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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Dominican Republic

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.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

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 Dominican Republic, which comprises two-thirds of the island of Hispanola, has a total area of approximately 16,435 square miles, and as of July 2000, the population was 8,442,533.

The major religious denomination is the Roman Catholic Church. Evangelical Christians (especially Assemblies of God, Church of God, Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals,) Seventh-Day Adventists, the Watchtower Society (Jehovah's Witnesses), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) have a much smaller but generally growing presence. Jehovah's Witnesses have a large country headquarters, school, and assembly hall complex in the national district. In 2000 the Mormons completed the construction of a major temple in Santo Domingo with an associated administrative and educational facility. Many Catholics also practice a combination of Catholicism and Afro-Caribbean beliefs (santeria) or witchcraft (brujeria), but since this practice rarely is admitted openly the number of such adherents is impossible to estimate. Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism are practiced. There are synagogues (but no rabbis at this time) and there is as yet no mosque in the country.

According to Demos 97, a population survey taken in 1997 by the Instituto de Estudios de Poblacion y Desarrollo, the population is 68.1 percent Roman Catholic and 11 percent Protestant Christian, inclusive of evangelicals, members of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and traditional Protestants. In the same study, 20.1 percent of the sample said that they had no religion. However, evangelical Christians claim 20 to 25 percent of the population, while the Catholic Church claims 87 percent.

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.

There is no state religion. However, religious groups are required to register with the Government in order to operate legally. Religious groups other than the Catholic Church must request exemptions from customs duties from the Office of the Presidency when importing goods. At times the process of requesting and being granted a tax exemption can be lengthy; some requests have been denied.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Roman Catholic Church, which signed a concordat with the Government in 1954, enjoys special privileges not extended to other religions. These include the use of public funds to underwrite some church expenses, such as rehabilitation of church facilities, and a complete waiver of customs duties when importing goods into the country. The Government generally does not interfere with the practice of religion; however, attendance at Catholic Mass for members of the National Police is compulsory.

In July 2000, then-President Leonel Fernandez signed a law making Bible reading in public schools obligatory. This new law added Bible reading to the weekly flag raising and singing of the national anthem in public schools. Private schools are not obliged to include Bible reading as part of their weekly activities.

Foreign missionaries are subject to no restrictions other than the same immigration laws that govern other foreign visitors. There have been no reports that the Government has ever used these laws to discriminate against missionaries of any religious affiliation. However, in practice the process of applying for and receiving residency status can be long and costly for denominations that bring in many foreign missionaries, including groups that proselytize heavily such as evangelical Protestant groups, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The acquisition of a resident status from immigration authorities currently requires an investment of approximately $35,000 (RD$ 577,500), which some groups find overly burdensome. So far, the potential negative impact has been avoided only by the liberal use of administrative appeals.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

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

Relations among different religious congregations are harmonious, and society generally is tolerant with respect to religious matters. However, there were occasional reports of religious discrimination on the part of individuals. The evangelical churches proposed a bill requiring Bible reading in public high schools. The Catholic Church opposed the measure, however, negotiations between the two groups on compromise language ended amicably.

An August 1999 report that the directors of Pilar Constanzo Polytechnic School, in Villa Duarte, National District, were discriminating against students and teachers who were not Catholics appears to have been resolved. The public school laid off at least 10 teachers, and there were also complaints that Protestant students were refused admission, despite excellent test scores and grades. Students whose parents are members of the Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, or who adhere to faiths other than Catholicism allegedly were refused entry to the school. Teachers of various denominations work at the school and no similar complaints were lodged against the school during the period covered by this report.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

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

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