Evangelicals in Bolivia received a major religious freedom boost this week from the same administration that banned evangelism last year.
Months after Evo Morales criminalized proselytizing—before swiftly reversing course—the Bolivian president reached out to Christians to help draft legislation to recognize evangelical churches and institutions. This week, he made it official.
“With this law, all churches have the same rights,” said Morales. “There is equality. There is neither a primary nor a secondary nor an underground church like before. Now it is a team effort and fight.”
Munir Chiquie, president of the National Association of Evangelicals of Bolivia (ANDEB), called the law “a qualitative leap in the development and understanding of this fundamental freedom that is inseparable from the freedoms of worship, conscience and thought.”
“Today is a day of celebration, it is a historic day,” said Alberto Salcedo Peñaloza, who pastors Ekklesia Church, a megachurch in La Paz that published a bulletin on the good news. “There is now full freedom of conscience we have rights and also obligations, so all of in this beloved Bolivia, we can serve, support and to go forward. “
Before it was signed into law, a different evangelical group, the Association of United Churches of La Paz, complained that the bill failed to distinct churches in any meaningful way from NGOs and attacked ANDEB “as a minority group of associations, between these NGOs and foundations.”
Bolivia’s 10-year-old constitution declares a separation between church and state and established the country as a secular state. But the government had taken years to enumerate on the rights offered to religious minorities like Protestants and followers of the country’s indigenous faiths. The new legislation will make it easier for evangelicals and the country’s indigenous religions to establish legal recognition.
These legal rights will also allow the government to regulate and tax the groups, said Lino Cárdenas, president of the constitutional committee of Bolivia’s chamber of deputies.
“Churches have the full right to profess the faith but they also have obligations before the state, which must regulate them to ensure that the population is not deceived,” he said.
While Catholics overall supported the legislation, Bolivian Catholic bishops stated they were “disappointed that the religious liberty law has not come to an explicit recognition of the right to conscientious objection.”
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Source: Christianity Today