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Petition to preserve religious liberty in Chile launched

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CNA Staff, Feb 23, 2021 / 20:01 pm (CNA).

Alliance Defending Freedom International has launched a petition addressed to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to rule in favor of religious freedom in Chile.

The ruling will have ramifications for all member states of the Organization of American States.

The petition campaign addresses the case of Sandra Pavez, a lesbian and former nun. The Diocese of San Bernardo did not renew her certificate of suitability to continue teaching religion classes in 2007 because Pavez chose to cohabit with her female partner and go public with the relationship.

Bishop Juan Ignacio González Errazuriz of San Bernardo had informed Pavez that if she continued in that relationship “he would be obliged to revoke her certificate of suitability, for not giving ‘the witness of a Christian life’, which the Catholic Church expects from its teachers,” the campaign explains.

Religion classes in Chile are governed by Decree 924 of 1983, issued by the country’s Ministry of Education, which requires all schools to offer optional religion classes in accordance with the student’s religion. The decree also states that the teacher must have a certificate of suitability issued by “the corresponding religious authority,” in this case the Bishop of San Bernardo. The decree also empowers that authority to revoke the certificate of suitability, which Bishop González did.

Consequently, Pavez “could not continue teaching that specific class.”

The revocation of the certificate of suitability to teach Catholic religion classes entailed “no negative judgement about the professional competence of Pavez, nor was her right to continue teaching other subjects questioned, even in the same establishment.”

“This is in fact what happened, without Pavez losing even for a moment the source of her livelihood, nor was she removed from the school community,” the campaign notes.

Pavez sued the Catholic Church for discrimination and filed for an injunction with the San Miguel Court of Appeals. The court denied the injunction, ruling that the revocation was neither illegal nor arbitrary, and Chile’s Supreme Court confirmed the appeal court’s decision.

In 2008, the teacher took her case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights based in Washington, D.C, “which agreed with her, stating that she has the right to teach Catholic religion classes even against the objection of her church and that the faith communities cannot require teachers’ conduct to be faithful to their beliefs, not even in private schools.”

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, located in Costa Rica, now has the case, with a decision forthcoming some time in 2021.

Both the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court are organs of the OAS to protect human rights in the hemisphere.

Those signing the petition hope that the court will consider “all the interests and rights involved, since we know that what it decides in this case may create ramifications that will extend to the exercise and enjoyment of our rights in the states we live in,” the campaign states.

ADF International warns the decision will determine whether religious schools “will be able to ensure that their religious educators fulfill their obligation of fidelity … that they voluntarily profess.”

In addition, the decision will also determine “whether states will respect the right of parents to have their children receive a religious education that is consistent with their convictions.”

“International human rights law recognizes as a central element in the teaching of religion – which is a manifestation of freedom of religion – the freedom of each religious community to choose who will teach it on their behalf.”

Likewise, “human rights treaties also recognize for us, parents, the freedom and right to guarantee that our children receive a moral and religious education that is in accordance with our convictions,” the campaign adds.

“By virtue of our freedom of religion, we have an expressly recognized and protected right to spread our faith, starting with ensuring that it will be transmitted to our children.”

Signers of the petition consider the “consistency of life” of those who teach religion to be “absolutely central.”


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