Adventists March for Religious Liberty in Guatemala City

On January 21, 2023, over 1,000 Seventh-day Adventist church leaders and members carried banners, signs, balloons, and books to share with onlookers as they marched through Guatemala City on Religious Liberty International Day this year.

Guatemala | Gustavo Menéndez and Inter-American Division News

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. Hundreds of church members carried signs and banners to the city’s Municipal Hall building in the heart of Constitutional Plaza to commemorate what the church observes as the International Religious Liberty Day every January.

“Religious liberty is more than religious tolerance,” said Pastor Guenther García, president of the church in Guatemala, 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.” 

García 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.”

Magda Urizar de López, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the church in Guatemala and an attorney, said 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 added.

During a Religious Liberty Congress organized by the church in November, church leaders and members were briefed on the advances and rights that authorities of the Ministry of Education in Guatemala endorsed on behalf of students required to attend classes and take exams on their day of worship.

Pastor García went on to state, “As a church, we celebrate the decisions from the Ministry of Education DS-06 2022 of October 19, 2022, in which it 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 in 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-religious work group formed by the government of Guatemala through its presidential commission on religious affairs, García said.

Article 36 of the Political Constitution of Guatemala states that the exercise of all religions is free in the country, said López. “The article 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 limits than [sic] the public order and proper respect for the dignity of the hierarchy to adherents of other faiths.”

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Guatemala has more than 200,000 members among 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.

The original article was published on the Inter-American Division website.