Blasphemy, public nudity decriminalized

MADRID, Spain -- Spaniards who take the Lord's name in vain or undress in public no longer risk legal punishment.

Laws dating from 1850 that made blasphemy and public scandal offenses punishable by jail terms were struck from the penal code Saturday by the Parliament.


Roman Catholic Archbishop Gabino Diaz Merchan of the northwestern city of Oviedo expressed resignation on the depenalization of blasphemy.

'What can you do?' he said. 'Blasphemy is a national custom. Some sociologists say it is even a sign of religiousness, in a curious sort of way.'

Under the old law, Spaniards faced up to six months in prison and fines of up to $2,650 for 'offending modesty and good customs with acts of grave scandal.'

Similar punishment was meted out to blasphemers or those who 'proclaimed doctrines contrary to public morals.'

Despite such laws, bathing in the nude, kissing in public and the sale of pornographic magazines on newsstands have been common practice since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

The laws were scrapped following a recent parliamentary vote, supported by the ruling socialists, in favor of removing legislation inspired by Roman Catholic dogma or by the dictatorship's definitions of decency.


Under Franco, decency laws decreed the amount of skin women were allowed to show at the beach.

Roman Catholicism was Spain's official religion for nearly 1,300 years until a new democratic constitution separated church and state in 1978.

'Concepts that define scandal are tremendously subjective,' said communist congressman Nicolas Sartorius. 'In an open society ... who is to define what is scandalous and with what criteria?'

But a new law, which also went into effect Saturday, punishes sexual provocation and the sale of pornography to youths under 16 or mentally retarded adults.

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