Some religious organizations, including the Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum, an interfaith NGO representing dozens of religious groups, continued to criticize what they said was government preference for the Catholic Church and for religious groups belonging to the evangelical Protestant umbrella organization CEH. Among the criticisms were that the legal recognition of non-Catholic religious groups as NGOs or as unregistered religious organizations accorded them fewer rights and privileges than to the Catholic Church. The groups also objected to the existing application of one uniform set of registration rules for all nonprofit organizations, including all non-Catholic religious groups. Many non-Catholic groups stated that the government should recognize them as religious groups rather than NGOs. The Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum said the current legal and policy framework discriminated against all non-Catholic religious groups. The Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum also noted exclusive benefits for the CEH included continual tax exemptions and waivers on imports. According to the Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum, minority religious groups were often restricted from organizing religious assembly in public squares or parks. According to some forum members, government entities in charge of authorizing the use of such spaces were “influenced by pressures” from the Catholic Church, which they said was “concerned” about the exponential growth of some religious minority organizations.
The official NGO registry office – Unidad de Registro y Seguimento de Asociaciones Civiles (URSAC) – in the Ministry of Governance received 586 applications for new NGO registration during the year in comparison to 1,228 in 2016. This included 235 applications from religious associations (189 in 2016). Cumulatively, the URSAC has registered approximately 2,500 religious associations, of which 1,385 updated their board of directors and legal documents in 2017. The Ministry of Governance rejected applications that did not fit within the legal categories for which the ministry had legal authority.
Some religious organizations, expressed concern at what they said was unequal treatment by municipal authorities issuing permits to distribute religious material or hold events in public areas.
Representatives of several churches said they were concerned about possible corrupt and other criminal practices by government officials that damaged churches or their interests. One evangelical Protestant church expressed continued concern about the government’s handling of a long-standing internal division within its church. In 2016, a court dismissed charges brought by the church against the head of the official NGO registration office for registering a board of directors in 2013 that the church had excommunicated. Some church members said the excommunicated group had links to criminal elements; threatened members of the church, including by setting fire to member’s homes; confiscated or damaged church property; appointed different pastors; and, closed some of the church’s centers of worship. Church authorities stated that government officials refused to take action against the illegal board for criminal actions, possibly due to government corruption or links with criminal networks. The church’s appeal to the 2016 court decision was still pending at year’s end.
Although the constitution prohibits religious leaders from holding political office, the Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum said some Protestant pastors, elected in 2013, continued to hold elected office despite a Supreme Court ruling that a 2011 law under which they had been elected was unconstitutional.
Some civil society organizations criticized evangelical Protestant groups, and to a lesser degree, the Catholic Church, for what they said was political activism and close ties to the government. These activities included Protestant pastors holding public office; CEH members serving on the government advisory bodies, including the Police Purge Commission, which makes recommendations for police reform; and the inclusion of Catholic and Protestant prayers at government events.
Some Christians reported facing dismissal if they did not adhere to a dress code, such as requiring women to wear pants, in government workplaces, even if the code did not conform to their religious beliefs. Religious leaders reported that some teachers in public schools pressured students to participate in the religious rituals of the teachers’ faith.
Representatives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church reported continued religious freedom concerns at both private and public schools, from the elementary through the university level. Seventh-day Adventist representatives said their students faced continued problems obtaining permission to be absent from class or excused from taking exams on Saturdays for religious reason from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, the National Teachers University, and public schools in the cities of San Pedro Sula, Baracoa, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa de Copan, and two private universities. Teachers in the Department of Ocotepeque also said they had problems obtaining permission not to work on Saturdays, notwithstanding a letter issued by the secretary of education excusing members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church from Saturday school attendance.
Non-Catholic religious groups continued to criticize the government for not recognizing them as churches and their inability to receive benefits, including tax exemptions for clergy salaries and imported religious materials. A representative of the Jewish community said the community was required to apply for tax-exempt status at the municipal level every year.
The Catholic Church and some other religious groups continued to press the government to recognize weddings performed by religious clergy without the legally required civil marriage certificate.
The government routinely invited Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders to lead prayers at government events and to participate in official functions, committees, and other joint government-civil society activities. Several religious organizations, including a Muslim religious group, criticized a perceived bias by the government in favor of the Catholic Church and evangelical Protestant churches that were members of the CEH.
A rule drafted in 2010 requiring Jehovah’s Witnesses to sing the national anthem, salute the national flag, and participate in other patriotic events still remained in the Secretariat of Education’s school guidelines, despite a 2014 ruling by the secretariat’s legal director that the rule was not enforceable. Representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses articulated their concern over continuing reports of public school officials pressuring Jehovah’s Witnesses to participate in public celebrations and other school events that run counter to their beliefs.
The government continued to facilitate missionaries’ residency status, including through agreements with some religious groups to facilitate visas for missionaries.
Leaders of the Jewish community reported frequent expressions of anti-Semitism in political discourse and events by political opposition figures, ranging from swastikas spray-painted on public buildings to hate speech in political speeches. The spouse of an opposition presidential candidate publicly lauded Adolf Hitler’s legacy, later issuing a public apology for her statements.