More than 1,000 Seventh-day Adventists marched through the main streets of Guatemala City, Guatemala, on January 21, 2023, to highlight their constitutional right to religious freedom. The throng of church members carried signs and banners to the city’s Municipal Hall in the heart of Constitution Plaza to commemorate what the church observes every January as International Religious Liberty Day.
“Religious liberty is more than religious tolerance,” Guenther Garcia, president of the Adventist Church in Guatemala, said during the special program. “This day is about respect for the right of others to believe what they choose. We believe religious liberty is based on the Holy Scriptures — on the right to the free will of every human being.” Garcia went on to state that for centuries, men and women have raised their hands crying out for their right to religious liberty.
“It’s surprising that in the middle of the 21st century there are still persons who are not able to get formal education or a decent job because of their faith,” Garcia said.
Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the Adventist Church in Guatemala Magda Urizar López said that the march was another step forward. “Even with the privileges we have today, there are still some challenges, not only for primary and secondary level students but also for university students and for employees, so that their religious beliefs can be respected.”
The march is all part of the ongoing work of bringing about more religious liberty awareness to the public, López, who is also an attorney, explained.
During a Religious Liberty Congress organized by the Adventist Church in November 2022, church leaders and members were briefed on the advances and rights that officials of the Ministry of Education in Guatemala have endorsed on behalf of students who are required to attend classes and take exams on their day of worship.
Garcia went on to say, “As a church we celebrate the decisions from the Ministry of Education DS-06 2022 of October 19, 2022, which states that every person has a right to practice his or her religion or belief in public or private. Therefore, students must be respected in their right to exercise their faith on their day of worship, meaning that academic adjustments must be made accordingly.”
The new measure not only benefits thousands of Adventist students but students of other religious denominations in Guatemala, López said.
The advances in religious liberty in Guatemala have been achieved thanks to actions voted in a series of meetings held by an inter-faith work group formed by the government of Guatemala, through its presidential Religious Affairs Committee, Garcia said.
Article 36 of the Constitution of Guatemala states that the exercise of all religions is free in the country, López said. “It also establishes that all people have the right to practice their religion or belief, both in public and in private, through teaching, worship, and observance, without limitation other than the public order and proper respect for the dignity of adherents of other faiths.”
The Adventist Church in Guatemala has more than 200,000 baptized members in 1,323 churches and congregations. The church oversees more than 31 primary and secondary schools and two radio stations that broadcast to 80 percent of the country.
Juan López and Pablo Zosel contributed to this report.