The Virgin of Chiquinquirá: An invalid reverence in the times of a secular state

Por Ferney Rodríguez
Virgen de Chiquinquirá: Un patronazgo inválido en tiempos de un ...

Translated by Edward Duigenan

Imagine for one moment that the image that appeared every day behind the president during presidential speeches wasn’t the Virgin of Chiquinquirá, but one from the Hindu deities. Maybe, one of the Goddess Saraswati, the goddess Lakshmi or the God Ganesh. Imagine also that on a Hindu Festival the president would say during worship to one of these divinities that “today the best crown is the faith of Colombia […] your best rosary are our children and teenagers, your best jewels are our families and the old”.

Do you think it appropriate that the president binds the whole nation to his own belief?

Without doubt the president has the right to profess the religion of his choice. He could be devoted to the Virgin of Chiquinquirá, Ganesh, the Jade Emperor of China or the Orishas from Afro-caribbean cultism. But, it’s something else, while carrying out his duties as head of State, when he associates the country, and its people to a specific belief.

Colombia is a multi-cultural nation, and in this multi-culturalism there are believers of many different creeds: Protestants that don’t adore the virgin, extensive Jewish communities in different cities and Muslim Communities in Bogotá, Cali, Barranquilla and the Guajira. There are also non-religious citizens, whether they are atheist, agnostic or just indifferent to religious practice.

To associate the country to a particular religion is unfitting because the State should be the same for everyone and should avoid sending messages of preference or favoritism to one belief over another. This “crown that is the faith of Colombia”, that the president dedicated to the Virgin of Chiquiquirá in Tunja, actually isn’t representative of everyone, and everyday less Colombians actually profess a faith.

You might be interested in reading The centenary of the coronation of the Virgin of Chiquinquirá in a secular Colombia (in Spanish).

For the people who haven’t reacted favorably to the Writ of Amparo ruling that orders President Duque to remove the tweet, that was used publically to commemorate and renew the declaration to the Virgin of Chiquinquirá as “Patron of Colombia”: Have you forgotten that your analysis is based on you belonging to the faith favored by the president?

Have you asked yourselves what message would be sent to Christians when, from public office, a patron, which is not of their belief, is symbolically imposed?

To put yourself in the other person’s shoes, imagine, as I said at the beginning, that this consecration, this picture and those prayers were dedicated to divinities that were not monotheist.

For centuries, Catholic symbols were part of the nation’s identity, especially since the Constitution of 1886, when the Catholicism was made the official religion and the church co-governed throughout the country in every town and village. Even the archbishop of Bogotá had to give his seal of approval to the Conservative Party’s candidate running for president in the XIX and major part of the XX century.

Nevertheless, and important change occurred with the constitution of 1991, which made Colombia a country without an official or favored religion. Religious Freedom, freedom of thought and opinion were declared. A God is invoked en the prelude to the Constitution, but it cannot be referred to as a Christian God, or a Hindu one, or a cultist one or a personal one. It could be the universe, which is what a pantheist would call it. It’s a prelude to a Constitution that recognizes plurality.

Constitutional or not?

An analysis of the consecration of the nation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus by the Constitutional Court decreed that Colombia was a Secular State. This means it’s neutral towards all religions. And it’s important to note that secular does not mean atheist. It simply means that all religions are treated equally with no partiality towards any whatsoever.

And it’s clear as day that renewing the consecration of the country to a Catholic virgin, putting the painting of the Virgin of Chiquinquirá in the presidential office where the President speaks every day to Colombians by television and dedicates a prayer to Mary for all the youth of the country. This obviously is nothing near being neutral.

In 2010, the Constitutional Court reanalyzed the subject and ratified the secular condition of the State. The Maximum Tribunal decreed:

“The State’s neutrality implies that public activities don’t have a basis, meaning or orientation for a particular religion- as a confession or institution-, so that the functions of the State are unaffiliated to the principles of any confessional nature […] it´s not the role of the State to promote, sponsor, further, favor or carry out any incentive in regards to any religious confession practiced within the territory.” 

 Sentence C-766 of 2010

It should be noted that the Colombian State seeks that all citizens be treated equally, leaving the promotion and compliance to religions be a thing of the people and not a task of the State.

Ferdinand Buisson, president of the commission that elaborated the Secular bill for the French Republic (in 1905) points to this equality of treatment by the State.

“The State doesn’t recognize people as more than citizens, Catholics or Protestants, believers or atheists, all are equal before the law. None are favored above others or disfavored in any way. It is of little importance if your organization is founded by royal decree or according to democratic regime. As long as public order is not disrupted, all have complete freedom to act, associate, manifest, advertise and organize. Without doubt, there is a particular discomfort for the church [Catholic]: just another association as far as the State is concerned! Nonetheless, it will have to get used to the idea!

Colombia, which seems to have one foot in the Constitution of 1886 and the other in the Constitution of 1991, and to which not few pastors would like to take to a Pentecostal theocracy, should move forward and realize that religious neutrality by its civil servants carrying out public functions, is highly respectful when treating its people as having diversity of beliefs.