Separation of Church and State
This post is about the the Protestant church leaders' response to a new law in Bolivia that they say is giving the state control of their religious practice. It's not Nicaragua but, assuming a government is not in the religion business, how you effect that separation is, well, a problem. What Bolivia has done and the response from a minority is educational.
The story starts with an article in Worthy News. That article starts with the following:
LA PAZ, BOLIVIA (Worthy News)– Protestant church leaders in Bolivia are bucking a new law that they claim imposes religious beliefs contrary to their own and denies them the right to be a church. As a result, the National Association of Evangelicals of Bolivia intends to file suit this week asserting that Law 351 is unconstitutional and demanding it be revoked, according to Morning Star News.
Law 351 stipulates a standardized administrative structure for all religious organizations that would force churches to betray their true ecclesiastical traditions, legal advisor Ruth Montano told Morning Star News.
“The measure deprives them of any autonomy to follow their original faith convictions,” she said.
That's the news but what are the facts? Attached is a PDF of the law as it appeared in La Gaceta. (I created the PDF from the original Word document.) The law sets standards for establishing a Persona Juridica. It applies to social organizations, NGO and such. Chapter 3 is specifically about religious organizations.
The law does require such organizations to register with the government. This is a typical requirement most anywhere. While there is nothing that says you can't practice your religion (or, for those wishing to do social work, offer free services). Registration requirements are generally there to control who can receive special treatment by the government. For example, tax exemptions (property tax relief is a huge benefit to churches in the US), religious visas and, for NGOs, buy more tax-free SUVs :-).
The law asks for some minimal information about the structure of the organization -- nothing that you would not expect from any government. The most invasive is asking for, not imposing, the internal structure of the organization.
Maybe there is more to the story in Bolivia but what I can find does not support it.