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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Costa Rica


International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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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 has a total area of 19,652 square miles, and its population is approximately 3.82 million.

According to a November 2001 Demoscopia, Inc. poll, approximately 70 percent of the population are Catholic, and an estimated 19 percent belong to other Christian, non-Catholic churches. Approximately 1 percent of the population practiced non-Christian faiths and 10 percent practiced no religion at all. The 19 percent of the population that is Christian but not Catholic is divided among the mainstream Protestant denominations, such as the Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopalian churches, and also among the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah's Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists. 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 operate a university, attracting students from throughout the Caribbean basin. Non-Christian 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.

There is no general tax exoneration for the Catholic Church or any other church; there is an exoneration only for real estate that is used directly for worship by any religious organization. The blanket exoneration previously enjoyed by the Catholic Church was amended in 1992. The law 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 provided in the public schools. Students may obtain exemptions from this instruction with the permission of their parents. The school director, the student's parents, and the student's teacher agree on an alternative course of instruction for the exempted student during the time of the Catholic instruction. The exempted student is encouraged to remain on school grounds during this time. 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 choose.

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 in politics of any clergy or layman motivated by religion.

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

Restrictions on Religious Freedoms

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

The majority of state-run hospitals in the country have Catholic priests on staff who console sick and dying patients. However, Protestants and other non-Catholics have voiced concern that their clergy must follow routine administrative procedures for the general public to gain entrance into most hospitals. These routine administrative procedures may be strict and cumbersome. Some Protestant ministers have administrative agreements with hospitals that permit their uninhibited entrance; however, the hospital director may revoke these agreements at any time. At the end of the period covered by this report, a Protestant minister in the Legislative Assembly who represents the Renovation Party was drafting a bill that would sanction in law the rights of non-Catholic clergy to enter and work in hospitals to console sick and dying patients.

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 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 the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

 



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