Nicaragua's constitution declares that the nation has no official religion, but one of the country's evangelical leaders believes that some public-school textbooks violate this neutrality.

Baptist minister Sixto Ulloa, a former Sandinista legislator, maintains that Minister of Education Humberto Belli is attempting to implement mandatory study of Roman Catholic doctrine. Ulloa cites production by the Catholic hierarchy of a five-book series, "Education in the Faith," for public schools. One volume bears Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo's picture. Schools require students to buy the books at a Catholic bookstore, Ulloa says.

Ulloa was among a group of evangelicals who in 1994 opposed on constitutional grounds Belli's plan for elective after-school religion classes (CT, Oct. 24, 1994, p. 86). Such teaching, these evangelicals maintained, would naturally reflect the government's strong Catholic leanings.

Belli, who also served as education minister in Violeta Chamorro's administration, denies Ulloa's charges. He says the government neither prohibits nor demands religious education, but parents have the right to request such instruction for their children. "We are and will be respectful of the nonreligious state," he told Managua's daily La Prensa.

Education Ministry Adviser Ana Luisa Sanchez dismissed Ulloa's accusations as an attempt to divide the Christian community and pit evangelicals against the new Arnoldo Aleman government, all for Sandinista political gain.

Ulloa's "false and absurd" statements, Belli says, "are dangerous because they are an attack against stability and respect for religion that has always existed in Nicaraguan society."

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