Next week, while we’re fretting about the presidential election, Puerto Rico will be voting for its next governor. And one of the main independent candidates in the race, Alexandra Lúgaro, recently told a journalist that she didn’t believe in God.
As you might imagine, there was a lot of nasty pushback against her comments — 97% of Puerto Ricans are Christian — but Lúgaro did an incredible thing: Instead of walking back what she said, she went on Facebook and elaborated on why she left the Catholic Church, why she considers herself an atheist, and why that shouldn’t stop anyone from supporting her.
The speech was honest, open, and remarkable.
Here’s a rough translation of the video provided by Alvaro Ibañez. (In addition to Spanish, he also translates from English and German, in case you need some freelance work done!) I’ve edited it a bit, too. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know.
But read this and ask yourself: When was the last time you heard any politician talk this way?
Good afternoon everyone. There are several issues that we need to discuss.
Right now Puerto Rico has over $70,000,000 in debt, low participation in the workforce, unemployment, an economy adrift, a fiscal control board, denied rights. Those are the issues that should determine this electoral contest. Those are the issues that are important for the country; not the religious issues.
Right now, Puerto Rico faces a very difficult decision; it has the opportunity to choose what has brought us here, or to choose change.
In this tableau, there is talk about my personal beliefs. Apparently, even in the 21st century, in Puerto Rico, we still have to address this issue, like Kennedy did in 1960 with his Catholicism. And I’m going to address the issue.
I believe this is a great opportunity to make it very clear that I believe, respect, accept all religions. I accept them all. What I don’t accept and I don’t respect is fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a source of violence, a source of abuse around the world. Fundamentalism isn’t religion. Fundamentalism is a political tool.
Myself, speaking about my personal beliefs, I don’t believe in a particular deity. And I think this is a great moment to clarify that not belonging to a church, not belonging to an organized religion, doesn’t mean I don’t have a philosophy, that I don’t have an ideology, that I don’t have values. It doesn’t mean that I believe in Lucifer, or that I believe in Satan, or that I’m a witch, like I have seen in one comments. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to make you sign an anti-God oath.
I think that, at this time, it’s important to point out what that separation between church and state is, but first I have to speak for myself, because I think this is a subject that I have to tackle head-on.
I was raised in a Catholic home; I was educated in a Christian school, “Christian Day School.” Every week, religion was discussed every day. Every week I had to memorize many Bible verses. In fact, I was a champion in memorizing Bible verses. I can recite all of the Bible’s books, everything that happened. And I went to the chapel every Friday. My grandmother… my grandmother always raised us in the Catholic religion. She made me take the catechism classes about five times, because every the time to take communion came, my father couldn’t take me that day and I had to take the catechism classes again. And I grew up praying; every night at my house, saying my prayers that I was taught as a little child: Our Father, Ave Maria, the Guardian Angel.
When I was a teenager I incorporated prayers to Saint Jude Thaddeus, patron saint of lost and desperate causes, specifically because my grandmother and my mother — my father had an alcoholism problem — my grandmother and my mother saw Saint Jude Thaddeus as the patron saint of lost and desperate causes that was going to help my father get out of his alcoholism problem.
And I speak to you very candidly, because as I grew older, well, I didn’t understand why I had to go to a specific place to talk to God, who was everywhere, and I started talking to God from my house. And I didn’t have to go to a specific place, and I didn’t have to to talk to a person who, in my opinion, was as much of a sinner as me.
And I grew up. I experienced and I saw abuses on the part of the Church, and not all of them, because I greatly respect the societal function of many of the religious institutions, guidelines and ideologies that are part of my platform and part of what I believe in: social justice guidelines, defense of the marginalized.
And then I had [daughter] Valentina. When I had Valentina, I decided to have Valentina because I had two months left to have a baby, or they were going to operate on me. I had a nine-year illness, I had five miscarriages, I had nine operations. And Valentina’s pregnancy was very difficult, but I didn’t have a partner at the time and I was going to miss out on the chance of being a mother, so I decided to resort to an assisted conception procedure. And when it was time to baptize Valentina, the Church’s priest told me that the Church didn’t approve of assisted conception because there were many children in the world who needed love and caring through adoption, and they did not see it as right that people resorted to an assisted conception procedure.
And at that time I worked… I was on the board of directors at [unintelligible], which I haven’t been to in a long time, by the way, and I looked at… I had researched with the Department of the Family all of the procedures for adopting a child, and I knew that was an option for me, but I wanted to give myself the chance to be a mother. And I saw it as so wrong that religion once again opposed my wish to be a mother.
And beyond that, throughout my life I have changed my perspective on religion, and I have seen many abuses from people who have left their little check there, in churches where the seating rider is determined by how much money a person gives in a year, religious people who exploit people’s vulnerabilities, of elder people, and who have incredible amounts of money, and who don’t contribute to the system — and it’s not all of them, because I don’t want to generalize at all, but I want you to understand me, I want to talk to you with the truth. And right now I think that my belief is to do good. I do good when I see people in the street. I help anyone whom I can help. I help animals whom I see are helpless. The children. I’m doing this because I want to help. I don’t think that goodness comes from believing in a religion, from prayers that we are taught and that we memorize without really believing.
And I think that in Puerto Rico, there are many who live closeted, without daring to accept who they are, because society itself has… there are so many taboos about so many things, that people don’t dare to say that they are homosexuals, they don’t dare to say if they believe in whatever they believe, they don’t dare to speak out about their stances clearly, because society condemns them. And on the other hand we want to talk about inclusion, we want to talk about loving your neighbor, when we are the ones with stones in our hands and a glass ceiling.
And I think that, at this time, having told you about my personal beliefs, it’s important to tell you about the relationship between religion and state. What enables me to be governor of this country is the Constitution. The Constitution that is that power that us citizens delegate in the state to make decisions for us.
A Constitution that establishes the separation between church and state, a separation that I will tell you what it exists for: yes, it exists so that the state can’t interfere in the church’s business, so that the state can’t meddle in what people believe, so that all of us have the freedom, because it’s a freedom, to decide whether we believe in God, whether we believe in Christianity, whether we are muslim, whether we are atheists, whether we are agnostics.
Our Constitution gives us the capacity, and the power, and the right to decide what we want to believe in or not believe in. At the same time, the Church can impose rules on its members, but not on the rest of society. The state cannot be influenced by religious decisions, I will tell you why: because within government there has to be a framework within which we are all equal regarding rights, regarding opportunities. If I represent you all, I have to equally represent the Christians, the Muslims, the Jewish, the atheists. I have to put myself in a position to govern for everyone, and I believe that’s the most important thing here.
I believe, I’m going to tell you what I believe in, I believe in a Puerto Rico where we all respect each other despite our differences, where we all can openly say who we are, how we are; each human being is unique and individual, and we have become beings who criticize others for thinking differently from us. A party, or a party’s follower, who tries to tell you that you can’t vote for a person because she believes something different from you, is a person, or a party, who believes that the state of the government’s decisions, the important decisions should be influenced by a few. I don’t believe that.
I believe that the decisions should be for everyone. And I aspire for a Puerto Rico where we can, once and for all, come out of that closet, all of us, and every one can say what they are, what believe, and they’ll be respected. And that we can sit at the same table and we can respect our differences as human beings, and at the same time we can make decisions within that respect for everyone.
We still have fanaticism, we still have fundamentalism, we are still hurting each other, believing that this will better the country, believing that we are making better decisions because of that. Look, the fact that I don’t believe in an organized religion, or that I don’t go to a temple once a week, does not disqualify me from aspiring to run this country. I believe in serving my country. I believe in bettering its education. I believe in bettering its economic development. I have the preparation, I have the experience, and above all, I have the will and I’m free from all ties.
I’m an independent candidate in every sense of the word. I am politically, religiously, and spiritually independent. And I’m going to keep talking straight with you. I don’t have to apologize for what I believe or what I don’t believe in. I am here. I am a Puerto Rican just like you.
I’m a Puerto Rican who is tired of the abuse. A Puerto Rican who is tired of us living so polarized, living so divided. Do you not realize that it is division what has brought us here? That it is not being able to agree on important issues what brought us here? Do you know how many decades we have spent debating how we are going to develop our economy? How we are going to give the same rights to all people? How we are going to move to a healthcare system that really provides healthcare? How we are going to give our children an education that allows them to get a job? How we are going to reform this government? A corrupt government, an abusive government, a government that has stolen from us.
And even so, my personal beliefs are the issue right now?
As governor, I will not push my personal beliefs. As governor I will not go into anyone’s personal beliefs. On the contrary, I’m going to strengthen the work of those non-profit organizations — churches among them — that are working to defend the marginalized, that working for social justice in the country. You don’t understand the type of person that I am. So I believe that this is an issue that I had to tackle head-on. I’m sorry I couldn’t do it earlier, I spent all day in various meetings. And I think we need to move on to more important topics.
As I said, Puerto Rico faces the most difficult situation in its history. Let’s not allow them to divide us any further. Let’s not allow them to distract us any further. I’m not here to promote my personal ideas. I’m here to promote respect for everyone and to include everyone in the decision making process. Everyone. And I believe that a Christian, an atheist, or an agnostic will all agree that the only way to lift up this country is for all of us to finally come together.
So, this time, let’s not have a group winning. This time, the religious don’t win. This time, atheists don’t win. This time, the populists don’t win. This time the PNP [New Progressive Party] don’t win. This time, we will all win. I’m here for that type of government. So I ask for your truth, I ask you that we move to an attitude change. To be ourselves. To dare to say what we are. To respect each other. To feel proud of our differences, without fear.
So, you know that the elections are nearing. There’s less than a week left. This November 8, this Tuesday, let’s vote for a change, let’s vote without fear, so that this time we all win.
Don’t forget, the campaign closing on Saturday. Don’t forget to sign up as officials, we have to watch the voting. We have to continue this fight.
I thank you all for your support. And I’ll see you. Let’s not get distracted with what isn’t important. Those are my personal beliefs. I am here, and I aspire to work for all of you. And I respect you for your differences. And I feel proud of what each citizen in our country contributes to the lifting up of the same. I’ll see you… Have a great day.
Whether the speech improves her chances next week remains to be seen (independents always have an uphill battle). But to have a candidate speak so candidly about her journey away from faith is just incredible. She didn’t shy away from telling the truth. She explained her problems with the Church — while also, very carefully, mentioning that she didn’t want to generalize since not all believers act the same way.
And — my goodness — she used the A word instead of running away from it.
Former Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) — the only openly non-theistic member of Congress in recent history — didn’t call himself an atheist. Even Barney Frank (D-MA), who suggested he was an atheist only after leaving office, later took it back.
Lúgaro did the opposite. She embraced her atheism. I won’t pray for her, but I wish her the best during the last week of her campaign.
(Thanks to everyone for the link)