The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. The constitution establishes separation of church and state but recognizes the Roman Catholic Church’s role as “an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development of the nation.”
The executive branch formally interacts with religious groups through the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MINJUS). MINJUS implements laws and interacts with the public through both the Office of Catholic Affairs and the Office of Interfaith Affairs, which deals with non-Roman Catholic groups. Both offices maintain a continuing dialogue on religious freedom with the Catholic Church and other organized religious groups.
A December 2010 religious freedom law recognizes an individual’s fundamental right of freedom of religion, as stated in the constitution and international treaties the country has ratified. Under the law, registered religious groups gain many of the same tax benefits previously granted to the Catholic Church. In accordance with a 1980 agreement with the Holy See, the Catholic Church receives preferential treatment in education, taxation, immigration of religious workers, and other areas. The new law codifies this arrangement. October 2011 revisions of the law’s implementing regulations attempt to address some of the complaints of minority religious groups, who criticized the law as maintaining preferential status for the Catholic Church.
The July 2011 regulations require non-Catholic religious groups to re-register with the Ministry of Justice within 360 days, and require that a religious group have at least 10,000 adult members. The membership lists must be certified by the National Elections Board, a requirement some critics said was contrary to the constitution, which provides for the right to privacy of religious conviction.
Registration is necessary for religious groups to receive the benefits of tax exemption and exercise their rights before government agencies. This includes the ability to form a legal entity that may own property, create a hierarchy and set of rules, operate religious schools, and solicit and receive voluntary donations.
Catholic and non-Catholic religious charities do not pay customs duties on items purchased. All religious groups are exempt from taxes on places of worship. Buildings, houses, and other real estate owned by the Catholic Church are exempt from property taxes. Other religious groups may be required, depending on the municipal jurisdiction, to pay property taxes on schools and clergy residences. The government permits non-Catholic organizations to buy land only in commercially zoned areas while Catholic churches may locate in either residential or commercially zoned areas. Catholic religious workers are exempt from taxes on international travel. All work-related earnings of Catholic priests and bishops are exempt from income taxes.
The government pays stipends to Catholic Church officials, including the cardinal and six archbishops. These stipends total approximately 2.6 million nuevo soles ($923,700) annually. Some Catholic clergy and laypersons employed by the church receive remuneration from the state in addition to the church stipends. This applies to the 44 active bishops, as well as to some priests along the borders, representing approximately one-eighth of the clergy and pastoral agents. The government provides each diocese with a monthly institutional subsidy.
By law the military may employ only Catholic clergy as chaplains.
By law, all public and private schools must provide religious education as part of the curriculum through the primary and secondary level, “without violating the freedom of conscience of the student, parents, or teachers.” Public schools may teach only Catholicism. The government exempts many non-Catholic religious or secular private schools from this requirement. The Ministry of Education mandates that the presiding Catholic bishop of an area approve religious education teachers in all public schools. Parents may request that the principal exempt their children from mandatory public school religion classes.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Saints Peter and Paul Day, Saint Rose of Lima Day, All Saints Day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and Christmas.