ND Law’s Religious Liberty Clinic files amicus brief in the Colombian Constitutional Court

Author: Arienne Calingo

The Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Clinic filed an amicus brief in the Constitutional Court of Colombia earlier this month to defend university students’ rights to establish and participate in faith-based organizations.

The case, which involves student members of a faith-based group at the National University of Colombia, highlights the importance of religious freedom issues in higher education and demonstrates that these issues are global.

Jorge Barrera Rojas
Jorge Barrera Rojas, J.S.D. candidate at Notre Dame Law School

Jorge Barrera Rojas, a J.S.D. candidate at Notre Dame Law School, worked on the brief with Professor of Law and Global Affairs Diane Desierto and first-year J.D. student Giorgo Caripidis Soto. Members of the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative leadership team and faculty fellows also assisted with the brief, including Professor Stephanie Barclay, director of the Religious Liberty Initiative; John Meiser, managing director for domestic litigation of the Religious Liberty Clinic; and Professors Rick Garnett and Nicole Stelle Garnett.

“It is concerning that Colombian public institutions have misinterpreted provisions in their constitution as a justification to discriminate against faith-based student groups,” Barrera Rojas said. “The amicus brief Notre Dame’s Religious Liberty Clinic filed highlights how this approach is out of step compared to both international and U.S. religious liberty norms in the educational context.”


Jaramillo et al. v. Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Click on the link above to read the amicus brief that Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Clinic filed in the Constitutional Court of Colombia.

Several years ago, Natalia Jaramillo Sandoval and other students at the National University of Colombia created CUR, which stands for Reformed University Corporation. CUR is a Christian-inspired student project that provides an academic space where students can improve their English proficiency. In addition, students can voluntarily and freely participate in a subgroup of CUR that offers a platform for students to express the principles and values of the Christian faith.

The National University of Colombia, which is the largest public university in Colombia, holds an internal call each semester for students to submit their proposed projects for the consideration of the Welfare Council. The council determines if the projects are worthy of receiving support from the university’s different academic units, as well as access to funding, use of university facilities, and publicity in school communication channels. CUR is completely voluntary and has never requested funding. The project’s only request was to be recognized as one that contributes to the welfare of students.

The University Welfare Office initially approved the CUR project in 2016, and the student project was approved in subsequent years and academic units with no complaints or issues. However, in May 2020, the university’s welfare director of the Faculty of Human Sciences decided not to endorse CUR for that year, arguing that doing so would entail a violation of the principle of separation between church and state. This decision prompted other academic units to follow suit and refuse to endorse the CUR project.

After the CUR project was no longer approved, the members of CUR filed a writ of constitutional protection, alleging violation of the principle of separation of church and state, as well as violation of the fundamental rights to freedom of conscience (Article 18 of the Colombian Constitution), freedom of religion and worship (Article 19 of the Constitution), freedom of expression (Article 20 of the Constitution), and freedom of equality (Article 13 of the Constitution).

The district court and court of appeals ruled against the students, claiming that the actions by the university were out of reach to them and protected under the principle of university autonomy.

Supreme Court Of Justice Colombia
Constitutional Court of Colombia

The case is now before the Constitutional Court of Colombia, the nation’s highest court.

Desierto said the case is extremely important.

“What is at stake is the vital right of all persons — whether faith-subscribing or not — to enjoy the actual true scope of the right to education,” she said, citing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the United Nations adopted in 1966.

The covenant states that the right to education is required to be “directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity … [and to] strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. [E]ducation shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”

Desierto added, “Any higher education institution’s attempts to exclude students of any belief or persuasion from associating with each other or applying for educational opportunities because they are persons of faith or belief is open discrimination on the enjoyment of the right to education, and distorts what the right to education promises to all.”

About the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative

Established in 2020, the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative promotes and defends religious freedom for all people through advocacy, formation, and thought leadership. The initiative protects the freedom of individuals to hold religious beliefs as well as their right to exercise and express those beliefs and to live according to them.

The Religious Liberty Initiative has represented individuals and organizations from an array of faith traditions to defend the right to religious worship, to preserve sacred lands from destruction, to promote the freedom to select religious ministers, and to prevent discrimination against religious schools and families.

Learn more about the Religious Liberty Initiative at religiousliberty.nd.edu.