The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions. The government officially recognizes only the Roman Catholic Church, classifying other religious groups as religious associations with fewer rights and privileges than the Catholic Church. Non-Catholic religious groups criticized what they said was the inequality in recognition and treatment among churches: They cited the government’s income tax levy on the salaries of non-Catholic clergy and taxes on religious materials received from abroad, as examples. The Catholic Church and other religious groups criticized the government’s unwillingness to recognize religious weddings performed without a civil marriage certificate. Seventh-day Adventists said educational institutions and private sector places of employment sometimes failed to respect their observance of the Sabbath on Saturdays. Jehovah’s Witnesses said certain educational institutions required them to participate in patriotic activities contrary to their faith and some government medical facilities refused to treat them because of their rejection of blood transfusions. Some Muslims reported government and private sector offices denied the right for women to wear the hijab. The government worked with religious groups to address their concerns about church registration and to facilitate missionaries’ residency status; the government had agreements with some religious groups to facilitate visas for missionaries. The government created a separate intake process for registering religious groups.
Some sectors of society criticized perceived political activism and close ties between the government and particular religious groups. Religious groups stated some media reported incorrect and inflammatory information about the activities of religious leaders. Unknown individuals attacked the security detail of a prominent religious leader in December, killing one of his military police bodyguards. Reports suggested, however, the leader and his guards were targeted for his participation on a government-sponsored anticorruption commission, rather than for his religious work.
The U.S. funded a project with the Ministry of Governance to improve registration processes for civil society organizations, including creating an on-line application and renewal process aimed at reducing the burden for NGOs, including religious organizations, to register and file required reports. U.S. embassy officials maintained a dialogue with religious leaders and organizations, which included discussions of the unequal treatment of religious groups. The failure of the religious registration law to afford all religious groups the same rights and privileges as the Catholic Church was a prominent topic.