BYU Law students Emily Lund, Malea Moody, and Nathaniel Johnson spent their summer externship in Spain working on religious freedom for the Spanish Ministry of Justice in Madrid.
“It was fascinating to learn about a foreign government’s legal system,” Johnson said. “The Spanish legal system is a civil law system based on statutes and codes as opposed to the United States’ common law system.”
According to Moody, implementation of religious freedom is relatively new in Spain, added at the time of the 1978 Spanish Constitution. Before that time, the Catholic Church was the only religion given legal rights by the Spanish government.
“Expanding religious freedom involved distancing [the Spanish government] from the Catholic Church and allowing other religions to have similar benefits,” Moody said. “It has been interesting to see how the covenants made between the government and each church differ.”
“I have loved learning about Spain’s journey toward religious freedom and the system that was implemented to allow for it,” Moody said. “It is interesting because, while the enumeration of freedoms empowers religions, the enumeration also restricts the churches’ growth and makes it difficult for new religions to be recognized. It has made me very grateful for the religious freedom we enjoy in the USA.”
As part of their externship, the BYU Law students reviewed and organized legal documentation between the state and religious organizations. Johnson explained how the Spanish constitution requires the government to cooperate with the various religions in Spain. However, the government must have the religious organization inscribed in the official registry before extending certain legal rights.
According to Lund, the laws have changed over time, and documents recorded in a physical format must now be maintained electronically. “Our primary responsibility for document review has spanned a variety of systems and changes in legislation,” she said. “[This has shown us how] the application of laws can affect even the most basic administrative work.”
Johnson said the Spanish Director for Religious Affairs, Jaime Rossell Granados, has encouraged him and his fellow students to gain a broader understanding of the country’s extensive history and legislative process, as well as the workings of other sub-directorates within the ministry. As part of this learning, Director Rossell introduced them to the President of the Congress of Deputies, Ana Pastor Julián, as well as Rocío López González, a former member of the Congress of Deputies and current appointee of the Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation for the Spanish government.
Lund, Moody, and Johnson also had the opportunity to meet with the Ministry’s international affairs office, which represents and defends the Spanish state in international legal issues. The office manages relationships between Spain and other European Union (EU) countries when multiple countries hold a stake in a situation or controversy. Through this visit, Johnson said they learned about the EU’s criminal and extradition laws. They also learned how the EU member states work with EU candidate states to identify potential improvements to their justice systems.
As the students reflected on their experience, they said that one of the biggest things they learned was the impact of a country’s unique history, culture, and tradition on the development of law.
“In a country as old as Spain, with its rich history, I have been exposed to a legal system that is ever changing to become more dynamic and inclusive of various religions,” Lund said.
For Johnson, the externship kindled an interest. “I gained a deeper desire to continue my study of the law and history,” he said.