Easter is not typically considered a holiday of major arguments over constitutionality, but this weekend in Spain it appears to have had that effect. Spain’s Defense Ministry ordered all military installations to fly the flag at half mast over the Easter weekend to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ.
This is the second year running that Spain’s military has issued an order stating that “from 14:00 on Holy Thursday until 00:01 on Resurrection Sunday the national flag must be flown at half mast at all military units, bases, centers and barracks, as well as the Defense Ministry and its regional departments.”
A spokesman for the ministry said that flying the flag at half mast for religious reasons was “in keeping with tradition” and was “part of the secular tradition of the armed forces.” Not everyone seems to agree.
Francisco Fernández Marugán, the national ombudsman, criticized the move on the grounds that Spain is constitutionally a secular state. Article 16.3 of the 1978 Spanish constitution states: “No religion shall have a state character. The public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and shall consequently maintain appropriate cooperation relations with the Catholic church and other confessions.”
The ombudsman said that, “even if this tradition has acquired a ‘secular’ connotation over the years there is no doubt that it also has a religious one,” adding that “these practices could lead people to think that the state was more inclined to honor one religion than another” and that a non-religious state had to demonstrate neutrality in regard to the various religions.
The Defense Ministry pushed back, explaining that the display does not promote Christianity over other religions, but pays homage to Spain’s cultural fabric into which Christian traditions are inextricably woven. Any Spanish service members who participate in Holy Week festivities across 80 Spanish cities were to do so voluntarily.
Featured Image Courtesy of the Associated Press.