Ruth Montaño: a hard-working fighter for religious freedom
Until her death last month at the age of 63, Bolivian attorney Ruth Montaño had done perhaps more than any living person to advance the rights of religious minorities in her Andean homeland.
A specialist in constitutional law and permanent legal counsel to the National Association of Evangelicals of Bolivia (ANDEB, in its Spanish acronym), the Cochabamba-based lawyer spent more than two decades defending Christian believers and congregations against discrimination and injustice.
Montaño served as chief legal architect of the landmark legislation, “one of the greatest achievements of the evangelical church and ANDEB in our country’s history with respect to religious freedom,” said ANDEB President Munir Chiquie.
The product of nine years of research, litigation and negotiation with the government of former president Evo Morales, the Religious Liberty Law guarantees the independence of churches and other faith communities from government interference in their internal affairs.
The law prevents secular officials from dictating how non-Roman Catholic churches must organise their activities, choose leaders and manage their finances. It also reestablishes the right of churches and mission organisations to open and maintain schools, clinics and other holistic social ministries, a right that had been denied to them for nearly a decade.
According to Chiquie, the most important provision in Law 1161 was the creation of a new legal identity for churches, synagogues, mosques and other faith communities. These groups now enjoy official status as “religious organisations.”