Push for secular state arriving at president’s doorstep

There is a growing movement to make Costa Rica a secular state.

Article 75 of the Costa Rican Constitution specifies the Roman Catholic faith as the state religion but also guarantees the free exercise of other religions.

Some critics estimate that this state support of the Catholic church could be nearly $3 million a year.

The secular movement received a boost with an endorsement of the concept by President Luis Guillermo Solís and some lawmakers. But what a proposed law would provide does not go far enough, according to some who want a strict separation between religion and government.

One group said it plans a demonstration at the home of Solís today at 5 p.m. This is the Movimiento de Invisibles which also supports in vitro fertilization and a number of other activities that would be frowned upon by Catholic Church officials.

This organization also opposes the bill N.º 19.099 that is titled Ley para la Libertad Religiosa y de Culto, loosely translated as the religious liberty law.

That proposed law received a review in a Diario Extra editorial Tuesday. The popular newspaper said that having a secular state does not mean removing God from everyday life. The editorial urged lawmakers to act.

Others are not so sure about the current bill. The measure would set up a new bureaucracy within the Ministerio de Justicia y Paz that would register congregations of religious faiths, register ministers and even issue fines if the church books were not kept in order.

The preface to the bill speaks much about freedom of thought and freedom of religion, but the bill itself says the measure does not apply to the Catholic Church and specifically excludes as religions witchcraft, spiritualism, astrology, Satanism, parapsychology, pantheism, shamanism and similar.

The original proposal was pushed by legislators in the last assembly term who were associated with evangelical political parties. Among them were Carlos Luis Avendaño Calvo of Renovación Costarricense, and Justo Orozco Álvarez, another evangelical pastor.

In addition to money from the government, the supporters of the bill seek extending certain rights now held by the Catholic Church to other denominations. For example, Catholic priests have the right to marry couples. There is no need for the couple to appear before a notary, as in the case of other couples.

In addition, Costa Rican children receive two

Restoration of the Iglesia de la Merced in San José involved public money and private donations. The result was stunning.

Restoration of the Iglesia de la Merced in San José involved public money and private donations. The result was stunning.

hours of Catholic religious instruction every week in the public schools. The bill would allow the children to receive instruction in the religions of their parents’ choice.

Evangelical congregations sometimes are in trouble with neighbors because of the boisterous services, and health officials recently cracked down on nearly 1,000 of them for not having all the required permits.

The bill’s preface says that 79 percent of Costa Ricans profess having a religion and 72 percent of this group say they are Catholic. Evangelicals were 15 percent in the cited 2013 survey, and those who said just Christian were 8 percent.

Many of those who will protest today want to go much further than the current bill would provide. Many favor same sex marriage, for example, or legal abortion.

Jaime Ordoñez of the 6-year-old Movimiento por un Estado Laico en Costa Rica, noted in a critique of the bill that Melvin Jiménez, the minister of the Presidencia, is a Lutheran bishop. He called the bill a step backwards and said that instead of a one-church country, the bill would create a country with many official churches.

He was the person that said the Roman Catholic Church received 840 million colons or a bit more than $1.7 million from the government in direct spending. He said that indirect payments to church schools, social programs and as investments in repairing church buildings could rise to as much as 1.5 billion colons or about $2.7 million a year.

The Ministerio de Cultura y Juventud provides money for repair of historic buildings as do municipalities.

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