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Costa Rica

Executive Summary

The constitution recognizes Roman Catholicism as the state religion; the law requires the state to contribute to the Catholic Church’s maintenance.  The constitution prohibits the state from impeding the free exercise of religions that do not impugn “universal morality or proper behavior” and provides for redress in cases of alleged violations of religious freedom.  Some civil society leaders continued to state that the constitution did not sufficiently address the specific concerns of non-Catholic religious groups, in particular regarding registration processes.  The Constitutional Chamber received 12 claims of denial of the free exercise of religious freedom at educational institutions and discrimination by some government entities.  The chamber dismissed 10 of them, stating there was insufficient evidence or no basis for claiming discrimination.  In the other two cases, the chamber ruled in favor of the claimants:  a police officer who wanted to reschedule his work shift to observe the Jewish Sabbath and evangelical pastors denied access to a prison.

Instances of anti-Catholic language on social media continued.  For example, an article posted on Facebook reporting on the Catholic Church’s position on abortion received several comments with slurs against the Catholic clergy, calling them pedophiles and hypocrites in their views on social issues.  There were also reports of anti-Semitism on social media, with the Jewish community reporting instances of stereotypes about Jews controlling the economy being perpetuated on social networks, as well as statements questioning Israel’s right to exist.  An interreligious forum created in December 2017, with participants from Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Lutheran, Jewish, Buddhist, Baha’i, Muslim, and indigenous communities, continued to promote dialogue among the country’s faith communities.  The group met periodically throughout the year.

Embassy representatives met with public officials and religious leaders throughout the year, including those representing religious minorities, to discuss their views on religious freedom.  The outreach to religious groups included meetings with leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant communities; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ); and other religious groups.  In November the Ambassador hosted an interfaith Thanksgiving-themed meeting at her residence to promote interreligious dialogue with public officials and religious leaders.  The embassy also nominated a Christian minister who participated in a U.S. government exchange program on religious freedom.  The embassy used social media to send congratulatory messages to religious groups on special religious occasions.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5 million (July 2018 estimate).  A March survey by the Center for Research and Political Studies of the University of Costa Rica (UCR) estimates 52 percent of the population is Catholic (compared with 71.8 percent in UCR’s 2016 survey); 22 percent Protestant, including evangelical Protestants (compared with 12.3 percent in the 2016 survey); 9 percent other religious groups (compared with 2.9 percent in 2016); and 17 percent without religious affiliation (compared with 12.3 percent in 2016).

The majority of Protestants are Pentecostal, with smaller numbers of Lutherans and Baptists.  There are an estimated 32,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, predominantly on the Caribbean coast.  The Church of Jesus Christ estimates its membership at 50,000.  The Jewish Zionist Center estimates there are between 3,000 and 3,500 Jews in the country.  Approximately 1,000 Quakers live near the cloud forest reserve of Monteverde, Puntarenas.  Smaller groups include followers of Islam, Taoism, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Scientology, Tenrikyo, and the Baha’i Faith.  Some members of indigenous groups practice animism.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

International Religious Freedom Reports
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future