Big March Assails Spanish Education Plans

Madrid Officials Estimate Turnout at 1.5 Million

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MADRID, Spain, NOV. 13, 2005 ( Waves of people turned out in Madrid to protest the Socialist government’s Quality Law for Education, which downgrades religious study in the school curriculum.

City officials estimated that 1.52 million people participated in the rally on Saturday, though the government put the figure at 407,000.

The march in the capital had the support of the Spanish bishops’ conference.

«For Education in Freedom» was the message of the march, which began at Neptuno Square and ended near Retiro Park. Among representatives of the 10 organizing groups were the presidents of the Forum for the Family and the Confederation of Catholic Families (CONCAPA).

The opposition Popular Party and the Catholic Church stated their opposition to the educational proposals of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, insisting that classes on Catholicism be mandatory.

Zapatero’s legislation is also controversial because it forbids state-funded private schools, most of which are religious, to charge fees. Some parents see this as a move to reduce their rights.

Protesters carried signs saying, «I don’t want Zapatero to educate me,» «The family, united, will never be overcome,» and «Bishops, be brave, you are not alone.»

Parents’ rights

A statement prepared by organizers of the protest says that the educational changes promoted by the Socialist government fail to recognize rights and liberties recognized in the Spanish Constitution.

In particular, it insists on «the right of parent to decide on the type of education that they want for their children; the right to free education at the basic and obligatory levels, the right of the parents to select the school they want for their children without distinction, the rights of the private schools to receive public funds, the right to create and direct schools, and, finally, the right to define the character and plan of the educational centers.»

«We affirm that education is the responsibility and right of parents, and that the state only has a subsidiary function,» the statement said.

At the end of the protest, CONCAPA President Luis Carbonel demanded a meeting with a government leader to ask for a halt to the legislation.

The protest was the second major Church-backed demonstration in five months. In June, clergy and nuns joined a similar demonstration against a law that gave homosexuals the legal right to marry and adopt children.

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