: that the right of expression, not censorship, should prevail in a free society.

By no way can the pro-family program diffused by the Catholic media be reasonably understood “as likely to produce the effect of inciting, spreading or promoting hatred or other forms of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons”, otherwise known as “hate speech”. On the contrary, the Spanish decision counters International Legal Standards in regard to freedom of expression and religion, and in particular the European Court of Human Rights case law.  The ECLJ contends that the decision of the Spanish Government goes directly against international standards protecting freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

As the European Court of Human Rights stated several times, freedom of expression is an essential foundation of democratic society.  Freedom of expression is not only a guarantee against the State but also a fundamental principle for life in democracy. Freedom of expression applies not only to information and ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or indifferent, but also to expression that may offend, shock, or disturb the State or any sector of the population.  According to the European Court only a “pressing social need” may justify a limitation to freedom of speech. Accordingly, for example, the French Supreme Court has recently ruled that the affirmation that homosexuality is inferior to heterosexuality does not exceed the limits of freedom of expression. (Cass. crim., 12 nov. 2008, n° 07-83.398, Vannest c/ Assoc. Act Up Paris).

As a Catholic media organization, Intereconomía has not only the right of freedom of expression, but also the right of religious freedom under Article 9 of the Convention.

The Spanish Government's decision ignores the fact that freedom of religion also protects the freedom of the public expression of religious belief and religious doctrines. Consequently, public expressions of faith or religious morality should receive a greater level of protection than other forms of free speech. Such is the case, for example, for religious media and religious sermons of ministers. Effectively, the public expression of faith or religious morality should not be liable to prosecution because of their opposition to certain ideas or practices that are morally objectionable, so long as that opposition is expressed peacefully.[1]

The protection of religious speech and practice is not a new endeavour.  The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has long recognized the crucial role that religious speech plays in European society.  By way of further example, the Assembly called upon to “provide for, inter alia, . . . the right to public freedom of religious opinion on an equal footing with anti-religious propaganda; [and] . . . the right of Churches and religious associations to uncensored access to the mass media (press, radio, television) . . . .” [2]

In its duty to promote pluralism and tolerance and to respect the standards of a democratic society, the Spanish Government should acknowledge the importance of religious speech and practice of faith. Under European law, it has never been a crime to merely express religious belief, nor should it ever be.

Even very recently, the PACE, in its Resolution on “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity”[3] has clearly recognized and reaffirmed the specificity of religious institutions and organisations and the importance of free speech in regard to moral issues and non-discrimination laws.

Airing images of actual footage paired with questions for the Spanish population to consider regarding homosexuality in public life, a topic that is of absolute public interest and concern, is the exact type of behavior the European Convention and the European Court of Human Rights is designed to protect.

The ECLJ argues that sanctioning such publication is “chilling” to democracy as it discourages the press from participating in the very public debate over the morality of homosexuality. The public must be permitted to view reports and advertisements on the issue so they can make a value judgment for themselves, rather than having the government impose its view on Spain’s citizens by censoring Intereconomía’s right of freedom of expression to impart its religious beliefs.

According to the ECLJ, Intereconomía certainly did not “overstep the boundaries set,” but rather fulfilled the duty “incumbent on it to impart ideas of public interest.” Ideas are permitted to flow freely so the people, the majority, can evaluate and decide what the law will be. This is why freedom of expression is a guaranteed fundamental right under the Convention. When governments begin to sanction speech on matters of legitimate public concern, like public morality, the democratic freedoms suffer greatly.

The decision to sanction Intereconomía should also be viewed in the specific context of the current Spanish government -- a government that wants to “impose an ideology that prohibits dissent,” an ideology that many believe accompanies a forced de-Christianization of Spain that is both planned and advocated by the Government.

The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) is an international law firm focusing on the protection of human rights and religious freedom in Europe and worldwide.  The ECLJ is affiliated with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on protecting religious freedom in the United States. Attorneys for the ECLJ have served as counsel in numerous cases before the European Court of Human Rights.  Additionally, the ECLJ has special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the United Nations, and is accredited to the European Parliament.

[1] As the ECLJ recalled before the OSCE last October 2009 during a roundtable on “Freedom of expression, free media and information”.
[2] Assembly debate on 5 and 6 October 1988 (12th and 13th Sittings) (see Doc. 5944, report of the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries, Rapporteur : Mr Atkinson).
Text adopted by the Assembly on 6 October 1988 (13th Sitting).
[3] Resolution 1728 (2010) on “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” adopted in April 2010.

The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) is an international law firm focusing on the protection of human rights and religious freedom in Europe and worldwide.  The ECLJ is affiliated with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on protecting religious freedom in the United States. Attorneys for the ECLJ have served as counsel in numerous cases before the European Court of Human Rights.  Additionally, the ECLJ has special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the United Nations, and is accredited to the European Parliament.