Judiciary – Minister Jorge Chediak Gonzalez, Uruguay

Joe Hepworth
Research Advisor

In the breakout session “Judiciary: Trends and Challenges,” Minister Jorge Chediak Gonzalez summarized the history of religious freedom in the Spanish colonies, focusing on Uruguay. In the late 19th century, Uruguay began to separate church and state. Catholic cemeteries became public, operated by the local government. In 1877, the government created a civil registry to record vital records, such as births, deaths and marriages. Before then, all registration was in the Catholic church. In 1885, civil marriage was introduced; and in 1907, divorce by mutual consent was allowed, over the objection of the Catholic church. In 1918, the Uruguay Constitution was amended to guaranty religious freedom. The Catholic Church given was title to properties that were used for religious purposes, reserving some properties, such as hospitals, to the state.

The Catholic Church is the majority religion, and Uruguay does not recognize a complete neutrality, but Uruguay gives all religions the same rights. All religions are exempt from taxes. The Constitution recognizes human rights in addition to religious rights. Articles 72 and 332 recognize broader inherent rights. Article 72 technically is a law of opening or aperture. It is not exhaustive. Article 332 provides that rights established in the Constitution do not overcome inherent human rights.

Uruguay has a very strong movement to uphold inherent human rights. The family is the basis of Uruguayan society. The state will maintain the moral basis of the family. The Constitution protects parents’ rights to teach children in their homes in accordance with religious beliefs. Uruguay has no law that restricts religious freedom. Worship acts should never be imposed. Article 10 of the Constitution provides that government will not prohibit religious acts that do not damage public order or harm other persons. This guaranties religious freedom and ensures that each can practice satisfactorily.

Uruguay recognizes that it must protect minority religions. Therefore the penal code prohibits discrimination against minorities. Art 55 establishes the creation of religious groups and prohibits violence against minorities, including religions. Law 17.817, enacted September 14, 2004, prohibits religious discrimination.

45.1% of Uruguayans are Catholic, and 10% are Christian, non Catholic. 27.8% believe in god, but are not affiliated or practice. A very large number of religious organizations are present in Uruguay. But there is a strict separation of church and state. Discrimination is prohibited.

Minister Chediak concluded with a short personal reflection. Tolerance should not be angry tolerance. It should be a tolerance with an open heart, a tolerance of good will. Of course that is easier to say than to do. Someone who believes his way is the only true way, believes others are not worshiping a true god. Others believe that also. The only way to survive as a society is to acknowledge that reality. We need to tolerate with good will those who worship another god or in another way. It has to be a tolerating tolerance. Those who worship another god or the same god in a different way is not an enemy. They are also a son of god, and we are brothers and sisters. Our understanding is just different. In a pluralistic society, we should tolerate in peace.

In response to a question, Minister Chediak noted that his clerks were able to identify only one case on religious freedom in the past 10 years. A father wished to send his children to public secular school but did not want vaccinations. Legal officers said everyone who goes to school, both public and private, should have vaccinations. It was decided that it did not violate his religious rights. Vaccination is good. The law did not interfere with freedom of religion.

Argentina and Chile and Brazil have followed a similar path with respect to religious freedom.

In response to a question from Judge Wallace concerning religious symbols in the courtrooms in Brazil, Minister Chediak noted that Uruguay does not have any religious symbol at all in political affairs. Uruguay is a secular state. A litigant’s political beliefs, religion, even his favorite soccer team are not inquired into because they are not relevant.