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Photo: ©Rui Ochoa / Presidência da República Portuguesa

Portugal Celebrates 20 Years Under Religious Liberty Law

Adventist Leaders in Portugal represent the Church in official ceremony.

Portugal Celebrates 20 Years Under Religious Liberty Law

Lisbon, Portugal.Paulo Macedo, EUDnews.

In Portugal, church and state have been separated by law since 1911, and religious liberty - under the principles of liberty of conscience, worship and religion, equality and non-discrimination for religious reasons - has been strongly guaranteed by the Constitution since 1976. However, it was not until 2001 that the state legally recognized similar rights for religious minorities in comparison with those conferred to the Catholic majority, such as the right to stop working on the day of religious observation, religious marriage with civil effects, or spiritual assistance in hospitals, among others. Since then, with the approval of the religious liberty law, citizens and communities have enjoyed an open and tolerant legal frame to live, practice, and share their beliefs.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of this law, the Portuguese Religious Liberty Commission — an official entity that defends and upholds the law content — and the High Commissariat for Migrations—a governmental agency that promotes inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue — organized a conference about the history, the achievements, and the future of the religious liberty developments in Portugal during this period. The conference included participation by the President of the Republic of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (speaker in the picture), the Minister of State and Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the Minister of Justice (picture left), and other official entities, religious leaders, and academics. President Marcelo highlighted the central role of the Constitution and religious law in Portugal, that separates church and state as a non-denominational state and that respects the right to believe or not to believe, to practice and to share religious beliefs. He also added that it is important to bring the spirit of religious liberty into practice, affirming that “we all should do everything to overcome intolerable mistakes, incomprehension, discrimination and injustice”, adding that there is still much to do, “day after day, to work [toward] a more tolerant, inclusive and generous society”.

This was also an opportunity to recognize the contribution of José Vera Jardim (picture left) to the existence and enforcement of religious liberty law in Portugal. Vera Jardim, 82 – who was awarded the Jean Nussbaum / Eleanor Roosevelt Award from AIDLR in 2016, in Geneva – initiated the discussion on the creation of this document as a Minister of Justice, proposed it as a Member of Parliament, and is presently the president of the Religious Liberty Commission.

The Adventist Church in Portugal was represented by the president of the Union, Pastor António Amorim, and several leaders with significant administrative positions within the Church and who hold relationships with the state and interfaith groups, like communication in public channels and hospital chaplaincy. Paulo Macedo, Portuguese Union and EUD PARL director, intervened in the panel of speakers representing the Church. He addressed the opportunities and challenges of religious liberty law in Portugal by highlighting a general principle and some concrete exemplar cases.

“I propose to us all (…) that we always ask ourselves a question, in a future revision of this law, in an approval of any document, in every decision to be made... a question that challenges us and makes us reflect, leading to conscious consideration, repositioning this principle as a human dignity imperative and as a fundamental right. This question is: ‘Does this action contribute to preserving and expanding freedom?’” he advised.

Religious liberty is a principle rooted in the Adventist message and actions. The PARL department and AIDLR are the direct instruments by which the Adventist Church intervenes in the defense and promotion of religious liberty.