The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. Roman Catholicism is the official religion.
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 religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom.
The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.
The country has an area of 424,164 square miles and a population estimated at nine million. According to a 2001 survey conducted by the National Statistical Institute, 78 percent of the population was Catholic. Of the remaining population, 16 percent was Protestant or evangelical, 3 percent followed other religions of Christian origin, 2.5 percent practiced no religion, and less than 0.2 percent claimed affiliation with other non-Christian faiths, including Islam, the Baha'i Faith, Judaism, Buddhism, and Shinto. Of those who habitually practiced their religion, 56.5 percent were Catholic, 36.5 percent Protestant or evangelical, and 7 percent other Christian religions. In urban areas, 80 percent of the population was Catholic, while 14 percent was Protestant or evangelical. In rural areas, 74 percent of the population was Catholic, while 20.5 percent was Protestant or evangelical. Mennonites, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, and several evangelical groups maintained an active foreign missionary presence. Atheists were estimated to constitute an insignificant percentage of the population.
Approximately 55 percent of the population identified itself as indigenous, with 30 percent identifying itself as Quechua and 25 percent as Aymara. Approximately 30 percent of the population identified itself as mestizo (of mixed indigenous and European ancestry) and 15 percent as white. Several other indigenous groups, including Guarani and Chiquitano, were also present.
The indigenous population was higher in rural areas, where the formal Catholic Church tended to be weaker due to a lack of resources and to indigenous cultural resistance to church efforts to replace traditional attitudes with more orthodox Catholic practices and beliefs. For many individuals, identification with Catholicism for centuries coexisted with attachment to traditional beliefs and rituals, with a focus on the Pachamama or Mother Earth figure, as well as on Ekeko, a traditional indigenous god of luck, harvests, and general abundance, whose festival was celebrated widely on January 24. Some indigenous leaders have sought to discard all forms of Christianity; however, this effort has not led to a significant increase in the number of "indigenous-belief only" worshippers.
Mormons were present throughout the country and had a particularly large presence in Cochabamba. The Mormon temple in Cochabamba was one of the largest in the world. Mormon sources estimated the number of their adherents at more than 150,000. The Jewish community was spread throughout the country and had synagogues in La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz. Muslims had cultural centers that also served as mosques in La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz that welcomed both Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims. Korean immigrants had their own church in La Paz. The majority of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese immigrants settled in La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz, where there was a university, founded by Korean immigrants, that had evangelical and Presbyterian ties. There were Buddhist and Shinto communities, as well as a substantial Baha'i community, throughout the country.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respected this right in practice. The Government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. A successful movement to convene a new constituent assembly occurred in 2005, and the election of constituent assembly members was scheduled for July 2006.
Roman Catholicism predominated, and the constitution recognizes it as the official religion. The Catholic Church exercised a limited degree of political influence through the Catholic Bishops' Conference. By custom the Catholic Church was sometimes called upon to arbitrate political disagreements, but the custom was not formalized in law.
Four Christian holy days are observed as national holidays: Good Friday, Corpus Christi, All Saints' Day, and Christmas.
Non-Catholic religious organizations, including missionary groups, must register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship and receive authorization (personeria juridica) for legal religious representation. There were no reports that the Government restricted gatherings of nonregistered religious groups, but registration is essential to obtain tax, customs, and other legal benefits. The ministry may not deny legal recognition to any organization based on its articles of faith; however, the procedure typically requires significant legal assistance and can be both costly and time-consuming, which has led some groups to forgo registration and operate informally. Religious groups receiving funds from abroad may enter into a framework agreement (marco convenio) with the Government that lasts three years and permits them to enjoy judicial standing similar to that of other NGOs and have tax-free status. Members of less prominent religious communities have objected to the Government's lack of understanding regarding the activities and worship of these faiths, which allegedly has resulted in additional delays when attempting to finalize legal registration.
Only Catholic religious instruction is provided in public schools. By law, it is optional and is described as such in curricular materials; however, students face strong peer pressure to participate. Non-Catholic instruction is not available in public schools for students of other faiths.
The Government did not take an active role in promoting interfaith understanding, although it was represented at interfaith meetings. It worked with Catholic and Protestant organizations on social, health, and education programs. If the president attended Mass as part of his official functions, it was traditional for all cabinet members, regardless of their faiths, to accompany him.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.
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 Abuses and Discrimination
The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom, and ecumenical dialogue between various religious groups continued. Leaders from Muslim, Jewish, Baha'i, Catholic, and indigenous communities continued to hold interfaith meetings throughout the period covered by this report.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. ambassador and other embassy officials continued to meet regularly with officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship, principal religious leaders, and the papal nuncio.