Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Reflections on the Right to Religious Freedom in Peru

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

Reflections on the Right to Religious Freedom in Peru

Article excerpt


I live in a place where stones still keep ancient ritual messages of gods that have ordered the land, of rivers with channels so deep that they inspire the idea of bleeding wounds over our nation, and of mountains with unreachable heights in whose perpetual snows senile gods decide the fate of our people. In Peru, geography had, and continues to have, a divine sense.1 Into this divine geography, Hispanic voices rent the firmament, announcing their religious faith. For over five hundred years, the divine geography and the voice of Hispanic religious faith have developed particular forms of mystic cohabitation, from which recent ways of interacting with God have created a peculiar mosaic of beliefs and rituals.

Within this reality of religious expression in Peru, we must consider the most advantageous way in which law and religion interact. Peru, despite so many efforts and sacrifices, has not yet consolidated as a nation. This country, according to one of our most recognized historians, Jorge Basadre, "is a beautiful promise not yet fulfilled."2

In Peru, as in any other nation in transition, the government is generally weak3 and must therefore learn to coexist with social organizations that have their own influence, traditions, and mandatory norms. It is not easy for such a state to govern this multidimensional social reality; its laws generally have a limited effect. Its governments fluctuate between attempted democracies (that struggle but fail to consolidate a democracy) and military or pseudo-military dictatorships (that attempt to forcefully and rapidly build a nation by imposing their agenda at the expense of citizens' freedom). Before the eminent failure of their pretentious objectives, these dictatorships fade away, leaving the country's treasury empty.

Furthermore, if we consider that that only forty-five percent of Peru's population, which is approximately nineteen million people, attend or have attended school and have finished their regular cycle of elementary education,4 it is easy to deduce that more than half of the Peruvian population is ignorant of what law is. Additionally, the majority of the population would not comprehend the modern concept of a nation and probably does not know what a government is or how it functions.

Recognizing the practical difficulties involved, it is no easy task to state the guidelines on which the relationship between law and religion should be developed. Nevertheless, in a didactic effort, this exposition begins in Part II with a brief account of the historical relationship between law and religion in Peru. Part III then offers an analysis of existing legal structures that affect religious exercise in Peru. Part III also contains a recommendation as to how Peru can best establish a healthy balance between law and religion. A brief conclusion follows in Part IV.


In Peru, the community religion began with worship of the dead. A thousand years ago, the Peruvian man, who was concerned with the anguishing reality of life's transitory nature, began to sanctify eternity through preserving and worshipping the most important dead individuals.5 As time went by, these muertos (deceased leaders) acquired mythological characteristics and were even considered gods. According to the native people's beliefs, the abstract idea of God did not exist, nor was there a word that expressed it. This fact does not mean that there was not a multitude of gods and even a hierarchy among them. The gods were known by their own names, which manifested what they were. The sacred formed part of geography, and it was expressed by the huaca voice, which contained several meanings and could be represented in several ways, from a stone to a mountain or river.6 These gods were considered dual-of such a form that each one possessed its own double, one up and one down, one right and one left. …

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