by Gaylee Coverston
In this session Scott E. Isaacson, Regional Advisor for Latin America for the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, acted as moderator. He introduced each of the delegates and presented the order in which they would speak.
The first presenter was Marco Gallo, Professor and Director of the Pontifical Chair at the Catholic University of Buenos Aires and specializes on interreligious dialogue and Islamic-Christian relations in particular. Professor Marco delineated the vision of Pope Francis regarding human rights and religious freedom. He agrees with a quote from Saint John Paul II, “the right to religious freedom, together with the right to life, is a fundamental point in the maintenance of a democratic country.” Pope Francis puts special emphasis on the virtuous relationship that exists between a fruitful inter-religious dialogue and the defense of religious freedom. Professor Gallo spoke of the situation in Tanzania and discussed efforts to improve religious freedom in that country. The institution of a church plays an important role in collaborating with the state in this kind of a situation where religious freedom requires defense, especially for religious minorities. At the 2014 International Conference for Religious Freedom, Pope Francis addressed the participants and declared that religious freedom cannot only be confined to private space but must also be allowed public space where all ideas and thoughts are respected. The fact of belonging to a specific religion cannot incite discrimination or persecution in the pluralistic society in which we live. True religious freedom means you are able to live according to your beliefs in all aspects of life. Pope Francis wishes to replace global conflict with global collaboration, starting with a set of universally shared values and respectful dialogue. He spoke of situations in Turkey, Armenia, and Albania. Professor Gallo continued to quote John Paul II stating that religious freedom acts as a bulwark against totalitarianism and is a decisive contribution to human brotherhood. Central to Pope Francis’s concept of religious freedom is its role in promoting and enhancing social dialogue. Even those who do not profess to have a religion, should have at the heart of their discourse the dignity of each human being. The Ideal for religious dialogue is that men and women can express their thoughts without arguing. Regarding the issue of immigrants and refugees, Pope Francis opines that receiving these people can be an opportunity for the both the hosts and those coming to open their horizons and see the value in each other. Refugees have the duty to respect the values, traditions and laws of the community that hosts them, and the hosts must appreciate what every immigrant can offer for the benefit of the whole community. Global collaboration, with the weapons of respectful dialogue, can break down the walls of prejudice, misunderstanding and intolerance. If we work together in respect and appreciation for the human dignity of each person, we can create an atmosphere of peace and harmony.
The next speaker was Juan Jose Bernal Guillen, Chancellor of the Diocese of Ciudad del Este and Academic Coordinator of the Theology Department at the Catholic University in Alto Parana, Paraguay. Professor Guillen began with a summary of the course religious rights have taken in Paraguay. The right to religious freedom is an important legal right guaranteed by the National Judicial Order. Paraguay has no official religion and there are 479 different religions registered in the country. However, the Catholic Church has maintained a significant presence due to its role in the formative history and culture of Paraguay. According to the National Report on Human Rights Practices, some of the religious rights conceded to individuals are: conscientious objection, marriage, teaching, and religious assistance. On the triple boarder of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina the concept of plurality is even more evident as multiple and very diverse religions and cultures live in harmony. There are several important aspects of providing protection for the right of religious freedom. The constitutional framework of Paraguay guarantees the inalienable right to proclaim one’s faith in the way most convenient to oneself. In article one, it recognizes that the essence of humanity is human dignity, with the inherent rights to each personality. Article 24 clarifies the rights pertinent to religious freedom and the legal responsibility of the state to protect these freedoms. He continued to say that the laws of the state should never infringe upon the natural and inherent rights of any human being. No use of force, fear, or any other manipulation should be a part of public authority regarding religious freedom. The penal framework also protects religious rights by outlining specific punishment for any violation of this and any other basic human rights. Article 233 of the Paraguayan Penal Code states that any insult, offense, humiliation of another due to religious preferences will be subject to specific punishment. The Penal Code also covers destructive acts against religious property. Therefore, it is very apparent that religious rights are legally protected in Paraguay. With respect to religious plurality in Latin America, Professor Guillen concluded that with continuous encouraging dialogue between civil, political and government institutions and private religious and interreligious organizations we can create a more just society, offering respect and serenity.
The final presenter was Moises Arata Solis, Law Professor at the University of Lima and has been an advisor to the Peruvian government, the Property Registry authority, the Special Commission on Privatization, and the Law of Urban Development on Property Law issues. Professor Arata Solis first invited everyone to his country. He then discussed how religion is a demonstration of man’s worship of a god. It has been said that Machu Picchu was more of a religious center than an actual military site. It was a very difficult place to build, therefore the choice to build there needed to be motivated by more than normal daily living. He went on to say that in Latin America, we have our own problems and it is good to share and understand the issues that occur in other parts of the world. When it comes to religious freedom in Peru, there are three points to consider: indigenous causes, historical consolidation and native inclusion, and social and political presence. Peru is a country whose religious demographic is mostly Catholic with the rest composing of many different religions. The history of Catholic missionaries and their role in converting some indigenous people led to catholic dominance in the country. Pluralism of religion came mainly from external sources. Other religions have come into Peru through a slow process of proselytism, missionaries coming in from other countries, and previous to that, mostly from immigrants who brought their religion with them or natives who maintained their beliefs. He mentioned problems where indigenous cultures in the jungle were not receiving the same rights as other religions and cultures. As religious freedom is a constitutionally protected right, steps have been taken to improve those situations. Because Peru is predominantly Catholic, religious symbols in government buildings can cause issues. Also the Catholic church is recognized in the constitution whereas no other religion is mentioned. This doesn’t seem to be an issue that causes much conflict in the country at this present time. However, identification of a church other than the Catholic church requires an administrative recognition through registration. This is not always easy. The legal rules to register a religion are not well designed. Sometimes the requirements to register a religion rest on the department of justice and can end up on the shoulders of one judge. The time has come for the state to no longer look at the registration of religious entities in financial terms but rather in terms of religious ideals. He concluded that one question should always be posed when considering resolutions to improve religious freedom. In our legal framework, which elements are indispensable for a law regarding religious freedom? He also mentioned the importance of recognizing religious feelings within the country. Most of all, there needs to be a place to offer suggestions on religious freedom.