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Various religious leaders in El Salvador have come out against the reading of the Bible in schools. The recently approved law was established to prevent violence and diminish the influence of gangs that plague this Central American nation.

Religious leaders, however, warned that the measure could bring about religious conflict and division between churches.

Who will read the Bible? Which verses of the Bible will they read? Which Bible will be read given that different translations exist? These are some of the questions raised by the well-known evangelical pastor of the International Revival Tabernacle, Carlos Rivas, and other church leaders.

“This ordinance borders on ignorance and hypocrisy … as religious leaders we have not been consulted. For me it is more important to meet with values,” said Medardo Gómez, bishop of the Lutheran Church.

The law, which “institutes the reading of passages of the Bible on a daily basis and in a systematic way in all of the educational institutions of the country,” was approved by the Salvadorian parliament. The readings will take place for up to seven minutes without additional commentaries.

The ordinance, sanctioned by Mauricio Funes, El Salvador’s president, was approved 18 days after 15 people were killed by gunshots; the minibus in which they were traveling was burned in the capital city. Others were wounded. One of the gangs that operate in the city has claimed responsibility for the killings.

For Funes, the reading of the Bible could be an “initiative that alleviates the situation of violence in the country.”

“The perspective with which violence is approached concerns me; we are not looking at what lies behind,” said Miguel Tomas Castro, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in San Salvador.

Central America is considered by the United Nations to be the most violent region in the world that is not at war. Thirteen homicides take place each day in El Salvador, a nation of 5.7 million, according to official figures.

For Martin Barahona, bishop of the Anglican Church, the ordinance is unconstitutional. He and José Luis Escobar Alas, archbishop of the Catholic Church of San Salvador, consider that it will lead to religious discrepancy.

These ecclesiastical leaders agree that the possible solution lies in fostering moral, ethical and spiritual values in all spheres. Rivas, for example, proposed a center for the formation of values in the Ministry of Education.

Susana Barrera is the communications officer for the Anglican Church of El Salvador. Her news story was distributed by Latin American and Caribbean Communication Agency and is used by permission.

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