The judges sanctioned the Podemos party for its discrimination of members based on the sole reason that they belonged to the Prometheus Initiatory School.
by Massimo Introvigne
Recently, the grounds were published of a decision rendered by the Spanish Supreme Court on October 18, 2022, which will no doubt become an important international precedent. It establishes that political parties cannot discriminate against their own members who have not been found guilty of any crime only because they belong to a movement the media and its opponents regard as a “cult” (“secta” in Spanish).
Germán Martín Castro was born in Cabañaquinta, Asturias, on September 29, 1930. A medical doctor, he wrote several esoteric books under the pseudonym of “Prometeus,” claiming he was a messenger transmitting the wisdom of the “Higher Cosmic Brothers.”
In 1968, he established the Escuela Iniciática Prometeus (Prometheus Initiatory School). The school’s teachings are based on Kabbalah, with elements from Theosophy and Anthroposophy. For those who have completed the basic courses, Prometeus proposes an initiation into what Castro calls “magico-sexual activity,” which is based on the sacred eroticism teachings found in some Kabbalistic texts and other sources from Western esotericism. Not surprisingly, Castro and Prometeus have been attacked by anti-cultists and Catholic critics of the “sectas.”
Podemos (“We Can”) is a Spanish left-wing political party, which was founded in 2014, obtained its best electoral results in 2016 with 21.15% of the national votes, and is currently part of the coalition supporting the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, to which it contributes two cabinet ministers.
Prometeus went through a reorganization in 2017, but the case decided by the Supreme Court happened in 2015. Prometeus has its own political organization, called Unión Integral y Democrática de Todos los Pueblos (Integral and Democratic Union of All Peoples), whose Madrid branch is called MID, Madrid Integral y Democrático (Integral and Democratic Madrid). These are anti-capitalist and left-wing organizations, centered on the utopian proposal of a World Constitution and advocating the union of leftist parties and movements in Spain.
When Podemos was organized, a sizeable number of Madrid members of MID joined it. On March 15, 2015, those MID members of Podemos asked to compete in the Party’s primary elections aimed at selecting its candidates for Madrid’s City Council through a list called “Madrid Integral y Democrático.”
It took only twenty-four hours to Podemos to reject the list on March 16, based on the fact that the MID was one and the same with Prometeus, that its members, if elected, would have advanced Prometeus’ interests rather than Podemos’, and that the religious and esoteric ideas of Prometeus were incompatible with the secular humanist principle of “laicismo” on which Podemos is based. Clearly, the fact that Prometeus had been branded a “cult” by anti-cultists and the media carried a weight in the decision.
Appeals to the higher bodies of Podemos were also quickly rejected, on March 20 and 27, 2015. The Prometeus members of Podemos then sued the party before the Justice Court of Madrid but lost in first degree on December 20, 2015, and on appeal on September 4, 2019, which led them to file a recourse with Spain’s Supreme Court.
The first- and second-degree judges wrote they had to balance the political freedom of a party to organize itself as it deems fit and the religious liberty of these Prometeus devotees who had become members of Podemos. They concluded that a party may decide to exclude those who do not respect its by-laws and principles, and that when they joined Podemos the Prometeus members knew that the party embraces “laicismo” as part of its political ideology.
When the Supreme Court decided the case, the Madrid city elections were long past. However, the judges believed they should rule on the general principle. The first argument by the Prometeus devotees, that they were excluded without a due process where they could have presented their defenses, was rejected. In fact, the Supreme Court determined that, although quickly because the elections were imminent, the Prometeus members had been heard by the organs of Podemos.
However, the Supreme Court accepted the second argument of Prometeus devotees, based on freedom of religion or belief. It observed that, while private associations and even religious organizations may exclude certain categories from membership (in fact, in December 2021 the same Supreme Court had stated that a Catholic lay association may legitimately exclude women), political parties are a special case. They are not merely private associations. “Political parties, they wrote, are constitutionally qualified associations, which occupy a dominant position in the field of political participation.” A party’s right to self-organize itself is not without limits. Parties “should be democratic” and respect human rights, including freedom of religion or belief.
Also based on precedents of the European Court of Human Rights, the Spanish Supreme Court acknowledged that political parties may have an official doctrine or ideology, and exclude members who openly disagree with it. However, it said that parties cannot simply assume that members of a certain religion or spiritual group would violate their values for the mere fact of being devotees of that group.
The first argument used by Podemos to exclude the Prometeus candidates was that, if elected, they would advance the interests of their esoteric movement rather than of the party.
The Supreme Court countered that, “The consideration that the mere ascription of an affiliate to a religious denomination or to an institution in which the external and collective dimension of a certain belief of another nature is channeled (as is the case of an esoteric school for those who profess such esoteric beliefs) implies that, in the event of holding an elected office, the affiliates will defend ‘personal, economic or political interests unrelated to the elected office in question,’ with the consequence that they cannot participate in the primary election processes of the political party, constitutes an excessive and unjustified restriction of the members’ freedom of belief.”
As for secular humanism or “laicismo,” the court examined documents of Podemos stating that the party welcomes believers of all religions as members, and only excludes those who are against the principle of separation of church and state. There is no evidence, the court said, that the left-wing political ideas of Prometeus-MID members deny this principle.
“Without a reasonable justification of the contradiction between the beliefs of the members and the ideological and programmatic principles of the party, which in this case has not been offered, limiting the right of participation of the members in the functioning and internal organization of the party, specifically in the primary elections, for professing certain beliefs, constitutes a relevant limitation of their rights of participation that negatively affects their freedom of belief, since these beliefs are the cause for which their rights are limited, without this being justified by the need for ideological coherence of the political party.”
Parties can exclude those who profess beliefs clearly incompatible with their core doctrines. But they cannot assume that, just because they are members of a group stigmatized as a “cult” by some, they are a threat to the “ideological coherence” of a party. The contradiction between the beliefs of a party members and the party’s stated ideology should be proved rather than assumed and, the Supreme Court adds, proved for each individual devotee. Otherwise, the party violates freedom of religion or belief, something it cannot do in a democratic system.