Uruguay’s secularism yielding to public religious expression and pluralism

Uruguay is slowly becoming more accommodating to the expression of religion in the public sphere after years of strict separation between the state and public religious expression, according to a new study by Nestor Da Costa in the journal Social Compass (online in August). secularism was traditionally close to the French laïcité model of church-state separation, which asserted strict control of church, particularly Catholic, public expression. Since the 1980s and 1990s, there has been a movement of non-Catholic faiths into the public sphere, as seen in the visibility of Afro-Brazilian religions (a statue of the goddess Iemanja was allowed) and of Pentecostalism through its media presence, as well as in more generic religious expression in popular culture. Marian Catholic groups have been allowed to use the media, although the Catholic Church continues to face uphill battles in maintaining a public presence.

In 2017, the Church’s request to install a statue of the Virgin Mary was turned down by the government. An earlier statue of Pope John Paul II and a cross commemorating his visit to Uruguay were accepted, though not without protest and divisions. In 2016, Uruguay’s Catholics, at the suggestion of its cardinal, displayed seasonal posters depicting a nativity scene and a mention of Jesus in their windows and balconies, which also drew controversy over whether such actions violated the society’s secularism. When President Tabaré Vázquez displayed such a poster from his home, there was criticism that the country’s leader had violated state secularism. Da Costa concludes that there are “small movements toward accepting religion in public space … [and that] Uruguayan people tend to exhibit searches for transcendence in more visible ways (and less privately) than they did decades ago.” Diversity is “becoming increasingly valued in personal expression,” which leads to a reluctance to publicly endorse a single religion.

(Social Compass, http://journals.sagepub.com/home/scp)