Bolivian President caves in to religious education demands

Catholic Bolivia's President Evo Morales has scrapped a proposal to replace religious education with ethics classes in schools after pressure from the Church.

The Washington Post reports that about 80 percent of Bolivians are Catholics and the Bolivian President Evo Morales' proposal to replace religion lessons with ethics classes has been one of the few issues to spark controversy as the country prepares to rewrite its constitution.

Bolivians go to the polls next Sunday to pick representatives to a national assembly that will start the job of reforming the constitution in August - a key election pledge of President Morales, who says the reform will "refound" Bolivia.

"There's no reason for a confrontation or a distancing between the church and the state," La Paz Archbishop Edmundo Abastoflor, who is also vice President of the country's Episcopal Conference of church leaders, was quoted as saying by state news agency ABI after receiving assurances from President Morales on Saturday.

"We've cleared up a few things, and I want to reiterate that there's a lot of common ground between the Catholic Church, the government and MAS (Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party)," ABI quoted President Morales as saying.

Church leaders called for talks with the President to raise their concerns over the education minister's proposals, which have also drawn protests from parents and students.

Jesus Juarez, Archbishop of the city of El Alto, had threatened to organise street protests to defend religious teaching. Impoverished El Alto is one of President Morales' most important support bases.

Bolivia's constitution recognises Catholicism as the official religion, but the Church has already said it would accept the change to a secular state. Its main concern is over any drive to make society less religious in general.

President Morales, a Catholic and Bolivia's first indigenous President, was elected in December on pledges to establish the so-called constitutional assembly that he says will help end 500 years of discrimination against the indigenous majority by a European-descended elite.

Bolivia's Morales drops secular education proposal (Washington Post/Reuters 25/6/06)
Morales accepts defeat and declares he's Catholic (MercoPress 24/6/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Evo Morales (Wikipedia)

Bolivian government to abolish Catholic religion courses (CathNews 14/6/06)

27 Jun 2006