New Bolivian Law to Control Churches, Beliefs

Monday, September 2, 2013

By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent

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.

The law requires all churches and not-for-profit organizations to re-register their legal charters with the government; this process requires data on membership, financial activity and organizational leadership. Any churches failing to complete re-registration within a two-year period could lose their legal right to exist.

Protestant leaders claim that the new law gives the Bolivian government regulatory power over the internal affairs of their denominations to the point of defining what is and isn't a church.

Ironically, Bolivian President Evo Morales -- the first indigenous Andean to be democratically elected to that office -- abolished the historic influence of the Roman Catholic Church over the nation's religious affairs. But Protestant leaders now fear that pre-Colombian animism has replaced Catholicism, e.g., instead of Catholic priests, Morales’s administration routinely invites "folk doctors" to bless all government ceremonies.

Protestant worship was banned in Bolivia until about a century ago; they now represent 16 percent of the country’s population of 10 million, according to Operation World.