President Morales, an Evangelical, was accused of having taken the decision for theological reasons, thus violating religious freedom of non-Evangelicals.
by Massimo Introvigne
The very detailed grounds of a decision by the Constitutional Court of Guatemala about the move of the country’s Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, rendered on January 29, 2021, have been recently published.
The parties of the case were former President of the Republic Jimmy Morales, lawyer Marco Vinicio Mejía Dávila, and the country’s Attorney General. Morales was the President of Guatemala between January 2016 and January 2020. A former popular comedian, he is a fervent and outspoken Evangelical, and his arch-conservative policies made him unpopular among both liberals and Roman Catholics. Mejía Dávila is a lawyer and college professor of law, and a well-known foe of Morales. He is still pursuing him after he left office, calling for his arrest for corruption. While the present administration is critical of Morales, the Attorney General entered the case to defend the prerogatives of the Presidency and the government.
In 2018, Morales ordered the Foreign Ministry to transfer the Guatemalan Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Guatemala was the first country to do so after President Trump similarly moved to Jerusalem the U.S. Embassy in Israel.
Mejía Dávila also noted the international criticism of Trump’s, and as a consequence Morales’, decisions, but framed the case as one of religious liberty. He tried to prove that Morales’ decision came after a press release of the Alianza Evangélica de Guatemala (AEG, Evangelical Alliance of Guatemala) urging him to do so, and that the AEG’s move was not based on political but on theological arguments. Mejía Dávila claimed that Morales’ decision thus violated the principle of separation of church and state and the religious liberty of non-Evangelicals, who do not share the AEG’s view of the role of the State of Israel.
Mejía Dávila is a Roman Catholic, and his letter to Morales was in turn criticized for including anti-Semitic remarks, but this was irrelevant for the case before the Constitutional Court.
The latter decided that the Constitution of Guatemala vests on the President and the government the sole authority for taking foreign policy decisions. They cannot be challenged through court actions. The personal motivations of the President, the Constitutional Court said, are irrelevant. Besides, Morales did not state that the decision had been taken for theological reasons. The Court “did not find elements to prove that the actions attributed to the responsible authority [Morales] were discriminatory and that they privileged ‘fundamentalist groups,’ as the plaintiff called them, of [Evangelical] Christians, an aspect which, according to the plaintiff, caused the President of the Republic to disregard the obligation to represent the national unity imposed by Article 182 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala.” It was also unclear how the decision had damaged Mejía Dávila personally.
Morales’ legacy remains extremely controversial. However, the Constitutional Court has concluded that the equally controversial decision to move the Embassy to Jerusalem cannot be annulled by the courts in the name of religious liberty.