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Costa Rica Supreme Court strikes down ban on clergy holding public office – except Catholics

November 13, 2014

Presidency Minister Melvin Jiménez got some good news Wednesday. The one-time Lutheran bishop has been cleared by the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber to keep his seat in President Luis Guillermo Solís’ Cabinet when a majority of the justices ruled that a ban on religious authorities heading ministries only applied to Roman Catholic priests.

The court ruled that the ban applied exclusively to Catholic priests for “historical-constitutional” reasons, according to a statement from the court on Wednesday. Costa Rica’s official state religion is Catholicism. The seven-seat Constitutional Chamber said in its decision that the ban also violated Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights that calls for equality in eligibility to participate in public office.

The court’s decision upheld President Solís’ initial argument in May that the constitutional rule only prevented Catholic clergy from serving on the presidential Cabinet. The Catholic Church responded at the time by saying Solís’ statements were discriminatory.

The Tico Times called the Archdiocese of San José for comment several times Wednesday but was unable to reach someone for comment.

A constitutional complaint was brought against Jiménez’s appointment as presidency minster by Álvaro Orozco Carballo, a lawyer and a Catholic activist, soon after Solís appointed Jiménez to his Cabinet. Orozco argued that Jiménez’s role with the Lutheran Church prevented him from serving on the Cabinet under Article 142 of the Constitution.

The Lutheran Church in Costa Rica had previously issued statements that Jiménez had resigned from his duties as a Lutheran bishop and was no longer active in the day-to-day operations of the church. In July, the Government Attorney’s Office issued an opinion that Jiménez’s appointment was unconstitutional

Jiménez is not the only man of the cloth in Solís’ administration. Father Gustavo Meneses, a Catholic priest, heads the Costa Rican Fisheries Institute, INCOPESCA. The constitutional phrasing, however, limits the ban on religious authorities holding ministry-level posts.

Justices Nancy Hernández and Luis Fernando Salazar abstained from the vote. Justice Paul Rueda said the complaint was inadmissible.

 

 

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