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, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.
The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributes 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 makes up two-thirds of the island of Hispanola, has a total area of approximately 16,435 square miles. According to the last official census in July 2000, the population was 8,442,533.
The major religious denomination is the Roman Catholic Church. Evangelical Christians (especially members of the Assemblies of God and the Church of God, Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals,) Seventh-Day Adventists, 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. There is a major Mormon 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); however, because these practices rarely are admitted openly the number of practitioners is impossible to estimate. Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism are practiced. There are synagogues in the country; however, no rabbis at the end of the period covered by this report. There is a Muslim association called The Islamic Circle of the Dominican Republic, which is attempting to purchase property to build a mosque.
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 nominally Roman Catholic and 11 percent Protestant Christian, including Evangelicals, members of Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and traditional Protestants. In the same study, 20.1 percent of the sample said they had no religion. Evangelical Christians claim 20 to 25 percent of the population as members; the Catholic Church claims 87 percent.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.
There is no state religion. However, the Roman Catholic Church 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. Religious groups are required to register with the Government 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.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses report good relations with the Government. In 2000 the Mormons completed the construction of a major temple in Santo Domingo with an associated administrative and educational facility. The construction was completed without difficulty, and the temple serves as the regional temple for the entire Caribbean region.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
The Government generally does not interfere with the practice of religion; however, attendance at Catholic Mass for members of the National Police is encouraged strongly, although they are allowed to practice their own faiths. The Catholic Cardinal in the country is the Army Chaplain for the armed forces and the National Police and holds the rank of Major General.
A 2000 law made Bible reading in public schools obligatory. Private schools are not obliged to include Bible reading as part of their weekly activities. Although some teachers voluntarily have conducted readings, the Secretariat of Education has not ordered the schools to force all teachers to comply.
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 many foreign missionaries, including groups that proselytize heavily, such as evangelical Protestant groups, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons. The acquisition of resident status from immigration authorities requires an investment of approximately $35,000 (RD$ 577,500), which some groups find overly burdensome. 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 the 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
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 by individuals.
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.