Wednesday 22 September 2021

Costa Rica legislators evaluate promoting the secular State

The bill does not intend to remove God from the Political Constitution, on the contrary, it wants God within the Constitution, but not within politics

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(QCOSTARICA) Legislators in Costa Rica will evaluate the possibility of beginning the process of constitutional reform so that the State becomes secular. This was agreed to this Thursday by the party fraction chiefs, on a bill by PUSC legislator María Vita Monge, on May 1.

Legislator María Vita Monge presented the bill on May 1. Photo: Rafael Pacheco.

If the initiative is approved, Article 75 of the Constitution would stipulate: “The Republic of Costa Rica respects religious pluralism. Everyone has the right to assume or abandon certain religious beliefs, or of any kind, as well as freely profess them”.

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“The freedom to manifest one’s religion and beliefs is subject only to the limitations prescribed by law and necessary to protect the safety, order, health or common welfare or the rights and freedoms of others.”

Currently, Article 75 states: “The Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Religion is that of the State, which contributes to its maintenance, without preventing the free exercise in the Republic of other cults that are not opposed to universal morality or to the good manners”.

The initiative also seeks to modify Article 194 of the Magna Carta, so that the oath of public officials is as follows: “Do you swear to God, or in the face of your personal beliefs or convictions and promise the country to observe and defend the Constitution, the laws of the Republic, and faithfully fulfill the duties of your destiny?”

In its current form, the oath does not include the excerpt on the sworn person’s personal beliefs or convictions.

The bill states that its approval would not imply eliminating Semana Santa (Easter) holidays, which are regulated in the Labor Code.

It adds that religious education in educational centers would not be prohibited either, since this is the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Education (MEP).

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The file details that its objective is state secularism, which seeks to guarantee religious freedom, unlike secularism, a current related to hostility towards religions.

“From no point of view can the concept of secularism advocated in this initiative be used to negatively value religious convictions with expressions of intolerance or implement policies related to promoting atheism or persecution by the State, as it can secularism,” says the document.

Legislator Monge affirmed that all the party benches agreed to start the process. According to her, the only opposition came from Jonathan Prendas.

“I am very satisfied that this project is progressing, there will be colleagues with whom we must continue talking because this at no time intends to remove God from the Political Constitution, on the contrary, it is a project that wants God within the Constitution, but not within politics,” said Monge.

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The proposal was signed in total by 20 legislators from the Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC), Liberación Nacional (PLN), Acción Ciudadana (PAC) and Frente Amplio (FA) parties, and independents Zoila Volio and Erick Rodríguez.

Enrique Sánchez, head of the PAC fraction, explained that this project will be processed together with other changes to the Magna Carta supported by its fraction, which consists of reducing the state contribution to the parties and raising the principle of gender parity to constitutional rank.

“Of course we strongly support these three (projects), we are going to see what other constitutional reforms the other fractions propose to start the process,” said Sánchez.

Luis Fernando Chacón, head of the PLN, indicated: “It is an issue that the fraction has not yet discussed, but we do agree to promote the readings to process issues of constitutional reforms, which we have many in the agenda”.

Religion in Costa Rica

Christianity is the largest religion in Costa Rica, with Roman Catholics having the most adherents. Roman Catholicism is the state religion and is entitled to state support according to the 1949 Constitution, but the government generally upholds people’s religious freedom in practice.

Freedom of religion in Costa Rica

The same Article 75 of the Costa Rican Constitution that states that Roman Catholicism is the state religion, provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice.

Religious groups with at least ten members may register with the government in order to be able to raise funds and own property. There is no penalty for not being registered, other than a lack of access to these privileges.

Religious marriage ceremonies other than those conducted by the Catholic Church are not recognized by the government. Couples married through such ceremonies must also obtain a civil union from a public notary in order to have their marriage legally recognized.

The government provides funding to private religious schools regardless of religion.

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