Dominican Republic

International Religious Freedom Report 2003
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, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationships among religions in society contribute to the free practice of religion.

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, two-thirds of the island of Hispanola, covers an area of approximately 16,435 sq. miles. As of July 2000, the population was listed at 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. Many Catholics also practice a combination of Catholicism and Afro-Caribbean beliefs (santeria) or witchcraft (brujeria), but because this practice rarely is admitted openly the number of adherents is impossible to estimate. Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism are practiced. There are synagogues in the country; however, there were no rabbis present by the end of the period covered by this report, nor were there any mosques.

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, inclusive of evangelicals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and traditional Protestants. In the same study, 20.1 percent of the sample said 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. 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, 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.

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; however, no requests for tax exemption were denied during the period covered by this report.

The Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses reported that they have 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.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government generally does not interfere with the practice of religion. Attendance at Catholic Mass for members of the National Police is strongly encouraged, but they are allowed to practice their own beliefs. The Catholic Cardinal in the Dominican Republic is the Army Chaplain for the Armed Forces and the Police and holds the rank of Major General.

A July 2000 law required that the Bible be read in public schools. Private schools are not obliged to include Bible reading in their weekly activities. Although some teachers voluntarily conducted the readings, the Secretariat of Education had not ordered schools to require that all teachers comply with the law.

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 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 detainees or prisoners.

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 private persons.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

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