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New Law in Bolivia Aims to Control Churches,
Impose Beliefs, Protestant Leaders Say

BY LATIN AMERICAN CORRESPONDENT                                                                               ©2013 Morning Star News

Protestant church leaders in Bolivia are trying to revoke a new law they say aims to “impose contrary beliefs” and “denies us the right to be a church.”

Asserting that Law 351 is unconstitutional, the National Association of Evangelicals of Bolivia (ANDEB) will file suit before the Plurinational Legislative Assembly demanding that it be revoked; Christian leaders argue its re-registration requirements restrict the “rights and religious freedoms of churches.”

The law stipulates a standardized administrative structure for all “religious organizations” that church groups must adopt. “This would force churches to betray their true ecclesiastical traditions,” Ruth Montaño, legal advisor and former board member of ANDEB told Morning Star News. “The measure deprives them of any autonomy to follow their original faith convictions.”

Churches failing to complete the re-registration within a two-year period would lose their legal right to exist. The ANDEB suit charges that Law 351 aims to “control” churches and “impose contrary beliefs” upon the Christian faith and “denies us the right to be a church.”

ANDEB organized protest marches by an estimated 20,000 people on August 17 in five cities throughout the country to state their opposition to the policies of President Evo Morales’s administration.

At the heart of the demonstrations was opposition to Law 351 for Granting of Juridical Personality to Churches and Religious Groups, passed in March. The statute requires all churches and not-for-profit organizations to re-register their legal charters with the government. This involves supplying detailed data on membership, financial activity and organizational leadership.

“They want to control the activities of the evangelical churches,” Agustín Aguilera, president of ANDEB, told the Santa Cruz newspaper El Deber. “Article 15 (of the law) would force all religious organizations to carry out our activities within the parameters of the ‘horizon of good living,’ which is based on the [ethnic] Aymara worldview. This is an imposition of a cultural and spiritual worldview totally foreign to ours.”

President Morales identifies himself ethnically as Aymara, although he also claims to be a “grassroots Catholic.” Aymara-speakers form the second largest indigenous group in Bolivia, after Quechuas.

Government officials are not granting legal status to newly formed evangelical churches, pending approval of regulations being formulated by the Registry Office of Worship, according to ANDEB leaders. The proposed statutes violate the constitution in terms similar to those of Law 351, they say.


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