Atheists file federal lawsuit against the Department of Education of Puerto Rico

hector delgado y alcalde de arecibo
Lawsuit was filed because last March, four schools from the town of Arecibo invited Hector (El Father) Delgado, and experformer of reggaeton music, to preach about Christianity on school grounds and during school hours.

San Juan, Puerto Rico – On July 7, 2016 the organization Ateístas de Puerto Rico (Atheists of Puerto Rico) presented a lawsuit at the San Juan District Federal Court against the Department of Education of Puerto Rico (under the direction of Rafael Román Meléndez), as well as against the Arecibo Regional Director of Education, Luis G. Rodríguez Ramos; and the school principals of the Abelardo Martínez Otero School, the Dra. María Cadilla de Martinez School, and the Trina Padilla de Sanz School, all from the municipality of Arecibo. “The lawsuit is in regard to a series of Christian proselytism events that took place in March, 2016, sponsored by the Department of Education and the Municipality of Arecibo.

We requested, on various occasions, to be granted equal opportunity to carry out the same type of event, but from an atheist, humanist and secular point of view. Our request was ignored even though we presented it in writing several times. Because the state chose one particular religion over other beliefs, or lack of belief, they broke the law,” explained the organization’s attorney, Miguel A. Rodríguez.

In the lawsuit, they request an injunction to stop all school activities of religious nature while the court case is viewed, as well as punitive damages due to the gross violation of the separation of church and state, and permission to schedule events of secular nature in the same schools under equal circumstances.

“Freedom of religion is an inalienable human right. Every human being has the freedom to choose his or her religion, to choose none, or to not validate the existence of any god, and to exercise that right and profess his or her beliefs publicly, without being oppressed or discriminated against, and without being forced into changing their beliefs. The events that took place violate the freedom of religion of the students who do not practice the Christian faith, who were forced to attend the activities, which were held during regular class hours, and under the authority of the school that supports them. Moreover, the schools engaging in these activities, and the mayor of Arecibo who is also supporting them, are incurring in an illegal practice, violating our Constitution, which provides the complete separation of church and state,” said the spokesperson of the organization, María Berríos.

The secretary of the organization, Nathaniel Torres, added, “The students who do not share the same faith feel forced to listen anyway. We have received confidential information, in calls and in writing, from students who are non-believers who were required to assist to the basketball court where the religious service was being held. When they refused to participate, the teacher told them that they could not stay in the classroom by themselves and that they had to go down to the court. We understand that the teacher represents an authority figure, and students who did not wish to participate may have felt intimidated and thus forced to participate and remain quiet. Furthermore, in the case of non-believer families, the teacher is infringing on the rights of the family to educate their children in a way not based on religious arguments.”

“We live in a democracy founded under secular precepts. If the Department of Education will not allow students to learn about alternative philosophies like humanism, atheism, critical thinking and scientific skepticism, then we will not allow them to bring sectarian, Christian and superstitious proselytism to the public schools of our country either. It’s either all or none. Besides, it is not the responsibility of public schools to teach religious beliefs, which have no scientific base, are impossible to prove, and thus contribute nothing to the intellectual development of the students, simply because religious beliefs are completely irrational,” claimed Shirley Rivera, president of the organization.

Ateístas de Puerto Rico is a non-profit secular organization, of atheist activism with educational views. It promotes anti-theist and anti-religious thinking as a ways to preserve religious freedom and secularism (separation of church and state). It understands that organized religion and the belief in gods has a negative effect on society, as well as in the protection of human rights. It also affirms that a secular country is a goal that acts as a safeguard for humans n rights, in general.


Written by: Shirley Rivera
Translated by: José Solis
Edited by: María Berrios

Shirley Rivera nació en Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Es una joven de 27 años que estudió Aeronáutica en la escuela de Aviación de la Universidad InterAmericana de Puerto Rico en el programa de Administración de Sistemas de Aviones de la Federal Aviation Administration de Isla Grande. Laboró en el periódico El Nacional de Oklahoma, en el 2012 ejerció como reportera ancla del clima en Telemundo Oklahoma City y también trabajó como reportera de noticias para Univisión Tulsa también en el estado de Oklahoma.

Durante muchos años se ha desempeñado como bloguera, comentarista social, activista atea y defensora de los derechos de las personas no creyentes. Actualmente es la presidenta de Ateístas de Puerto Rico y Directora Regional de American Atheists en Puerto Rico.

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