June 27, 2015

Top Court Rules Adventist Policeman Can Observe Sabbath in Costa Rica

A Seventh-day Adventist traffic police officer in Costa Rica has won a landmark court ruling that exempts him from working on Sabbath.

Paul Rivera Nuñez, a traffic police officer in Cartago, a city of 156,000 people located about 16 miles (25 kilometers) east of the capital, San José, was notified by his superiors in April that he had to start working on Saturdays. 

Paul Rivera Nuñez, a traffic police officer in Cartago, Costa Rica. (IAD)

He had served on the traffic police force without any Sabbath issues for two years.

Rivera filed a request with the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, which oversees the traffic police force, to adjust his work schedule to accommodate his religious beliefs.

A few weeks later, however, Rivera received notification from the ministry’s local branch that he would be fired if he refused to work on Saturdays after May 11.

“I made up my mind that I would have to leave my job because I wanted to respect the Lord’s day of rest,” said Rivera, 38.

Nevertheless, Rivera began to pray for God to intervene.

It was then that Rivera appealed to the country’s Constitutional Court with assistance from the Adventist Church’s local religious liberty office.

Noe Campos Duarte, a lawyer who serves as religious liberty director for the church’s South Central Conference in Costa Rica, told the court that Rivera’s supervisors had incorrectly applied an internal policy toward his client and in the process violated the country’s constitution.

Campos, a Seventh-day Adventist himself, said in an interview that the case struck close to home because he remembered his own experience as a student trying to receive exemption from taking final exams on Saturdays.

Rivera standing at his church, where he serves as elder, Adventist Youth director, and Sabbath School director. (IAD)

The judges ruled in Rivera’s favor soon after the case was submitted to the Constitutional Court.

“When I read the resolution, I was so excited to see how God had answered my prayers,” Rivera said.

The court experience has brought new opportunities to share Jesus at work, he added.

The court ruling not only benefits Rivera but also any Seventh-day Adventist grappling with religious freedom issues, Campos said.

“Seventh-day Adventists can now make mention of the vote to assert their rights,” he said.

Traffic police chief Mario Calderon said Rivera was the first religious freedom case that the police force has dealt with.

“As police officers, we should be respectful of all creeds and religions,” Calderon told news site nacion.com after the ruling.

Rivera said he has not faced any Sabbath difficulties since the court decision. He continues to work Sunday to Friday, with Saturdays off.

He serves as a church elder, Adventist Youth director, and Sabbath School director at the Paraiso Adventist Church in Cartago. Recently, he gathered members of two Master Guide clubs in his district to clean the local traffic police office.