Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

Stuff That Makes My Head Explode

Arrrrgh.  Most of the time when I read something about religious people getting offended, I try very hard to put myself in their position.  Most of the time I can, but sometimes I can’t.  This is one of those “can’t” situations.  I just…I read this and I just get mad.

A high school teacher in southern Spain is being sued for child abuse by the parents of a Muslim student who claims that the teacher “defamed Islam” by talking about Spanish ham in class. The case is one of a growing list of recent controversies that illustrate the increasing assertiveness of Muslims in Spain at a time when Spaniards are slowly waking up to the integration challenges posed by uncontrolled immigration from Muslim countries.

Although Spanish legal scholars are divided over whether the lawsuit has real merit, nearly everyone agrees that the case has potentially major implications for free speech in Spain. They also agree that the constant threat of lawsuits will force Spanish school teachers to carefully consider their choice of words in the future.

The latest dust-up occurred at the Instituto Menéndez Tolosa, a secondary school in the town of La Línea de la Concepción in the southern region of Andalusia, where José Reyes Fernández, a geography teacher, was giving a lecture about the different types of climates in Spain. During the class, Reyes mentioned that the climate in Andalusia offers the perfect temperature conditions for curing Spanish ham (Jamón Ibérico), a world-famous delicacy.

At this point, a Muslim student in the class interrupted Reyes and, according to local newspaper reports, argued that any talk of pork products is offensive to his religion.

Now I’m reading this and I’m thinking – this teacher must have been an a-hole to this kid.  I mean – a lawsuit?  The teacher must have at least been all like “You’re a jerk and I love bacon – neener neener!” or something, right?

Reyes responded by saying that he was only giving an example and that he does not take into consideration different religious beliefs when teaching geography.

The Muslim student informed his parents, who then proceeded to file a lawsuit against Reyes, accusing him of “abuse with xenophobic motivations.” Article 525 of the Spanish Penal Code makes it a crime to “offend the feelings of the members of a religious confession.”

Wait, what?!  Was that written to be intentionally vague?  “Offend the feelings of the members of a religious confession” – in a world where you can offend the feelings of any given person at any time for anything, using this sort of language within a penal code seems like a really bad idea.

I had no idea Spain was experiencing such an influx of Muslim immigrants, nor was I aware of the apparent culture clash the country has been experiencing over the last few years especially.  That has be stressful for all groups involved.  However, I don’t think a person should be able to sue a teacher for using ham as an example in class.

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Manolo Matos

We put the news article in Ateorizar ( and it is kind of complicated in this situation because Article 27 of the Spanish Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and freedom of teaching (of professors). It would be interesting to see how this ends and which of the two laws will the judge favors in this case. It seems by the amount of articles being published in Spanish news outlets that the public is outraged by this, which is a good thing.


Manolo, do you think the outrage is due to wanting authentic, religion-free public education, or do you think the outrage is a product of anti-muslim/anti-immigrant sentiment? Do you have subscribers from Spain who have insight into this?

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x