Colombia: ‘Secular Humanist’ Sues Vice President for Coronavirus Prayer to Virgin Mary

Marta Lucia Ramirez,​ Vice President of Colombia attends the forum 'The Role of Vice President: Reaching Gender Equity in Government Leadership' at the 2019 Concordia Americas Summiton May 14, 2019 in Bogota, Colombia. (Photo by Gabriel Aponte/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
Gabriel Aponte/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

Colombia’s constitutional court ruled last month that Colombian Vice President Marta Ramirez violated the secular nation’s separation of church and state by attempting to consecrate Colombia to the Virgin Mary via social media posts, Bitter Winter reported Wednesday.

The incident stems from statements Ramirez posted to her official Twitter account and Facebook page on May 13, 2020, in an effort to protect the country from the Chinese coronavirus.

“Today we consecrate our country to our Lady of Fatima, offering up prayers for Colombia so that she may help us stop the advance of this pandemic and [so] that God [may] mitigate the suffering of the sick, the pain of those who lost loved ones and allow us to repower our economy,” Ramirez wrote in the now-deleted statement.

The “Lady of Fatima” refers to the iteration of the Virgin Mary worshipped in Fatima, Portugal, where a Catholic shrine was erected in the Virgin Mary’s honor in 1917 after locals claimed to have spotted her nearby. The consecration published by Ramirez on social media included a photo of a Virgin Mary statue, the official Colombian coat of arms, and the official slogan of Colombia’s federal government framing the text.

A consecration typically entails making or declaring something sacred. The term is often used to describe an act that formally dedicates an entity to a religious or divine purpose.

“Consecrations to the Virgin Mary or Jesus are common in Catholic countries in times of crisis, but they are generally performed by Bishops rather than by secular authorities,” Bitter Winter, an online magazine focused on religious liberty and human rights, noted on Wednesday.

A secular humanist named Cesar Enrique Torres Palacios sued Vice President Ramirez last May, arguing that her consecration posts “violated the principle of separation of church and state and discriminated against non-Catholics” in Colombia, according to Bitter Winter. Ramirez removed the consecration posts from her social media accounts on May 20, 2020, and posted a new statement in which she declared her respect for all beliefs in Colombia.

The Administrative Court of Cundinamarca (Colombia) ruled in favor of Torres on June 7, 2020, however, stating that Ramirez’s removal of the posts “was not enough” and that the vice president “should clearly state that she supports the principle of separation of church and state, and acknowledge that her social media posts violated it,” Bitter Winter noted.

The Colombian Council of State on appeal reversed the Administrative Court judgment on July 30, 2020, stating that Ramirez “adequately took care of the matter” by deleting her consecration statements and further posting her support for freedom of religion in Colombia. Ramirez “should not be further censored,” the Council of State concluded.

The consecration case subsequently went before Colombia’s Constitutional Court, which issued a ruling on May 4, 2021. Colombia’s Constitutional Court agreed with the Council of State that “no order can be issued against Ramirez based on the consecration,” according to Bitter Winter.

“Although it was recognized that the vice president erased the [consecration statement] and assured [her] respect [for] secular freedom, the [Constitutional] Court determined that, even so, there was a disregard for the principle of secularism,” the Argentinian news site Infobae reported on May 19.

“It was an official message through which the State, through one of the highest representatives of the national government, promoted and identified with the Catholic religion, thus breaching the mandate consisting of maintaining a strict neutrality in religious matters and not adhere, even in a symbolic way, to a particular creed,” read one section of the Constitutional Court ruling.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court asked Vice President Ramirez to post its ruling on her official social media accounts “and to refrain in the future from actions or statements that can be interpreted as violating the principle of separation of church and state,” according to Bitter Winter. Ramirez complied, sharing a link to the Constitutional Court’s ruling through a Twitter post on May 20, Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper reported.

The court also instructed Colombia’s Presidential Council for Communication “to advise the highest authorities of the country that everything posted on social media is public,” and to encourage the government officials to exercise discretion when posting to their public accounts.

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