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Costa Rica Moves To Change Official Religion: Bishops With Protest And Protestant Community

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Argentina – Catholic bishops in Costa Rica, with the backing of the Evangelical Alliance, are against a proposed reform of the constitution removing Catholicism as the official state religion.

Christian leaders in the Central American country argue that the move is fueled by anti-Catholic bias and would actually erode the religious freedom currently enjoyed nationwide.

According to the latest census, over 70 percent of the population of five million describe themselves as Christian, with Catholics representing just over 50 percent of the country’s total population.

Yet Maria Vita Monge, a deputy from Social Christian Unity Party, presented the proposal to de-establish the Church, citing the fact that it is the only country in the region with a state religion: In fact, the only other officially Catholic states are Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco and Vatican City.

The bishops conference released a document in response offering a defense of the current constitutional status.

“The deputies proposing the constitutional reform to the text of article 75 and article 194 of our Magna Carta uncritically assume a text from a sector that under the guise of a ’benevolent secularism’ seeks a ‘neutrality of the State in religious matters’,” the bishops write. This, however, “does not come to provide any added benefit or protection to the religious freedom of the inhabitants of the Republic.”

The bishops also said “this initiative is protected by a justification that summarizes markedly anti-Catholic prejudices” that are only supported by a minority of the population, a fact demonstrated by the support of the Evangelical Alliance in keeping the articles in the constitution.

This was alluded to last year by Fabricio Alvarado, the 2018 presidential candidate for the New Republic Party, who said he opposed the bill because the aim was making Costa Rica an “atheist state, a godless state, a state where the people who profess a religion have no right to express themselves.”

“As we know, the Citizens’ Action Party [the ruling party] promotes euthanasia, abortion, same-sex marriage and promotes all these issues that are against the values of the Costa Rican being,” he said.

Costa Rica’s supreme court issued a decision in May legalizing same-sex marriage, a ruling that was praised by Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, a member of the PAC.

The bishops argue that the proposed new next for the constitution “does not reflect a correct development of religious freedom as a root human right and of fundamental importance not only in the correct conception of a democratic state, but also especially necessary in the development of the human person; it assumes an individualistic and biased vision of the religious phenomenon.”

Despite the fact that Catholicism is the official religion, the population of Costa Rica is free to choose their religious affiliation or non-affiliation. A quarter of the population is Protestant, and nearly 20 percent say they are atheist or agnostic.

Although the Catholic Church is the only religion officially tax exempt, most other congregations are registered as cultural associations. Costa Rica bans members of the clergy from holding certain public offices, but this only applies to Catholic clergy, since it is the official religion.

In the statement, the bishops pointed to the historical and sociological reasons for the development of the constitution of Costa Rica, calling it “a nation that was born under the protection of the Christian faith and specifically the Catholic faith.”

The bishops also argue that they cannot endorse the draft law, not because they’re in principle against of the idea of a lay state, but because the proposal did not come from “a positive treatment of the religious phenomenon in society, and does not lead to a healthy treatment and development of religious freedom.”

“Rather, it surrenders before positions that note, if not a prejudice, an individualistic and reductionist conception of religious freedom and of the religious reality, as a fully human act,” they said.

Monge says the proposed constitutional changes are seeking legal security for the plurality of religions in Costa Rica, while at the same time recognizing the human right to freedom of thought and conscience. Last year, she requested a meeting with Pope Francis through the Vatican’s representative in the country to discuss the “need of a lay State in Costa Rica.”

“The request was made after His Holiness, as leader of the Catholic Church in the world, reiterated on several occasions the need for countries to be lay,” she argued in a statement released over the weekend.

“It’s fundamental that, in discussing such a sensitive topic, we establish a dialogue with the Vatican’s Secretary of State and the Holy Father,” she added. Monge first proposed the bill in May 2019, but the debate is now just heating up.

“If the Holy Father agrees with a lay state, I don’t see a reason why the Catholic Church in Costa Rica would oppose to us being a lay State,” she said.

Carmen Chan, the politician who currently leads the New Republic Party, said she “totally opposes” the proposed changes.

“We are clear on the fact that the PAC and their allies are bothered when the Catholic Church or any other religion raises its voice to defend its religious precepts and values,” Chan said recently. “I’m struck by the fact that some activists who have publicly expressed that the Church should not voice an opinion on issues of national interest are the same activists who today support or promote a lay state, with characteristics that will endanger religious freedom in our country.”

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U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against New York’s Restrictions On Religious Gatherings

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The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily barred New York from enforcing strict attendance limits on places of worship in areas designated coronavirus hot spots, in a decision released just before midnight on Wednesday.

The decision marked a major shift for the court, in essence at least a partial reversal of previous rulings, as well as a clear indication of the court’s dramatic move to the right with the addition of new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in place of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Earlier this year, while Ginsburg was still on the court, it was Chief Justice John Roberts who cast the critical fifth vote to uphold a similar order from governors in California and Nevada.

This time, Roberts was in the minority, noting that the New York rules at issue in the case had already been eased.

The newly constituted majority, however, rejected Roberts’ deferential approach, noting that New York could impose the strict orders again at any time.

“The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” the unsigned majority decision said. “Even in a pandemic, the constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”

The New York rules imposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo restricted attendance at religious services in areas classified as “red” or “orange” zones. In red zones, no more than 10 people were permitted to attend each service, and in orange zones, attendance was capped at 25.

Those rules, which the court majority found to be “severe” and “inflexible,” did not apply to retail stores in the same neighborhoods, the decision said. In an “orange” zone, where secular businesses are subject to no attendance cap at all, the discrimination was “even starker,” the court said.

The justices in the majority, in addition to Barrett, were Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch filed an unusually acerbic concurring opinion, blasting not only Governor Cuomo but also Chief Justice Roberts for his earlier opinion in the California and Nevada cases.

Referring to the more lax rules for New York retailers, Gorsuch opined that “at least according to Governor Cuomo, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians,” a reference to acupuncture being unregulated.

And when it came to Roberts, Gorsuch spent several pages accusing him of “rewriting history” in his dissenting opinion on Wednesday and his earlier opinions in the California and Nevada cases.

“In the end,” said Gorsuch, while Roberts and the other dissenters may wish to “stay out of the way” and let state officials and experts deal with the crisis of a pandemic, “we may not shelter in place where the Constitution is under attack.” There is, he wrote, “no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques.”

Roberts replied with a slap-down of his own. Quoting from Gorsuch’s acid dismissal of the dissenters’ views, the Chief Justice said he did not regard his dissenting colleagues with such venom: “They simply view the matter differently after careful study and reflecting their best efforts to fulfill their responsibility under the Constitution.”

As to Gorsuch’s concurrence, which, as Roberts put it, “takes aim at my [earlier] concurring opinion,” Gorsuch had engaged in such overkill that he spent “three pages” criticizing one sentence.

And “what did that sentence say?” asked Roberts. “Only that our Constitution principally entrusts the safety and health of the people to the politically accountable officials of the states to guard and protect.”

Those words, said Roberts, “should be uncontroversial, and the Gorsuch concurrence must reach beyond the words themselves to find the target it is looking for.”

That earlier opinion involved rules that were not as strict as the New York rules. The California church limited attendance to 100 people. In buildings with a capacity of 400 or fewer people, capacity was limited to 25%. In Nevada, churches were limited to 50 people.

On Nov. 12, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America asked the court for temporary injunctions against the New York governor’s executive order.

The synagogues said Cuomo’s order “singled out a particular religion for blame and retribution” for the uptick in coronavirus cases.

The court granted the temporary injunctive relief until the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in December — and then the Supreme Court as appropriate — can more fully consider the merits of the case. But the majority said that challengers, as of now, have a good chance of prevailing if they get to the Supreme Court again.

It’s unclear how the case will proceed. New York’s Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood recently informed the court that recent changes to the policies in question meant none of the diocese’s churches or the area’s synagogues would any longer be subject to the restrictions.

Cuomo described Wednesday’s decision as a political statement. In his daily coronavirus briefing Thursday, he said, “Look, I’m a former altar boy, Catholic, Catholic grammar school, Catholic high school, Jesuits at college. So I fully respect religion and if there’s a time in life when we need it, the time is now. But we want to make sure we keep people safe at the same time, and that’s the balance we’re trying to hit, especially in this holiday season.”

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Indonesian Terrorist Burns Down Church and Christian Homes, Killing Four

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International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on November 27, an alleged terrorist attacked the Salvation Army’s service post in central Sulawesi, before burning six houses of church members. Four Christians were murdered, with three being butchered.

Around 8 a.m., the Lewonu Lembantongoa Service Post, located in Sigi Regency, Central Sulawesi, set up as an outreach effort by the Salvation Army in Indonesia (Bala Keselamatan), was attacked by the alleged terrorist.

He set the church on fire, before attacking Captain Arnianto, Mrs. Mpapa, Lieutenant Abram Kako and his wife and burning down six houses of the church members. Out of the four victims, three were hacked to death, while the other was burned.

In the video seen by ICC, the charred victim was pulled from a pile of ruins, with smoke still rising in the background. The fowler position of the body suggests the agony and pain endured by the victim before death.

Lemban Tongoa is located in the forest, where access of information and transportation is limited. ICC will continue to follow up to learn more about the details of the attack. The Salvation Army is asking for prayers “for the family of the victims, for the church, and for the peace of the region.”

Gina Goh, ICC’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, said, “ICC mourns the death of the Indonesian brothers and sisters who were brutally murdered by the alleged terrorist. We urge the Indonesian government to take necessary measures to hold him accountable and put him to justice. Such senseless act cannot be tolerated in the country that boasts ‘Pancasila,’ the state ideology which promotes religious harmony and tolerance.”

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