Freedom of worship and conscience, a constitutional right is violated when police officers are forced to recite a code of ethics that demands praise of a God
Marcos Pedraza is an atheist, lawyer, and retired police officer. He lives in Santa Marta currently. While he was an active police officer, he faithfully respected the obligations resulting from his duty as a member of the National Police, although some of those obligations forced him to act against his own convictions. We are not talking about convictions that prevent anyone from exercising the functions that the position imposes on each person; no one should be a judge or notary if their convictions force them to deny marriage to a person simply for having a sexual orientation different from that of the majority of people, and nobody should be a police officer if their convictions tell them that stealing, extorting or kidnapping people is something right that should be allowed.
Sergio Andrés Ramírez lives in Villavicencio, is a patrolman of the National Police and unlike Marcos, has decided not to give up his convictions, and prefers to resign to be a police officer. On October 11 of this year, Sergio Andrés was in an activity called “circle of police transparency” conducted at the facilities of the Police Department (Meta) and refused to recite the hymn and the National Police code of ethics, which it earned him a verbal and written warning because his attitude constituted an affront to the military institution, in addition, he was ordered to present a written work as a corrective. At this time many will already be wondering, why a police patrolman refuses to recite the code of ethics and the anthem of his institution if people are supposed to submit to the rules of an entity to which they want to belong? The reason is simple, it could be understood by anyone with basic knowledge about the importance of respect for freedom of worship and conscience and about the value of state secularism.
The National Police is a public entity and yet in its code of ethics and in its anthem, its members are obliged to offer reverence to God, as if believing in God was something relevant when fulfilling the functions as patrolmen of a public institution that must defend both believers and atheists equally. «Citizens before the law are equal» is sung beautifully in the second stanza of the police anthem.
“The sacred rights of the home, as parents thou must guard and may God and the Country reward thee, defenders of the social order” This is how the third stanza of the National Police anthem is sung, and it is ironic that it speaks of “sacred rights” while it violates the right to freedom of worship and conscience, but it is understandable, it was written in 1954 when a constitution that established the Catholic faith as the official creed of the State was in force, the hymn was left with a marked confessional component as the constitution that governed at that time, which was repealed in 1991 by one that protects religious plurality and guarantees secularism, as the Constitutional Court has stated in numerous sentences, such as the one in which in 1994 that repealed the decree that had consecrated the country to the Sacred Heart of Jesus 92 years ago.
A fragment of the code of ethics of the National Police of Colombia states:
“I recognize that the motto God and Country, symbolizes the faith of the public and that I accept it as the representation of the trust of my fellow citizens, and that I will keep it as long as I remain faithful to the principles of police ethics. I will constantly fight to achieve these goals and ideals by dedicating myself before God to the chosen profession: THE POLICE.”
As with the anthem, the police code of ethics goes into a short circuit when in its first paragraph we can read the following:
“As a police officer, I have a fundamental obligation to serve society, protect lives and property; defend the innocent from deception, the weak from oppression and intimidation; employ peace against violence and disorder, and respect the constitutional rights of freedom, equality, and justice of all men.”
The right to freedom of worship and conscience is a constitutional right in Colombia that is violated when all police officers are forced to recite a code of ethics, in which they are required to offer reverence to a god in which we do not all believe, and that we do not need for the complete fulfillment of a public function.
On October 25, 2019, after having sent the respective right of petition respectfully requesting that the issued orders be reversed and that the written warning on its follow-up form be removed, and after Major Weimar Snayder Cárdenas Rodríguez ratified in writing the questioned order, the police patrolman Sergio Andrés Ramírez went to the constitutional protection action that the 1991 constitution gave us after more than 100 years of a Catholic confessional state.
Like any person who feels trampled on and unprotected by his status as a non-believer, Sergio sought help in one of the groups of atheists and freethinkers that exist in the social network Facebook, which allowed him to establish contact with one of the members of the Atheists of Bogotá Association, this leads to the intersection of the paths of Marcos Pedraza and Sergio Andrés Ramírez, two atheist policemen with different stories and residents in different cities, but who share the same ideal and the same conviction: it is not necessary to believe in God to be a good policeman, and the military institution cannot continue forcing its members to venerate a god in which many of us do not believe and do not need.
After the respective advice of Marcos Pedraza as a lawyer and retired policeman, and with the purpose of supporting his colleague with whom he shares his disbelief and conviction in favor of a truly secular State, Sergio Andrés presented the writ for protection against the National Police – Police region number 7, and on November 12, 2019, in a first instance ruling, the second civil court of the circuit specialized in land restitution of Villavicencio gave him the reason and ordered the National Police to eliminate, within a 48 hours term, the annotation in the follow-up form made on October 11, 2019, when Sergio refused to recite the police anthem and its respective code of ethics.
In Judgment Nº ST-19-100, signed by Judge Claudia Sánchez Huertas, notified by status on November 13, 2019, making reference to the response of the entity, it is recorded that Major Weimar Snayder Cárdenas Rodríguez remained firm in his decision adducing that Sergio’s attitude in not singing the anthem and the code of ethics of the police was “rude, disrespectful and lack of decorum” and that several of the records made in the evaluation and follow-up form do not generate disciplinary records and that they are just preventive measures to foster discipline and therefore it is requested that the writ for protection be declared inadmissible.
In the description of the specific case of the sentence in question it may also be read:
“…And he adds that as an atheist he considers that reciting the code of ethics and the anthem of the institution that contains the expression «dedicating myself before God to the chosen profession» makes his speech have religious connotations of which he refuses to be a part, as well as the part from the hymn «and may God and the Country reward you.» Consequently, he requests the termination of the disciplinary process.”
On November 6, 2019, Sergio Andrés Ramírez addressed in writing the general Oscar Atehortúa Duque, general director of the National Police, to express his decision of irrevocable withdrawal from the service motivated by what he calls in his letter: terrible work environment, ineffectiveness of the administrative services of the health management, inability to any professional growth within the institution and mainly due to the abuse of the institution to its fundamental rights, which forced him to the presentation of the writ for protection ruled in his favor motivated by the incident reported in this article. Article 18 of Colombia’s political constitution is clear, “freedom of conscience is guaranteed. No one shall be disturbed because of his or her convictions or beliefs, compelled to reveal them or be obliged to act against his or her conscience.» I take this opportunity to urge the National Police as an institution and its director, General Oscar Atehortúa, to review the resolutions of the institution that undermine the freedom of worship and conscience of its members, such resolutions should be repealed and replaced by resolutions appropriate to the secularity of the Colombian state in accordance with the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court.
But Sergio’s story is just beginning and he is willing to take his case to the last instances of constitutional, administrative, disciplinary and criminal matters, taking into account the commission of alleged crimes of insult and slander against the patrolman Sergio Andres, derived from the process of harassment of which he claims to be a victim, and that he wants to promote from outside the institution due to the lack of guarantees and protection by the National Police.
Reforming an institution to respect a right as basic as freedom of worship is not easy and battles have already been lost in the judicial courts of a country that seems to remain doomed to continue consecrated to the sacred heart of Jesus, but Sergio is willing to fight his own battle.
It is not the first time that the confessional trend within the National Police is in question. At the end of 2015 in response to a lawsuit filed by Mr. Luis Fernando Jaramillo arguing the violation of the principle of separation between the religious and the public, the first section of the State Council – administrative contentious room, denied the plaintiff’s claim that sought the nullity of the expression «GOD» contained in articles 1, 2 and 3 of resolution 5916 of October 12, 1984, issued by the general direction of the National Police to approve and explain the shield of the institution, when considering that this expression did not restrict the freedom of the agents belonging to the institution and that the expression highlights a positive value that should guide the activity of its members. To this day, we the people who work for a truly secular State have not come out of the astonishment we had when we learned that ruling of the State Council, that seems to have been sustained in the catechism instead of the constitution, and that the facts reported in this article show that at that time an opportunity was lost to prevent that cases such as that of patrolman Sergio Andrés Ramírez and many police officers who prefer to obey and remain silent keep repeating.
Atheists who are part of a public institution such as the National Police founded to protect all citizens and not to form believers in one or more gods, do not deserve the humiliation of having to choose between the institution or our philosophical convictions regarding a superior deity.
I take this opportunity once again to urge the Ministry of Interior to ensure that the public policy of freedom of worship and conscience at the national level is a tool to effectively protect the freedom of all citizens to have a belief or renounce belief, and not a political fortress with which the religious sectors seek more privileges of the State, flagrantly violating the principle of secularism and leaving the agnostics and atheists in a situation of vulnerability who, like Sergio, must choose between their convictions or their work in an institution that needs honest and qualified people regardless of whether or not they believe in a god.
Until now, the National Police has denied the withdrawal request sent by Sergio Andrés to General Oscar Atehortúa Duque and for this reason, the patrolman remains an active part of the institution.
In the development of the process, the ruling issued last year in a favorable sense is annulled by the magistrate in charge of the process in the second instance which causes the return of the file to the office of origin and after the problems invoked by the substantive magistrate have been remedied, again the Judge Claudia Sánchez Huertas grants the writ or protection in favor of the police patrolman in a judgment of first instance issued on February 12, 2020, by means of judgment ST-20-014 which will be the object of a legal remedy on the part of the actuator for finding omissions and requests that were not taken into account in the judicial ruling. The next decision on the case will be the superior court of Villavicencio.
By Diego Alejandro Vargas Aguilar | February 17, 2020
Translated by: Manuel Adolfo Espejo Mojica