One of the major rallying-points for those campaigning for a No in this referendum has been religion. A rather minor change of phrasing in the new constitution shifts the relationship between the Catholic church and the state from one of official support to detachment. In the previous constitution (which now looks to have been voted out of existence), the Bolivian state ‘recognise(d) and sustain(ed) the apostolic Roman Catholic religion’, while guaranteeing the freedom to practice other faiths. In the new constitution, the state is declared independent of the church for the first time, while religious freedoms are guaranteed, including freedom of religious instruction. But don’t take my word for it, let’s ask Xavier Albó, Jesuit priest, anthropologist, national treasure and one-man publishing industry:
(This first appeared in La Razón, but the English translation is mine)
The crude attempt to manipulate religious feelings in the run-up to the 25 January referendum has toppled into vulgarity, if not farce, and I will not waste time refuting it. I will limit myself to outlining the similarities and differences between the two proposals in play in this referendum with regard to the relationship between the State and religion.
In article 3 of the current Constitution, which will continue if the No vote wins, we may distinguish between three components: (a) the State recognises and sustains the Roman Catholic apostolic religion, (b) it guarantees the public practice of every other faith, and (c) relations with the Catholic Church will be regulated by means of concordats and agreements between the Bolivian state and the Holy See.
In article 4 of the new Constitution (which will come into force if the Yes vote wins) , the focus will be on broadening the current component (b). It says: ‘The State respects and guarantees the freedom of religion and spiritual beliefs, according to different worldviews. The state is independent of religion.’ The Bolivian bishops do not object to this formulation, although some would like more clarity about what is meant by ‘independent’.
This formulation is more similar to the first draft of the Constitution produced by Bolivar, which already directly proposed freedom of worship. But the members of the Constituent Assembly of 1826 rejected it and instead imposed a confessional State: ‘the Catholic religion…is that of the Republic, to the exclusion of any other public worship’. The system which is in place today was only introduced in 1880. Catholicism is no longer the official religion of the State, although the State ‘sustains it’ as a symbolic compensation for the Church property which it took over. There was a timid addition, not made official until 1906: ‘allowing the free practice of any other faith’. In 1938 ‘allowing’ was changed to ‘guaranteeing’, and freedom of religious instruction was added.
And now this guarantee and freedom is to be extended to all. Further still, in line with the UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, for the first time their spiritual beliefs in accordance with their worldviews are recognised and protected (see also articles 21.3 and 30.2)
In other words, no atheism, nothing anti-religious…(snip) It only implies separation – or autonomy – as between Church and State. This began in the brand-new United States in the nineteenth century, putting an end to the ‘official’ status of the Anglican church, and the majority of modern states now follow it. Pope Benedict XVI himself said this last December in an address to the Italian government: ‘The Church not only recognises and respects the distinction and autonomy of the State in relation to itself, but also rejoices in it as a great advance for humanity’.
Of course, those campaigning against the new constitution were not to be put off by the gulf of meaning between a legal separation of church and state and *doom music* !1OMGoutlawingJesus!1! Hence an outpouring of TV ads showing Evo and Christ side by side (usually a comparison only made by naive European leftists, and then more favourably, hem hem) and intoning in fire-and-brimstone tones, ‘WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?’ I’ll come clean and admit that I haven’t seen this ad, because tragically I no longer live in Bolivia, but since it’s been described to me by three different people as well as on the ever-reliable intertubes, no srsly, by Jim Schultz no less, I’m going to be unscientific and assume it’s true. Vote for the new constitution and Christ will forsake you personally. At least it prompted this reflection from a commenter on Red Erbol (who also catalogues a couple of the more flagrantly outrageous pronouncements in the media from medialunistas recently)
‘In my nights of insomnia I wonder, ‘And if the ‘Yes’ vote wins, will God lose an election for the first time? That’s how it goes in Bolivia: first we kill Che (Guevara), then they want to prohibit us from playing football at high altitudes, and now God loses a referendum! ‘Welcome to Bolivia, where anything can happen’, lovely motto to attract tourists. Or ‘Welcome to Bolivia, be careful, the insanity is contagious’