Photo via Diario de Salta

The Supreme Court today determined the province of Salta’s education law, which enabled public schools to teach religious education during school hours, is unconstitutional. Until today, the law also established that religious authorities had to approve the content to be taught, as well as the teacher who would do so.

The decision was made by three out of the Court’s five justices: Ricardo Lorenzetti, Elena Highton de Nolasco, and Juan Carlos Maqueda. Although Justice Horacio Rosatti considered the law is constitutional, he indicated the provincial state must cease conducting any religious ceremony during school hours. The remaining justice, Carlos Rosenkrantz, excused himself because when the case started he was a member of the Civil Rights Association (Asociación por los Derechos Civiles), one of the parties which presented the request, so we can assume he would have voted in favor of the final decision.

In the ruling, the court states that article 49 of the provincial constitution – which establishes the right to receive religious education in public schools as long as it is held by the students’ parents or tutors – is constitutional.

However, it determined the article of its education law which included religious education in public schools’ syllabus is not, and neither is a decree that instructs schools to hand out a form asking parents if they wish their kids to receive “religious education,” and, if so, which kind.

The Supreme Court's justices. Photo via Politica Argentina
The Supreme Court’s justices. Photo via Politica Argentina

The Court made this decision after proving most schools only taught catholic education, a practice it considered to be discriminatory. By doing so, it said the state of Salta “favors discriminatory behavior towards children who are not part of the predominant religious group.” “This way, it creates more inequality,” added the Court, which clarified that even though the National Constitution establishes Catholicism as the country’s official religion, “this affirmation only limits to economic support.”

Moreover, the tribunal pointed out that since this norm “admits a reading that puts a determinate sector of the population in a situation of inferiority,” it must be “invalidated, because otherwise the discriminatory situation will repeat over and over, even if the singular discriminatory practices are invalidated.”

In regards to the need to fill the aforementioned form, the highest tribunal in the country argued that condoning the fact that someone can be forced to reveal his or her religious beliefs would affect their fundamental rights. “Religious belief is a private matter, and coercion to reveal it causes great harm to their human rights,” reads a passage of the ruling. As a result of this stance, it determined it is no longer mandatory to fill this form.

The court finished by clarifying everyone who wishes to receive religious education in a public school after school hours are able to. During school hours, however, they must be taught “as historic and cultural phenomenons, without putting one over another.”

The case began in 2008 after a group of parents, along with the Association for Civil Rights, went to court arguing the province’s laws discriminated kids who were not from Catholic families and violated their freedom of thought, a right upheld by the Constitution.