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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Costa Rica

International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion. However, persons of all denominations freely practice their religion without government interference.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country Rica has a total area of 19, 652 square miles, and its population is approximately 3.82 million.

An April 2001 study by the Institute for Population Studies (IDESPO) of Costa Rica's National University reported 70 percent of the population as Catholic with 19 percent claiming membership in other religions and 11 percent claiming no religious affiliation. A 2001 Demoscopia, Inc. poll showed 73 percent of the population as belonging to other Christian, nonCatholic denominations, 4 percent belonging to nonChristian religions and approximately 8 percent as not practicing any religion. The mainstream Protestant denominations--largely Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopalian--account for slightly less than 1 percent according to the Demoscopia poll. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) claims a membership of less than 1 percent of the population, spread evenly throughout the country. A Mormon temple in San Jose serves as a regional worship center for Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Jehovah's Witnesses have a strong presence on the Caribbean coast and represent less than 1 percent of the population. Seventh-Day Adventists are present and operate a university, attracting students from throughout the Caribbean basin. NonChristian religions including Judaism, Islam, Hare Krishna and the Baha'i Faith claim membership throughout the country with the majority of worshippers residing in the country's Central Valley.

The country's tradition of tolerance and professed pacifism has attracted many religious groups. The Jewish population constitutes less than 1 percent of the country's total; many of its members found refuge before and during the Second World War. The mountain community of Monteverde, a popular tourist destination, was founded during the Korean War by a group of Quakers from the United States, acting on their convictions as conscientious objectors. The country welcomed this community, as well as those of Mennonites, Beechy Amish, and other pacifist religious groups.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

The Constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion and requires that the State contribute to its maintenance; however, it also prohibits the State from impeding the free exercise of other religions "that do not impugn universal morality or proper behavior." Members of all denominations freely practice their religion without government interference.

The law grants the Catholic Church tax-free status and allows for the Government to provide land to the Catholic Church. In some cases, the Government retains ownership of the land but grants the Church free use while, in other situations, property simply is donated to the Church. This second method commonly is used to provide land for the construction of local churches. These methods do not meet all needs of the Church, which also buys some land outright. Government-to-Church land transfers are not covered under any blanket legislation. Instead, they are handled by specific legislative action once or twice per year.

The Government does not inhibit the establishment of churches through taxes or special licensing for religious organization. However, churches must incorporate to have legal standing, like any other organization.

Although not mandatory, Catholic religious instruction is permitted in the public schools. Religious education teachers in public schools must be certified by the Roman Catholic Church Conference, which does not certify teachers from other denominations or faiths. This certification is not required of public school educators who teach subjects other than religion. Denominational and nondenominational private schools are free to offer any religious instruction they see fit.

The Government does not restrict the establishment of churches. New churches, primarily evangelical Protestant churches that are located in residential neighborhoods, occasionally have conflicts with local governments due to neighbors' complaints about noise and traffic. In contrast, established Catholic Churches often are built around a municipal square and rarely present such problems.

Despite the official status of the Catholic Church, the Constitution places strict limits on the involvement of any clergy or layman motivated by religion in politics.

Foreign missionaries and clergy of all denominations work and proselytize freely.

Restrictions on Religious Freedoms

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted practice of religion.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Amicable relations exist among members of the country's different religions, including religious minorities. The country has a history of tolerance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. 

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