The 1978 Constitution
The Constitution proclaims Spain to be a social and democratic state governed by law and declares liberty, justice, equality, and political pluralism to be the country's foremost values. National sovereignty resides in the people, from whom all powers of the state emanate. The new Constitution defines Spain as a parliamentary monarchy, with the king as head of state and symbol of its unity and permanence. It establishes a bicameral legislature, the Cortes, and an independent judicial system.
The Constitution delineates the role of political parties and requires that they adhere to democratic structures and procedures. It provides for universal suffrage at the age of eighteen and abolishes the death penalty, except under military law in time of war.
The longest section of the Constitution sets forth the basic civil, political, and socioeconomic rights of citizens, all of whom are equal before the law, regardless of birth, race, sex, or religion. They are protected against unlawful arrests, searches, seizures, and other invasions of privacy. If accused of a crime, they are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and they have the right to a legally appointed judge, a solicitor, and a public trial without delay. The Constitution guarantees the freedoms of religion, assembly, and association, and it stipulates that citizens may make individual or collective petitions in writing to the government.
Individual liberties are further strengthened by constitutional provisions recognizing the right to organize trade unions, to join them or to refrain from joining them, and to strike. The Constitution links the right to work with the duty to work, and it calls for sufficient remuneration to meet individual and family needs, without discrimination as to sex. It also guarantees adequate pensions for the elderly, protection of the handicapped, and decent housing, and it ascribes to the state a fundamental role with regard to the organization and protection of health care and welfare.
The Constitution declares that the rights and the liberties described therein are binding on all public authorities. A provision exists (Article 55) for the suspension of these rights and liberties, but this can be used only under strictly regulated circumstances.
The Constitution includes significant provisions pertaining to the armed forces and to the Roman Catholic Church, two institutions that have played dominant roles in Spain's political history. The framers of the new document sought to reduce the influence of these historically powerful institutions, and, at the same time, tried not to alienate them to the point that they might become sources of opposition. The role of each of these traditional institutions is clearly defined and is strictly limited in the new Constitution. While assigning to the army the role of safeguarding the sovereignty and independence of Spain and of defending its territorial integrity and constitutional order, the Constitution emphasizes that ultimate responsibility for Spain's defense rests with its popularly elected government, not with the armed forces.
The role of the Roman Catholic Church also is reduced in the 1978 Constitution, which denies Catholicism the status of state religion. The provisions of the new Constitution with regard to the church are, however, not as stridently secular as those of the 1931 constitution, which so antagonized the conservative elements of Spanish society. The 1978 document guarantees complete religious freedom and declares that there will be no state religion, but it also affirms that public authorities are to take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and that they are to maintain cooperative relations with the Roman Catholic Church and with other religions.
Religion was also a factor in the formulation of constitutional provisions concerning education. There was considerable controversy over the issue of providing private schools with public funds, because in Spain most private schools are run by the church or by the religious orders. The Constitution guarantees freedom of education and calls for the government to provide some financial assistance to private schools. It further stipulates that children in state schools may receive religious teaching, if their parents so desire. At the same time, the Constitution gives the government the authority to inspect and to license the schools, thus granting it some control over the institutions it subsidizes. Conflicts over this issue of state control led to the passage in 1984 of the Organic Law on the Right to Education (Ley Organica del Derecho a la Educacion-- LODE), which established three categories of schools and set forth conditions to be met by private institutions receiving financial aid from the government.
Along with constitutional provisions pertaining to education and to the church, those dealing with regional issues were sources of bitter controversy. Historical tensions between the center and the periphery in Spain made it difficult for the framers of the Constitution to reach agreement on matters of regional autonomy. The compromise that they eventually reached was unsatisfactory to extremist elements on both sides of the issue, and the terrorist movement that grew out of this controversy continues to be the major threat to Spain's stability.
The new Constitution seeks to recognize, and to respond to, deep-seated cultural differences among the existing nationalities by allowing for substantial regional autonomy, in contrast to the stifling centralism imposed by Franco. Although it affirms the indissoluble unity of the nation, it also grants a greater degree of autonomy to Spain's nationalities and regions, which are allowed to use their own languages and flags without interference.
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