January 2018
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R. Gamboa Ben-Eleazar: Address to the Congress of the Republic of Colombia

Speech of Rabbi Dr. Richard Gamboa Ben-Eleazar, secretary general of the Interfaith Council of Colombia, in the frame of the forum about the “Secular State” at the Congress of the Republic of Colombia

Doctor Angélica Lozano, house representative for Bogota, honorable senators of the Republic, Doctors Armando Benedetti and Claudia López,DoctorLorena Ríos Cuéllar, director of the Group of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of the Interior, ladies and gentlemen:

I want in the first place to give thanks for this opportunity to express before the people the feelings of the 21 delegations that belong to the Interfaith Council of Colombia, about the theme that brings us here today.

This national interfaith parliament considers that, contrary to the Judgment C-817 of 2011 that was exposed by the Constitutional Court, Colombia is not a “secular state” because the State recognized “the protection of God,” thus exerting an explicit religious confessionality. To mention God in the highest legal document of the country, the Colombian State not only explicitly recognizes the Supreme Being but also gives to Him the status of juridical person. Therefore, as a juridical person, God is the universal and absolute guarantor of the observance and respect for universal principles and ethical and moral values. Thus, the Constitution has made Colombia a theist state, not fulfilling the principle of non-confessionality that characterizes a secular state.

In the second place, the Legislative Statement of Religious Freedom Act 133 of 1994 states in its Article 2 that “the state is not atheist, or agnostic, or indifferent to the religious feelings of Colombians. Public power will protect the persons in their beliefs, as well as churches and religious confessions and will facilitate the participation of these and those in the pursuit of the common good.Similarly, the state will maintain harmonious relations and mutual understanding with the churches and religious faiths in Colombian society.” This positions it as an "aconfessional state" and leaves without foundation the principle of neutrality and separation of religion and state which is mentioned by the theory of the secular state.

Our position is that the Judgment C-817 of 2011 of the Constitutional Court is absolutely inapplicable by all Christian churches, other faiths and spiritual groups present in Colombia (representing more of the 90 percent of the national population), who, faithful to their doctrinal principle of the Sovereignty of God, do not conceive or cannot accept any kind of political and social order that leaves out the Supreme Being, Who is totally recognized and confessed by the Colombian State in the Preamble of the National Constitution, as was stated previously. Therefore we reject the pretensions from those who demand that the Name of God be deleted from the Magna Carta.

One must remember that the Colombian State, faithful to the constitutional dogmatic frame, watches the iusrationalist theory or Axiological School of the Law, and not the positivist theory of the Normative School. This means that in Colombia, when there exists a conflict between a rule and a value, value is above the rule, and thus it is stated in Article 4 of the Magna Carta: “The Constitution is the supreme law. In all cases of incompatibility between the Constitution and the law or other rule of law, constitutional provisions will be applied.”

Universal ethics dictate that freedoms and rights are not absolute. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in its Articles 29 and 30, states that every human and fundamental freedom and right is limited by the right of other persons to enjoy the same freedoms and rights. No one freedom or right can be used to transgress the rights and freedoms of others. Then respect, as an essential value in human relationships, cannot be reduced or utilized in order to justify or legitimize an offense against others, making use of the claim of rights and freedoms to justify the exercise of hostile actions.

In view of these considerations, the Interfaith Council of Colombia presents to the Colombian State, represented by the honorable congressmen who are with us today in these dissertations, and before citizenship present who follow us through mass media, our main worries about the secular state:

1. We are worried because apologetic speeches of the secular state, as well as rules and judgments proffered, really are not questing for an inclusive culture in Colombia but on the contrary: The secular state, as is currently applied, has absolutely no tolerance but is emerging as an apathetic dictatorship and enemy of religion in general. The secular state, as is being applied in the country, restricts, censors, tramples and is going to the extreme to criminalize churches, other faiths and spiritual groups.

In this regard we have requested to be heard by the parliamentarians who filed Bill 20 of 2015 which seeks to regulate conscientious objection in Colombia.We believe that the bill, as worded, will criminalize the exercise of this fundamental right in specific cases, such as abortion, euthanasia, egalitarian marriages and adoptions, compulsory military service, among others in which religions have much more moral authority to manifest themselves, guide and advise the governments of the world on how these issues should be handled. Religions are thus experts in humanity and know firsthand the joys and hopes, sorrows and hopes, weaknesses and strengths of the human heart.

For the faith community members of the Interfaith Council of Colombia, the case of Kim Davis which occurred last September in the U.S. state of Kentucky could be massively replicated in our country if the Colombian State keeps walking the way of the criminalization of the defense of universal moral and ethical principles and values. Therefore we are concerned about the dictatorial and unreasonable attitude that the Constitutional Court has taken in these kinds of issues, imposing the interests of the few above the general interest.

For millennia we have exercised conscientious objection, and in extreme cases we have used civil disobedience to oppose everything that harms humankind, both individuals and society. Remember the prophets of Israel, imprisoned and killed for protesting against the immorality of the people and corruption of the kings. Remember Jesus Christ himself, who was killed by publicly confronting the authorities of his time. Remember St. Peter, who challenged the political, social and religious order of his time, saying, “It is our duty to obey God rather than men.” Remember the Family of the Prophet Muhammad, who were killed by Umayyad rulers because they denounced all the injustices against the poor and humble. Remember our modern prophets: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Bishop Oscar Romero.

We reject every kind of violence, but we are not irenics. We proclaim the Kingdom of Peace with social justice, dignity and righteousness, but also, without regard, we denounce injustice.So we cry to the Colombian State to immediately stop the criminalization of religions; because for us, if the price to pay for peace is that we shut up and are indifferent to all that is unethical and immoral, then we are supporting something that really is not peace.

As an example of this, you must know that a few days ago the 21 delegations of faith that are part of this national interreligious council issued a public statement in which we expressed our energetic rejection of the total decriminalization of abortion in Colombia (it is important to clarify to this room, so that there are no misunderstandings and confusions, that we are not referring to the three cases decriminalized by the Judgment C-355 of 2006,since among the various churches and religions we have divergent positions on the matter, and it is an aspect in which we respect each other). We consider free abortion a crime against humanity, a genocide, because we are not talking about simple organisms but human beings, we are talking about boys and girls who must be guaranteed the right to exist from the moment of conception. And this is a non-negotiable position, which we have not the slightest intention of rethinking in fidelity to our universal ethical and moral principles.

2. We are equally concerned about the war declared between radical secular and ultra-conservative sectors of some churches.Just the practice of the secular state in Colombia is leading to a dangerous polarization of citizens in issues that even should be resolved arbitrarily before the Constitutional Court, but must be resolved through constitutional mechanisms for citizen participation, established by the National Constituent Assembly of 1991.

3.We are also concerned with the aim of canceling public acts of churches, other faiths and spiritual groups, and criminalizing their ancestral traditions and norms that deserve all the respect in the world. This is promoting a version of feminism that, instead of working assertively for the rights of women by opening spaces of opportunity and inclusion and respect for their dignity and their fundamental human rights, instead of all that is promoting violent gender emancipation which is falling dangerously close to misandry (hate or contempt for men). Thus the homeland is not built! Neither the man above the woman, nor the woman above the man. On the contrary: both with equal rights, both equal in dignity, both with equal responsibility for one another's welfare.

4. I want to present a motion of order to this room, because what we have seen and heard is that there is among our other speakers a worrying obsession to justify their arguments attacking religions and, in this specific case, the Catholic Church. True, some of their leaders have committed crimes and the national history with this religious entity has not always been developed on good terms. But it is not right to defend rights attacking the rights of others, and also it is not fair before this platform to criminalize the beliefs and principles that are professed by more than 30 million Colombians who embrace Catholicism. That religious right is being protected by the Interfaith Council of Colombia through the Precautionary Letter CIC-MC001-2015, with which we are asking the State to guarantee to the leaders and faithful of this community, their rights flowing from religious freedom that today are being trampled on behalf of the secular state.

Today it is Catholics who are being attacked here in this room, but they could do the same tomorrow against those of us who are Muslims or Jews. Please do not fall into this dirty game, and we ask that the hate speech that has been wielded here on behalf of the secular state be immediately halted, because that attitude does nothing to help peace in Colombia but instead further exacerbates the social conflicts that we are suffering.

5. We are concerned here it is urging the Colombian government to censor and force people to express their beliefs, identity and religious practices in private. We do not accept that it is forbidden even to public officials, to hide their identity, beliefs, religious affiliation and practices on behalf of the secular state. We consider that one of the rights associated with freedom of religion is the free expression of our beliefs, both in public and in private, individually and collectively. And for that reason we reject any initiative that aims to exclude religions from the political, social and cultural life of the Colombian people.

6. We are concerned when, in this platform, it is required that the Colombian government mercilessly burden religious institutions with more taxes. Aren’t enough taxes already being imposed on them? Do not be fooled!Religions are not multinationals, as many believe; on the contrary, the social work that religions should accomplish in alleviating suffering, disease and poverty, involves costs that even the State itself can support, and requires missionaries and social pastoral agents willing to suffer the same hunger, disease and poverty suffered by those who receive aid attached to them. We therefore reject the claims that equate religious bodies with commercial enterprises and burden them with more taxes than they already have to pay.

The social and humanitarian work carried out by religious bodies is a historical and social heritage that the Colombian State should exalt and support, rather than disqualify and cancel on behalf of the secular state. By contrast, the Colombian State has an obligation to support in every way all religious entities offering a humanitarian hand to those places where the state itself has no presence. Instead of taxes, religious bodies should be charged ... but of honor, decoration and all kinds of awards for being channels of mercy and love for the most needy of the country.

7. You may ask us to not limit ourselves to express our faith exclusively to the cultic, because that is only one aspect of religion. Take into account the educational and social action dimensions possessed by all individuals of religious institutions. Please note the seven spheres of influence of religions as outlined by the former senator of the Republic Dr. Charles Schultz, among which are education, communication, the cultural sphere and, of course, politics. What's more, religions also produce scientific knowledge, because for religions there is no contradiction between science and faith.

You cannot prohibit our involvement in public affairs of the State because that is part of our innate obligations to religion. All religions teach models of political, economic and social order that must be closely linked to the ethical and moral order of individuals. Who says that religious morality should not be involved in public policies that should be censored exclusively religious dogmatism recognize scientific postulates, he knows nothing about religious fact from anthropological and sociological.

In the case of the Abrahamic religions, that is to say Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Unificationism, it is our obligation to rebuke rulers when they legislate, execute or sentence attacking life and human dignity, and against the peace implementation with social justice, dignity and righteousness … since states are not legislating or sentencing for abstract beings but for human beings, and this is where religions are seriously obliged to become involved, despite some discomfort.

And the reason is simple: because in the specific case of those who are part of the Abrahamic Tradition, the Sovereignty of God and the welfare of humanity are above all things. We cannot conceive of any political, social, economic or cultural factors that dispense with God and social justice.

8. Honorable parliamentarians and compatriots: We understand that some of you have had bad experiences with some people who are representatives of some religious institutions, but we beg you not to criminalize religions. It is painful to us when some of those here claim that religions are makers of war and only generate hatred and separation.

No religion teaches people to be wicked and deceitful, but quite the opposite. As I said earlier, the problem is not the religions; we are the same people. The problem is not religions; they are individuals with mental disorders who come to occupy bureaucratic positions in our religious institutions. The problem is not that religions are fundamentalist, without studies or academia; they say on behalf of our creeds things they do not really teach. Religions are not the problem, they are the solution in Colombia to establish the Kingdom of Peace with social justice, dignity and righteousness.

I want to conclude my presentation presenting a very simple proposal. To resolve the conflict between religions and secularism, let’s not think of returning to a confessional state because it is impossible; we are also a multireligious, multicultural and diverse country.But let's not insist on a secular state, because it has proven to be not only impractical but has proven its dictatorial and unjust facet, and therefore the Judgment C-817 of 2011 of the Constitutional Court should be repealed. This model does not help us! It has only brought more problems than constructive solutions.

My proposal is that the government provides to Colombia as an Inclusive Aconfessional State. This model, rather than create divisions between state and religions that should not exist, is based on respectful cooperation between the parties.The Inclusive Aconfessional State allows equal participation of all expressions of faith in national life, including Dialectical Atheism, which, with its proposed search for truth through reason and scientific research, can work fraternally with religions in the search for common good. An Inclusive Aconfessional State generates spaces of inclusion and promotion of all faiths to the state and society, not only the participation of one.

The Inclusive Aconfessional State is the most viable solution to the problems of discrimination and religious exclusion in the country.

Thank you very much!


Rabbi Dr. Richard Gamboa Ben-Eleazar
Secretary general of the Interfaith Council of Colombia
Manhíg of Shéggel
Bogotá D.C., Colombia