Religious, pro-life groups make proposals for Chilean constitutional convention

The flag of Chile. / Juan R. Velasco/Shutterstock.

Santiago, Chile, Jan 13, 2022 / 16:38 pm (CNA).

Chile’s Constitutional Convention has created a digital platform for citizens to make proposals for issues they consider must be debated and enshrined in the new constitution. 

In an October 2020 referendum, Chileans voted in favor of the drafting of a new constitution.The constitutional convention began meeting in July 2021. Another referendum on whether to accept the to-be-drafted constitution should be held by September.

The threshold to guarantee the convention will consider an issue is 15,000 signatures. Although initiatives backing the right to life, freedom of religion and conscience, and parents’ right to have their children educated in accordance with their convictions have reached that mark, proponents are urging more signatures before the Feb. 1 deadline to signal strong public support and eventual inclusion in the constitution.

Right to freedom of conscience and religion

Religious communities in Chile organized themselves to create Initiative 3042 on “Freedom of conscience and religion,” which states that “religious freedom includes its free exercise, the freedom to profess, continue to practice and change religion or beliefs, as well as the right to associate to profess and propagate religion or beliefs, both in public and in private.”

“The State may not coerce any person to act against his convictions or religious beliefs and any person may refrain from engaging in conduct contrary to them,” it adds.

The initiative also calls for religious confessions to be recognized “as subjects of rights” that “enjoy full autonomy and equal treatment for the development of their purposes in accordance with their own regulations.”

Consequently, the state may enter into “cooperative agreements” with these groups. They may “build churches, facilities, places of worship, which will be completely tax exempt” and harm done “to said churches, facilities, places of worship, and the people in the exercise of this right are considered an attack against the human rights of those affected.”

In addition, the initiative states that parents or guardians should have “the right for their children or wards to receive the religious, spiritual and moral education that is in accordance with their own convictions.”

These religious confessions launched a joint effort in August 2020 to draft an initiative and presented a base text called “Content Proposal on Religious Freedom in the new Constitution” that was delivered to the Constitutional Convention on Oct. 18.

Bishop Juan Ignacio González Errazuriz of San Bernardo told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister news agency, that gathering the minimum number of signatures only ensures discussing and voting on the proposal, but “nobody is ensuring that the content of the proposed provision will remain in the Constitution.”

Therefore as “more citizens express their support for these initiatives” it could help those who “don’t understand them well or have another interpretation of these essential themes” to “accept some of the proposals that are made,” he noted.

For example, the bishop referred to the decision that the delegates to the constitutional convention could make when they see that the initiative in support of abortion has already gathered more than 24,000, while the initiative defending the right to life has 19,000 signatures.

Bishop González said what is at risk is that fundamental rights, which today are enshrined in the current constitution, could end up being “very poorly configured or insufficiently assured.”

“What’s important is that the State recognize that the religious factor in any of its aspects is a relevant social factor in the life of a country,” he stressed.

Parents’ right to choose their children’s education

Initiative 4102 for a “free and diverse education” calls for freedom of education and the preferential right of parents to educate their children, and seeks to ensure a quality education with universal access.

The proposal states that education should be an “integral good of the human person in the different stages of his life, both in his bodily and spiritual dimension.”

Therefore the state should be responsible for “fostering and financing said development from the communities of families” without “imposing a single vision on the human person, society and the world, nor a single understanding of human rights.”  On the contrary, it must help and support parents in their role of “educating, raising and training their children, as well as the right to choose the educational establishment for them.”

Ingrid Bohn, of the group Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas (Don’t mess with my children) and also a member of the Free and Diverse Education group, explained to ACI Prensa that although 15,000 signatures have already been gathered, today work is being done across the country to gather more, because “the initiative must have a lot of citizen support.”

“We support this proposal and sponsor it together with other organizations of parents, guardians, teachers and students because we are the ones who know our children best and who should have the freedom to choose between a variety of educational projects,” she said.

The right to life

Organizations such as Always for Life and the NGO Community and Justice created Initiative 4138 on the “Right to Life.”

The initiative proposes that the right to life have constitutional protection from the moment of conception, “regardless of age or stage of development,” because “if the laws and the Constitution do not recognize that we are all equal in dignity and rights, it can contribute to the social problem of arbitrarily discriminating against the unborn.”

The proposal is based on biological, philosophical, and legal arguments from international law.

“It is inconceivable that a Constitution that seeks, precisely, to protect the dignity of all people, without arbitrary discrimination, were to leave a group outside of this protection, just because they were not born,” the initiative states.

Even so, since September 2017, Chile has a law decriminalizing abortion on the grounds of rape up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, and with no gestational limit for both fetal inviability and risk to the life of the mother. 

Verónica Hoffmann, executive director of the United Chile Foundation, dedicated to supporting mothers with crisis pregnancies, encouraged citizens to sign the initiative “so that the Constitution of Chile continue to protect the right to life and the physical and mental integrity of the person, and that the law protect the life of the unborn.”

“We must take part since the right to life is the dignity of every human being, it’s inviolable, from the moment its existence begins. It is essential that this right be recognized for all human individuals, without distinction, and continue to be present in the Chilean Constitution,” Hoffmann told ACI Prensa.

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