Managua's city hall has temporarily halted its plans to erect religious monuments, including one of Pope John Paul II, following an evangelical lawyer's challenge to the legality of financing them with tax revenues.

Mario Morales Boitano of the Christian Human Rights Center based his appeal to Nicaragua's Supreme Court on Article 14 of the constitution, which states the country has no official religion. The petition argues that the state's sponsoring of religious statues violates the constitution's equal protection clause, discriminates against non-Catholics, and demonstrates state preference for one faith over another. About 80 percent of Nicaraguans profess to be Roman Catholic.

In January, Managua Mayor Roberto Cedeno placed announcements in national newspapers calling for designs honoring the Virgin Mary and Christ the King, to be erected in two traffic circles. A third honoring Pope John Paul II would be located at Lake Managua.

Spokesperson Eduardo Romero Gomez estimates that city hall will spend around $35,000 on each monument. A committee of public officials and a delegate from the Catholic Archdiocese of Managua have selected a design for one monument. In February, the court's four justices returned a split decision concerning the monuments' constitutionality. To break the tie, justices in lower courts will examine the case and issue an opinion. A date has not been set.

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