The state should not favor any one creed

The Argentine Supreme Court ruling against religious education in Salta province’s public schools during school hours expands the development and scope of antidiscrimination law in Argentina. The decision confirms that the state must adopt a neutral stance with respect to the plurality of groups that coexist in democracy.

The decision by the Argentine Supreme Court has positive aspects that are worth highlighting. On the one hand, with regard to the specific case brought to suit, it ruled in favor of those affected by a discriminatory rule and indicated that during school hours religious education must be excluded from instruction in Salta’s public schools. In its decision, it expands the development and scope of antidiscrimination law in Argentina. In its arguments, it draws on jurisprudence regarding equality and non-discrimination from the UN Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Furthermore, the ruling determined that the concrete effects of Article 27 of Salta Law 7546, while appearing neutral, in reality reveal underlying discrimination because they create “as a natural consequence, a systemic effect of inequality.” To reach this conclusion, the high court took into account that Catholic rituals were part of the daily life of the school, with prayers, occasional Bible readings and the blessing of meals, among other activities.

This decision reaffirms that the state should not confer a privileged status on any religion. On the contrary, the state must adopt a neutral position regarding the plurality of groups that coexist in democracy, because this is a strengthening position. If the state favors one worldview, it ends up prevailing over other minority views – and even more so if state resources are involved, such as wages for teachers.

When we discuss the right to freedom of religion or conscience, we tend to think in terms of a person’s autonomous choice. But when we are talking about children, we must consider that this is part of their limited, yet progressive, autonomy. In other words, when the state abandons its appearance of neutrality, it violates the future options of children and adolescents. Our justice system must consider the particularity of minors’ autonomy. The state, mothers and fathers must ensure that they can exercise their rights, and this is possible if the conditions are created for them to develop that progressive autonomy.

Article published in La Nación newspaper (in Spanish).