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Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for the right to profess, teach, and practice freely one’s faith.  It declares the support of the federal government for “the Roman Catholic Apostolic faith,” but the Supreme Court has ruled that it is not an official or state religion.

The government provides the Catholic Church with tax-exempt subsidies, institutional privileges such as school subsidies, significant autonomy for parochial schools, and licensing preferences for radio frequencies.  The law does not require the Catholic Church to register with the Secretariat of Worship in the MFA.  Registration is not compulsory for other religious groups, but registered groups receive the same status and fiscal benefits as the Catholic Church, including tax-exempt status, visas for religious officials, and the ability to hold public activities.  To register, religious groups must have a place of worship, an organizational charter, and an ordained clergy, among other requirements.  To access many of these benefits, religious groups must also register as a civil association through the IGJ.

Registration is not required for private religious services, such as those held in homes, but it is sometimes necessary to conduct activities in public spaces pursuant to local regulations.  City authorities may require groups to obtain permits to use public parks for events, and they may require religious groups to be registered with the Secretariat of Worship to receive a permit.  Once registered, an organization must report to the secretariat any significant changes or decisions made regarding its leadership, governing structure, size of membership, and the address of its headquarters.

The mandatory curriculum in public schools is secular by law.  Students may request elective courses of instruction in the religion of their choice in public schools, which may be conducted in the school or at a religious institution.  Many Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious groups operate private schools, which receive financial support contingent on registration with the government.

Foreign officials of registered religious groups may apply for a specific visa category to enter the country.  The validity period of the visa varies depending on the purpose of the travel.  Foreign missionaries of registered religious groups must apply to the Secretariat of Worship, which in turn notifies immigration authorities to request the issuance of appropriate documents.

The law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, nationality, ideology, politics, sex, economic or social condition, or physical characteristics, and it requires those found guilty of discriminatory acts to pay damages or serve jail time.  Discrimination may also be an aggravating factor in other crimes, leading to increased penalties.  The board of the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI), a government agency under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, includes representatives of the major religious groups.  INADI investigates suspected and reported incidents of discrimination based on religion.  INADI is not authorized to enforce recommendations or findings, but its reports may be used as evidence in civil court.  The agency also supports victims of religious discrimination and promotes proactive measures to prevent discrimination.  INADI produces and distributes publications to promote religious tolerance.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Representatives of several religious groups continued to state that a government requirement for religious groups to register first with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship and then with the Ministry of Interior as a civil association was redundant, noting the Catholic Church faced no such requirement.  The groups said these legal processes were prerequisites for seeking tax-exempt status, visas for foreign clergy, and permission to hold public activities.  Religious group representatives said they deserved a unique process, separate from that for civil associations.

Representatives of some religious groups continued to criticize a 2020 IGJ resolution requiring all civil associations, including religious groups, to have gender parity on their administrative and oversight bodies.  Several religious groups continued to state this requirement was unconstitutional and violated religious freedom.  They also said the government had not implemented the resolution by year’s end and they knew of no religious organizations penalized for failing to comply with it.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government limited through September the size of religious activities nationwide to a maximum of 20 persons in enclosed or private open-air spaces, and to 100 persons in public open-air spaces.  It similarly limited cultural, social, and recreational activities but did not limit to the same degree professional gatherings, government events, and educational events.  On October 1, the government allowed full capacity for religious activities, although events of more than 1,000 persons required stricter protocols.

On May 2, provincial police halted and dispersed an open-air Mass in Androgue, Buenos Aires Province, attended by approximately 120 persons.  According to a police statement, the event was “openly in noncompliance” with national anti-COVID-19 restrictions.  Local media reported that attendees said the Mass was broken up “on very good terms.”  In a May 4 statement, CALIR president Juan Navarro said these police actions were not an isolated event and that local and national authorities had repeatedly violated the right to religious freedom throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

On September 7, CALIR released a statement objecting to some municipalities’ prohibitions on religious services on Sunday, September 12, because of nationwide primary elections and related COVID-19 precautions.  Although federal law prohibits large gatherings and acts of proselytism on election days, authorities generally allowed religious services.  Local media reported that the municipalities of Merlo and Bahia Blanca, in Buenos Aires Province, issued prohibitions on religious gatherings for September 12, but Merlo’s authorities retracted the order after consulting with local religious leaders.

According to Jewish community leaders, there was no progress in bringing the accused perpetrators of the 1994 AMIA bombing to justice.  On July 18, the 27th anniversary of the AMIA bombing, AMIA president Eichbaum urged the government to “intensify pressure on Lebanon and the Islamic Republic of Iran to cooperate on the investigation and extradite the accused that they are currently protecting.”  On July 14, President Fernandez and Secretary of Worship Guillermo Oliveri hosted AMIA leaders at the presidential residence to discuss the pursuit of justice and Fernandez told them he wanted to see progress in bringing to justice those responsible for the 1994 bombing.  On July 18, Fernandez tweeted his support for families of the victims, writing, “In 27 years since the AMIA attack, the families of the 85 victims stand firm in their call for truth and justice.  In memory of each one of them and in honor of those that lost their loved ones, we should stand united against impunity.”  In response to Fernandez, dozens of individuals criticized what some called the “hypocrisy” of his message because of their perception that the government was complicit in allowing the impunity to occur.

In August, the MFA denounced the Iranian government’s appointment of two suspects in the AMIA bombing to senior positions in a new Iranian government.  According to the MFA statement, the appointments of Ahmad Vahidi as Interior Minister and Mohsen Rezai as Vice President for Economic Affairs were an affront to the Argentine justice system and to the victims of the bombing, adding that both Rezai and Vahidi played key roles in the decision making and planning of the AMIA attack.  It called on the Iranian government to cooperate fully with Argentine judicial authorities and to allow the suspects to be tried by a competent court.

According to press reports, on October 7, judges dropped obstruction of justice charges against Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in relation to a Memorandum of Understanding signed with Iran in 2013 when she was president.  The court stated that the memorandum, “regardless of whether it is considered a political success or a failure, did not constitute a crime or an act of cover up.”  On October 25, DAIA appealed the ruling, which remained pending at year end.

On January 24, a law entered into effect legalizing abortions through the 14th week of pregnancy and in later stages if the pregnancy was the result of rape or threatened the life of the mother.  Many religious organizations, including the Catholic Church and the Christian Alliance of Evangelical Churches (ACIERA), criticized the law, and a growing number of medical professionals – especially in rural areas – refused to perform abortions on religious and ethical grounds.  Most of the 120 gynecologists in the province of Jujuy, for example, declared themselves as conscientious objectors, as permitted in the law.

On March 27, approximately 50,000 persons, according to organizers, participated in marches in 14 of the 23 provinces to express their support for overturning the abortion law.  With the encouragement of ACIERA, marchers demonstrated in Rio Negro, Tucuman, Chubut, Entre Rios, Cordoba, Buenos Aires, Chaco, Corrientes, Salta, Mendoza, Chaco, Corrientes, Santiago del Estero, and Santa Fe Provinces.

Catholic Church representatives continued to discuss measures to reduce their use of federal funding following a 2018 agreement between the government and the Argentine Episcopal Conference (CEA), representing the Catholic Church, that delineated a formal, mutually agreed plan to gradually reduce the state’s direct financial support to the Church.  Under the agreement, government funding primarily allocated for the salaries of bishops and stipends for seminarians decreased from almost 157 million pesos ($1.46 million) in 2019 to 150 million pesos ($1.39 million) in 2020.

On May 20, Juan Carlos Giordano, a representative of the lower house of congress and member of the Socialist Left Party, stated during a session of congress, “An end must be brought to the Zionist state and a unified state must be imposed across the entirety of the historical territory of the Palestine – lay, not racist, and democratic.”  DAIA denounced the statement, stating that it met the IHRA definition of antisemitism, as adopted by the lower house of congress in June 2020.  By year’s end, the lower house had not sanctioned Giordano.

On January 6, Pablo Ansaloni, a representative of the lower house of congress and a leader of the Argentine Union of Rural Workers (UATRE), told a virtual meeting of the union, “We are more united than ever, no one can break us – no one from beyond our province, because they are like the Jews, they have no homeland, they don’t know where they are or who they represent.”  Ansaloni faced criticism for his comments from several civil society actors, including DAIA and UATRE.  On January 20, UATRE dismissed Ansaloni, stating his dismissal was due to his antisemitic statements.

Numerous public and private entities adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism during the year, including the government of Santiago del Estero Province, according to a representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Secretary of Worship Guillermo Oliveri, Human Rights Secretary Horacio Pietragalla, and other government representatives again participated in religious freedom conferences, interreligious dialogues, Catholic services, and Rosh Hashanah observances, as well as other religious activities, including those held by Protestant and Orthodox churches.  They often did so virtually or through recorded videos, due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on public gatherings.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The preamble to the constitution acknowledges “the supremacy of God.”  The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom to express one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance.  It also provides for freedom, either alone or in community with others, to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance.  The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion.  It states that no one may be compelled to take an oath contrary to one’s religion or belief.  The constitution also stipulates religious groups may establish places of education and states that “no such community shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community.”  A rarely enforced law limits speech that is deemed “blasphemous or indecent.”

By law, the BCC, a board that includes representatives from several major Christian denominations, and the Belize Association of Evangelical Churches (BAEC) alternate in appointing the church senator to the Senate, with the Governor General’s concurrence.  The BCC includes the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches, as well as the Salvation Army, the Chinese Christian Mission, Seventh-day Adventists, and the Young Women’s Christian Association.  The BAEC includes evangelical Protestant groups, the Church of Christ, and the Assembly of God Church, but it excludes the NEAB, which separated in 2015 due to political differences.  The church senator also represents non-Christian groups, which participate in the church senator’s activities but have chosen not to play a role in the senator’s appointment.

By law, the church senator provides advice on public policy affecting the political positions of religious groups.  This senatorial seat places the political interests of religious leaders on par with three other senators, who are appointed to represent labor unions, the business community, and the NGO community, respectively.  The Senate is the upper chamber of the country’s two-part National Assembly; members of the House of Representatives run for election, while senators are appointed.

The law requires all religious groups to register with the official Companies Registry in the Ministry of the Attorney General the same way a business would register.  Registration allows a religious organization to operate legally in the country; receive state recognition; negotiate, sue, and be sued; own property; hire employees; and lend or borrow money.  There is a one-time registration fee of 295 Belize dollars ($150) and a yearly fee of five Belize dollars ($2.50).  Requirements for registration include a memorandum of association with the government delineating the group’s objective and mission, an article of association, and a letter from the Central Bank if the organization has foreign financial contributors.  The government may shut down the facilities of groups that do not register.

The government does not levy property taxes on churches and other places of worship.  Other church-owned buildings occupied on a regular basis, such as clergy residences, are not tax-exempt.  Religious organizations may also partner with the state to operate schools, hospitals, and other charitable organizations and, depending on funding availability, receive financial assistance from the government.

The public school curriculum includes weekly nondenominational “spirituality” classes incorporating morals and values.  Government-supported church-run schools may teach lessons on world religions for students from kindergarten through high school as part of social studies curricula.  These church-run schools also offer separate religious education classes that are specific to their own faith.  While there is no official rule governing a student’s ability to opt out of either of these classes, parents may decide their children will not attend.  The constitution prohibits any educational institution from obligating a child to attend any religious ceremony or observance.

Due to insufficient government funds and pre-independence agreements, Christian churches manage most public elementary schools, high schools, and some colleges.  Churches comanage, along with the government, approximately 60 percent of primary schools, 40 percent of high schools, and 50 percent of colleges.  Churches that comanage educational institutions include the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Seventh-day Adventist, Baptist, Nazarene, Salvation Army, evangelical Protestant, Presbyterian, Muslim, Pentecostal, and Mennonite Churches.  Schools routinely observe Christian and other religious holidays at the schools’ discretion.  Non-Christian religious groups run a few schools, such as the Muslim Community Primary School in Belize City.  All schools, public and private, must incorporate the national education curriculum and adhere to government regulations under the monitoring of the Ministry of Education.

The law grants respect for inmates’ religious beliefs, and inmates may participate in religious activities in prison.  Religious leaders may request use of the chapel inside the facility and offer religious services to inmates.  The law prohibits prison authorities from requiring unnecessary work by prisoners on Sunday and other major Christian holidays (Christmas and Good Friday) and by prisoners recorded as belonging to other religions on their recognized days of religious observance.  The law allows the provision of religious scriptures and other books of religious observance to prisoners.  Authorities allow inmates to communicate with religious officiants via mail.

To enter the country and proselytize, foreign religious workers require a multi-entry visa, which costs 100 Belize dollars ($50) and is valid for one year.  Applicants must also purchase a religious worker’s permit, costing 50 Belize dollars ($25).  The visas are renewable on an annual basis.  Visa information questions include an applicant’s intended length of stay, location of service, funding availability for activity, and specific purpose.  Members of all religious groups are eligible to obtain visas.  While a group does not need to be locally registered, a recommendation by a locally registered religious group lends more credibility to the visa request, according to local authorities.

The Belize Defense Force retains a nondenominational chaplain and space for religious observance.  With the prior consent of authorities, any religious group may use the space for worship.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In January, the NEAB expressed disappointment about the government’s proposal to legalize marijuana, stating the government had disregarded moral boundaries for “mere economic benefit.”  The NEAB said it found it to be “shockingly offensive that in a national pandemic crisis” the new administration would put forward this proposal in its first 100 days.  The NEAB urged the government to “exercise intelligence and creativity” in finding other beneficial industries for the country.  On July 2, the government introduced a bill to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act, which would authorize the legalization of marijuana.  The bill sought to establish a provision for the licensing and registration of enterprises operating in the cannabis industry that would allow persons to cultivate, process, distribute, and deliver cannabis for adult use.  In October, the NEAB stated it was “deeply concerned” that government involvement in the marijuana business meant the official promotion of marijuana use and development.  NEAB officials said they had been voicing their concerns to the Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries Kareem Musa but were still waiting for a formal meeting.  The BCC also expressed concern that the government did not “seek and consider input on important moral and societal issues.”

The BCC said that legalizing the cultivation and distribution of marijuana would encourage widespread use of the drug, causing effects on the human body, particularly young people, and was “not a path civil society should choose to take.”  In response, Minister Musa said the bill was intended to regulate an already existing industry and, after meeting with the BCC, he said that requirements in the law would prevent the easy accessibility of marijuana to minors.  At year’s end, the bill remained pending before parliament.

In July, the BCC expressed “major concern” that actions of the government “further eroded and undermined the Church’s faith” in the existing church-state relationship.  The BCC pointed to a statement Prime Minister Briceno made in July blaming the leadership of religious schools for a 10 percent reduction in teachers’ salaries that the government had instituted in June as part of its economic recovery measures.  The BCC stated that while it supported the government on salary reduction under the belief that it was for the greater good, assigning blame to the leadership of religious schools was “grossly unfair.”  The arrangement between the government and religious groups called for the government to provide 100 percent of salaries for primary school teachers and 70 percent for high school teachers.  On a monthly basis, the government made disbursements to religious school officials, who in turn made payments to teachers.  In November, the BCC stated that both government and church officials had taken steps to improve the relationship.

Throughout the year, the government held discussions with the BCC, church Senator Benguche, and several other religious leaders on plans regarding new legislation and amendments to existing legislation, as well as COVID-19 pandemic matters.  According to the head of the Council of Churches, non-Christian religious groups had not engaged him on communicating their political perspectives, although by law the church senator represents all religious groups.  In a July statement, the BCC said that government consultations should not be an “information-sharing exercise, but rather an open dialogue reminiscent of their past relationship.”  According to the BCC, the government had not fully taken into account its concerns regarding COVID-19 restrictions on the reopening of churches to in-person worship, and it felt it unsuitable that the government had treated churches in the same manner as businesses.  The BCC leadership said discussions with the government on the safest ways to reopen churches had been underway when the government announced in December public health protocol guidelines including adhering to curfews, wearing a mask, or other face covering and social distancing.  The BCC also raised with the government what it said was the need for more counselors at the primary and secondary school levels, especially in the context of various difficulties introduced by the pandemic.

In October, the government passed a law rescinding the post of director of health services and, in its stead, created two positions of director of hospital services and principal health inspector.  Senator Benguche said church leaders were concerned the government had amended existing legislation to eliminate the position of director of health services and in doing so had bypassed important civil servant protections codified in law.  According to Benguche, this was viewed as a violation of the labor rights of the incumbent, Director of Health Services Dr. Marvin Manzanero.  Benguche said the religious community was supportive of Dr. Manzanero because of his key leadership role during the COVID-19 pandemic and the professional relationship that it had established with him.  While the BCC said it differed from the government’s policies on several issues, it commended the working relationship it had developed with Minister of Education Francis Fonseca and noted that under his leadership, there had been “tremendous improvement” in the comanagement of schools and the composition of church representation on school boards.

Due to COVID-19 restrictive measures, prison authorities suspended religious services and activities for most of the year, but sources stated that corrections officers encouraged private religious observance.  Officials from the Catholic Kolbe Foundation stated the organization trained inmate facilitators to lead small group services and that the prison radio station broadcast religious messages to inmates.  Authorities allowed inmates to communicate with religious officiants via mail.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the constitution, the state respects and provides for “freedom of thought, spirituality, religion and worship,” expressed individually or collectively, in public and in private.  The constitution stipulates the state is independent of all religion.

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, including access to educational institutions, health services, and employment, and protects the right of access to public sport and recreational activities without regard to religion.

The law governing religious freedom and religious and spiritual organizations creates a clear distinction between NGOs and religious organizations.  Under the law, religious organizations are constituted to practice, profess, and teach their specific faith or religion, while NGOs have no such faith-based ties.  The religious freedom law requires all religious or spiritual organizations to inform the government of all financial, legal, social, and religious activities.  The law regulates religious or spiritual organizations’ finances and labor practices by requiring their use of funds exclusively to achieve the organization’s objectives, banning the distribution of money among members, subjecting all employees to national labor laws, requiring the organizations to register with the MFA, and compelling them to pay taxes.  Pursuant to a concordat with the Holy See, the Catholic Church is exempt from registration.

Religious organizations must submit 14 documentary requirements to register with the government.  These include notarized legal documents, including statutes, internal regulations and procedures; rental agreement documents, utility invoices for the place(s) of worship, and a site map; detailed information on board members and legal representatives, including criminal background checks; an INTERPOL certificate for foreigners; proof of fiscal solvency; organization chart, with names, addresses, identification card numbers, and photographs; a full list of members and identifying information; details on activities and services provided by the organization, including the location of the services; and information on their financing source(s), domestic and/or foreign.

The requirements for classification as a spiritual organization or religious organization vary slightly, but the government requires essentially the same type of information from both spiritual and religious entities.  The constitution defines a spiritual organization as a group of natural, national, and/or foreign persons who organize themselves to carry out practices that develop their spirituality according to their ancestral worldview.  Most spiritual organizations are indigenous in their origins.  The constitution defines a religious organization as a group of natural, national, and/or foreign persons who organize themselves with the purpose of carrying out practices of worship and/or belief around a Supreme Being to develop their spirituality and religiosity, and whose purpose does not pursue profit.

The government may revoke a spiritual or religious organization’s operating license for noncompliance with the registration requirements; if the organization does not produce an annual report of activities for more than two consecutive years; does not comply with its stated objectives; carries out activities different from those established in its statutes; or carries out activities contrary to the country’s constitution, laws, morality, or “good customs.”  A religious or spiritual organization may also lose its operating license if it does not comply with the deadline for renewing the license.  The government may not deny legal recognition to any organization based on its articles of faith.

A 2017 regulation requires religious and spiritual groups to reregister their operating licenses to ensure all documents list the official name of the country as “Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia.”  Reregistration also requires any amendments to organizations’ bylaws to conform to all new national laws.  Religious and spiritual groups were required to comply with these new registration requirements by the end of 2019.

The fees to obtain an operating license differ between “Religious Organizations” and “Spiritual Organizations,” with costs of 6,780 bolivianos ($990) and 4,068 bolivianos ($600), respectively.

The constitution and other laws provide educational institutions the option to teach religion classes, including indigenous spiritual belief classes, with the stated aim of encouraging mutual respect among religious communities.  While religion classes are optional, schools must teach ethics with curriculum materials that promote religious tolerance.  The government does not restrict religious teaching in public or private schools, and it does not restrict a student from attending private, religiously affiliated schools.  The law also requires all schools to accept students regardless of their religious affiliation.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights.

Government Practices

Religious leaders and sources in the MFA reported the government had not completely implemented or enforced the religious freedom law that was passed in 2019, particularly aspects pertaining to the registration requirement, due to the political fluidity in the country and prolonged restrictions related to COVID-19.

Members of the evangelical Protestant community continued to say several smaller religious communities formed congregations that held services at unofficial worship locations and conducted other activities without registering.  These smaller communities continued to refuse to register their organizations because, according to sources, they preferred not to provide the government with access to internal information.  Sources stated these unregistered groups still could neither own property nor hold bank accounts in their organization’s name; instead, money for a group was generally held in a bank account controlled by the leader’s family.

According to the MFA’s Office of Religion and Nongovernmental Organizations, there were approximately 648 registered groups listed under the requirements of the religious freedom law, compared with 440 groups in 2020, and an additional 75 groups with a registration request in process with the MFA.  According to religious leaders, nearly all known religious or spiritual organizations that wished to register with the government had complied with the requirements.  Religious groups said the registration process generally took four to six months to complete.  In November, MFA officials stated they were working on a system to digitize the registration process to reduce the timeline to one to two months and planned to have the new digital system complete by 2022.

According to press reports in September, evangelical Protestant pastor Luis Aruquipa objected to government efforts to vaccinate the population against COVID-19, stating, “We are against being forced to vaccinate.  You have to leave it to free will.”  He also quoted a passage from Psalm 119:45: “I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments.”

In September, evangelical Protestant leaders said they were upset with Vice President David Choquehuanca for “corrupting” the evangelical faith.  They said Choquehuanca, who was raised in the faith, used his office to promote a syncretic religion that amalgamates indigenous rituals and evangelical Protestant beliefs.

According to Catholic Church leaders, the government increasingly pressured the Church due to its role in mediating the presidential succession in 2019, when post-electoral unrest led to the resignation of then-president Evo Morales.  Catholic leaders said that the government’s public verbal attacks created a hostile atmosphere that affected the perception that many youths had of the Church.  Catholic leaders also said the government was delaying international clothing donations and increasing the difficulty of obtaining documentation for incoming missionaries.

On March 13, the BEC released a statement hours after authorities detained former interim president Anez.  In their statement, the bishops said that “politics of revenge” and a justice system aligned with the ruling political power “do not create confidence in the people.”  The bishops released their message by video, with conference president Bishop Ricardo Centellas reading from a prepared text:  “We cannot remain passive while citizens who have served Bolivia, [albeit] with their limitations, are persecuted.”

On August 25, the BEC issued a press statement expressing concern “over the deplorable human rights situation” in the country and “the manipulation of the judicial system by those at the top of the state,” and calling for a summit on justice reform.  A Catholic Church representative stated that a few days after the statement was issued, he was summoned by high-ranking government officials who threatened him and ordered him to stop meddling in politics.

On September 23, President Arce delivered a speech at the UN General Assembly, in which he accused the Catholic hierarchy of “participating in the breakdown of [the country’s] constitutional order.”  While avoiding a specific response to the President’s speech, the leader of the BEC made a November 14 public statement that criticized “threats and words that incite violence” and called for an inclusive, peaceful dialogue that seeks justice and peace in the country.

According to media, on October 29, the government’s ombudsman, Nadia Cruz, and other officials led a march to the BEC’s headquarters, where some protestors vandalized the premises with slogans, including, “They are not pro-life, they are pro-rape” and “rapists and perverse priests.”  The protesters were reportedly protesting what they characterized as the meddling of the Catholic Church in convincing an 11-year-old pregnant rape victim not to abort.

Police and media reported the explosion of a crude bomb near the entrance of the La Paz BEC headquarters in the early morning hours of November 24.  The explosion caused material damage to the structure but did not result in any injuries.  While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, many believed the incident was related to the case of the 11-year-old pregnant rape victim.  Minister of Government Eduardo del Castillo reported that police had identified two women allegedly responsible for the attack but did not provide any more information, citing the confidential nature of the ongoing investigation.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and the free exercise of religious beliefs is guaranteed.  The constitution prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any specific religion.  The law provides penalties of up to five years in prison for crimes of religious intolerance, including bullying, employment discrimination, refusal of access to public areas, and displaying, distributing, or broadcasting religiously intolerant material.  By law, courts may fine or imprison for one to three years anyone who engages in religious hate speech.  If the hate speech occurs via publication or social communication, including social media, courts may fine or imprison those held responsible for two to five years.  It is illegal to write, edit, publish, or sell literature that promotes religious intolerance.

Religious groups are not required to register to establish places of worship, train clergy, or proselytize, but groups seeking tax-exempt status must register with the Department of Federal Revenue and the local municipality.  States and municipalities have different requirements and regulations for obtaining tax-exempt status.  Most jurisdictions require groups to document the purpose of their congregation, provide an accounting of finances, and have a fire inspection of any house of worship.  Local zoning laws and noise ordinances may limit where a religious group may build houses of worship or hold ceremonies.

The law protects the right to use animal sacrifice in religious rituals.

Government regulations require public schools to offer religious instruction, but neither the constitution nor legislation defines the parameters.  By law, the instruction must be nondenominational and conducted without proselytizing, and alternative instruction for students who do not want to participate must be available.  Schools are required to teach Afro-Brazilian religion, history, and culture.  The law allows public and private school students, except those in military training, to postpone taking exams or attending classes on their day of worship when their faith prohibits such activities.  The law guarantees the right of students to express their religious beliefs and mandates that schools provide alternatives, including taking replacement exams or makeup classes.

A Rio de Janeiro State law enacted in March permits public and private schools to include subjects in their curricula that address respect for freedom of belief and worship; religious and cultural diversity; combating racism in the country; the important influence of Afro-Brazilian, indigenous, and Jewish faiths in the formation of national society; the relationship between religious freedom and secularity of the state; and the legal consequences of intolerance against expressions of religion.

The law prohibits public subsidies to schools operated by religious organizations.

A constitutional provision provides the right of access to religious services and counsel to individuals of all religions in all civil and military establishments.  The law states that public and private hospitals as well as civil or military prisons must comply with this provision.

A Sao Paulo State law approved in March establishes administrative sanctions for individuals and organizations engaging in religious intolerance.  The new law supplements an existing one from 2019 focused on religious discrimination by broadening the concept of religious intolerance, taking steps to promote religious freedom, and increasing the fines imposed.  Punishments range from a warning letter to fines of up to 87,000 reais ($15,300).

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In January, the federal government created the National Registry of Religious Organizations, a voluntary database of religious leaders and entities eligible to receive federal funds and to carry out actions in partnership with the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights.  Social science professor and leader of the Protestantism and Pentecostalism Study Group at the Pontifical Catholic University, Edin Sued Abumanssur, said the program duplicated preexisting databases of religious organizations, and he suggested creation of the new database was an attempt to garner the support of churches in the lead-up to the 2022 presidential election.

In January, the Rio de Janeiro city council created the Parliamentary Front of Religious Freedom.  The purpose of the group, composed of 38 city council members, was to discuss strategies to combat religious intolerance in the municipality.

Acting on a Rio de Janeiro State civil police report that said the state had registered 6,700 crimes of religious intolerance from 2015 through 2019, state legislator Martha Rocha established in February a parliamentary commission of inquiry in Rio de Janeiro’s Legislative Assembly to investigate this increasing number and to discuss possible strategies to promote religious freedom.

On March 3, Governor of Sao Paulo State Joao Doria approved a state-level religious freedom law regulating the constitutional principle of free exercise of faith, including imposing fines of up to 87,000 reais ($15,300) for verifiable cases of disturbances of religious ceremonies and cults, vandalism of sacred symbols, and discrimination in schools, such as prohibiting the use of religious attire.

In March, media reported that evangelical Christians and Catholics in Pernambuco State protested the state’s imposition of COVID-19 related limitations on public religious gatherings.

In April, the STF found that government decrees to close churches and other religious temples throughout the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic were constitutional.  The decision followed the STF review of Sao Paulo Governor Doria’s decree ordering the closure of religious centers to avoid large crowds.  Following the decision, according to press reports, religious groups protested the government’s COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings in Brasilia.  In response to the STF decision, in October, the Sao Paulo legislature overturned Governor Doria’s decree, and it declared religious observances and their respective places of worship were essential activities to be maintained in times of crises, including during pandemics and natural disasters, provided that the activity complied with the recommendations of the Ministry of Health.

In December 2020, the city of Porto Alegre inaugurated a Police Office for Combating Intolerance with a mandate to assist victims of prejudice and investigate discrimination, including religious discrimination.  As of April, the office had registered 169 occurrences, including eight related to religious discrimination.

Beginning in June, individuals could report religious intolerance in Rio State to the military police’s 190 hotline.  The Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance (CCIR), an independent organization comprised of representatives of religious groups, civil society, police, and public prosecutors’ office representatives, was responsible for documenting cases of religious intolerance and assisting victims.  CCTR coordinator Ivanir dos Santos highlighted the importance of this new channel, saying that even though victims were already able to report incidents to civil police, the 190 military police hotline was more easily accessible and familiar.

In June, Bahia’s Court of Justice sentenced Edneide Santos de Jesus, a member of the Casa de Oracao Evangelical Church, to monthly court appearances and community service for repeatedly verbally harassing members of a traditional Candomble temple in Camacari, Bahia.  The court also found de Jesus guilty of spreading rock salt in front of the Candomble temple to “cast out demons.”  The ruling by the Court of Justice was the first ruling of “religious racism” (religious intolerance or prejudice) in the state’s history.

Media reported that in June, during a search for suspected serial killer Lazaro Barbosa, police officers repeatedly entered at least 10 Afro-Brazilian temples in Goias State.  Religious leaders filed a complaint alleging that police used force in their entry, pointed weapons at the heads of those present, and examined mobile phones and computers without a court order.  The Public Security Secretariat of Goias stated that a task force composed of police officers from Goias, the federal district, and the federal highway police was “working with a single purpose:  to guarantee peace to the population of the region and to capture Lazaro Barbosa within the limits of legality.”

In July, a judge on Sao Paulo’s Court of Justice acquitted Juliana Arcanjo Ferreira of charges of domestic violence and bodily harm against her daughter after Ferreira took the 11-year-old to a traditional Candomble rite called a “cure” in October 2020.  The girl’s father filed a police report four months after the ceremony accusing Ferreira of assault, following a weekend visit during which he discovered scars on the girl’s body from the rite, which entailed making small superficial incisions on the skin.  Medical examiners found that the scars from the ritual were mild and did not cause disability; there was no conclusion that they were made under torture or other cruel means.  The judge presiding over the case emphasized that religious freedom was a constitutional right and that the transmission of beliefs to children could not carry criminal consequences if it was done with “respect for life, freedom, and security.”  He continued that there could be no justification, other than religious intolerance, for restricting a Candomble ritual.

In August, the government of Sao Paulo State announced the creation of an Online Diversity Police Station, a tool to enable citizens to report crimes of discrimination and intolerance, including those involving religion, through an online platform.  Per the tool, after reporting, cases were directed for further investigation to the city of Sao Paulo’s newly redesigned 26-person specialized precinct for crimes of discrimination and intolerance.  Alternatively, cases in the interior of Sao Paulo State were directed to the State Criminal Investigation Departments.  Authorities said 20 percent of the state’s police officers in these departments had special training in combating and investigating intolerance.

According to the FAMBRAS, women said they continued to face difficulties in being allowed to wear Islamic head coverings such as the hijab when going through security in airports and other public buildings.

In July, President Jair Bolsonaro met Beatrix von Storch, a German parliamentarian and lawmaker of the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD).  CONIB representatives criticized the welcoming of Storch, saying that the AfD was a party that downplayed Nazi atrocities and the Holocaust.  According to media reports, however, Storch’s official visit did not include any discussion of either Nazism or the Holocaust.

In March, Roberto Jefferson, leader of the Brazilian Labor Party, posted on Instagram, “Baal, Satanic deity, Canaanites and Jews sacrificed children to receive their sympathy.  Today, history repeats itself.”  CONIB said in a statement that Jefferson’s post constituted “a crime of racism, with an increased penalty for having been committed through a social network.”  For an unrelated matter in August, authorities charged Jefferson with belonging to a criminal organization opposing democracy.  He remained in jail, pending trial through the end of year.

In Maranhao State, Afro-Brazilian religious institutions and activists working to counter religious intolerance, together with the public defender, the state prosecutor, and the Order of Attorneys in Maranhao, met in July to discuss strategies to end attacks on terreiros.  According to the State Secretariat for Racial Equality, terreiros, including the Pai Lindomar Temple, had suffered increasingly frequent attacks for several years, despite military police presence in the Anjo da Guarda neighborhood where the temple was located in the state’s capital of Sao Luis.  For example, on average there were five complaints of religious intolerance per year, but in two months of 2021, four complaints of intolerance were filed.

In June, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Public Ministry of Santa Catarina State (MPSC) shelved an investigation into possible illegal acts by history professor Wandercy Pugliesi.  In 2020, the Liberal Party pressured Pugliesi to step down as a candidate for a local town council election in Pomerode due to his association with neo-Nazi symbols and for not being ideologically aligned with the party.  Pugliesi had a large, tiled swastika symbol in his personal pool and named his son Adolf; police seized Nazi-related materials from him in 1994.  In June, Pugliesi’s lawyers requested that the Public Prosecutor’s Office shelve the case after Pugliesi provided photos showing that the symbol in the swimming pool had been removed.  In September, a member of the Superior Council of the MPSC requested that the Center for Confronting Racial Crimes and Intolerance study the case prior to shelving it.  According to media, while there was no firm timeline for the study, upon completion the MPSC’s Superior Council would consider the results of the study and whether to recommence the investigation.

In August, federal police launched Operation White Rose, a reference to the historical White Rose anti-Nazi movement in World War II Germany, to address crimes of discrimination or prejudice based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, or national origin, as well as the placement of Nazi symbols.  Documents in a database of Safernet Brazil – an NGO that promotes human rights on social networks and monitors radical websites – provided the basis for an operation against a man who made discriminatory comments against categories of individuals that included Jews and Catholics.  According to press reports, the man also displayed Nazi symbols, declared himself to be a Nazi, and disseminated content related to antisemitism and idolatry of Nazism and fascism, with the intention of inciting violence.

During the year, civil police and the Public Ministry initiated Operation Bergon (named after a French nun who helped rescue Jewish children during World War II) to investigate the spread of hatred and threats of violence on social media, including against Jews.  In December, civil police and prosecutors launched a series of actions, serving four arrest warrants and 31 search and seizure warrants across the states of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Norte, Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio do Sul.

The NGO Center for Articulation of Marginalized Populations reported Afro-Brazilian victims of religious intolerance in the state of Rio de Janeiro continued to view police and the judiciary as being indifferent, in general, to attacks on Afro-Brazilian places of worship.  It cited what it said was a lack of investigations and arrests in these cases and that offenders were rarely held accountable.

In April, the STF declared unconstitutional a 2015 Amazonas State law requiring schools and libraries to keep at least one copy of the Bible in their collections on the grounds that it violated the principles of state secularism.  Following the ruling, some postings on social media stated the STF had banned the Bible from schools and public libraries, allegations that the government said were false.

In September, acting Rio State Governor Claudio Castro declared the Terreiro de Gomeia (Gomeia Temple) in Duque de Caxias an historical and cultural heritage site.  Candomble followers founded the Gomeia Temple in the 1950s.  The declaration emphasized the value of Afro-Brazilian religious practices.

On January 21, municipalities around the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance.  In Rio Grande do Sul, civil police distributed an educational booklet on religious intolerance, including information on what encompasses crimes of religious intolerance and how to report incidents.

On May 25, the Sao Paulo Secretary of Justice, through the Inter-Religious Forum for a Culture of Peace and Freedom of Faith, promoted a webinar in partnership with UNESCO to discuss freedom of religion as an integral effort to promote peace and tolerance in the country and worldwide.  The event included representatives from a variety of faiths including Afro-Brazilian religions, Islam, and Judaism.

In May, Sao Paulo Legislative Assembly Caucus of Religious Freedom representatives held a Sao Paulo State Religious Freedom Week, a series of 16 webinars to promote freedom of religion and tolerance, with the participation of various civil society groups.  Assembly deputy Damaris Moura, who led the promotion for the week’s events, said, “Defending religious freedom for all is a fundamental right constitutionally guaranteed, but still with practical problems.  Therefore, it is always necessary to alert, raise awareness, and prevent.”  The President of the Legislative Assembly, deputy Carlao Pignatari, defined religious freedom as “freedom to profess any religion [and to] hold services and [practice]  traditions related to beliefs,” and he emphasized that religious beliefs should not have “direct influence on the formulation of public policies.”  Approximately 1,000 persons attended the opening event of the week, held at the Legislative Assembly.

The State Secretariat of Human Rights in Espirito Santo State organized a State Week of Combating Religious Intolerance from January 18 to 21.  Programming included a virtual educational campaign on the secretariat’s website, a roundtable on religious intolerance with inmates from the Linhares Detention and Rehabilitation Center, and two seminars on religious intolerance that included speakers representing Catholicism, Protestantism, and Afro-Brazilian religions as well as the State Council for the Promotion of Racial Equality.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the free exercise of worship.  It states these practices must not be “opposed to morals, to good customs, or to the public order.”  Religious groups may establish and maintain places of worship if the locations comply with public hygiene and security regulations established by laws and municipal orders.

According to the constitution, religion and state are officially separate.  The law prohibits discrimination based on religion, provides civil remedies to victims of discrimination based on their religion or belief, and increases criminal penalties for acts of discriminatory violence.  The law prohibits discrimination in the provision of social services, education, ability to practice religious beliefs or gain employment, property rights, and the right to build places of worship.

By law, registration for possible conscription to the military is mandatory for all men between the ages of 17 and 45.  Alternative service, by working for the armed forces in a job related to the selectee’s expertise, is possible only for those studying in certain fields.  The law makes no provision for conscientious objection.  Only ministers or priests from registered religious organizations are exempted on religious grounds.

The law does not require religious groups to register with the government, although there are tax benefits for those that do.  Once registered, a religious group is recognized as a religious nonprofit organization.  Religious organizations have the option of adopting a charter and bylaws suited to a religious entity rather than to a private corporation or a secular nonprofit.  Under the law, religious nonprofit organizations may create affiliates, such as charitable foundations, schools, or additional houses of worship, which retain the tax benefits of the parent religious organization.  According to ONAR, public law recognizes more than 3,200 religious organizations as legal entities, mostly small evangelical Christian or Pentecostal churches.  By law, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) must accept the registration petition of a religious entity, although it may object to petitions within 90 days if legal prerequisites for registration are not satisfied.

Applicants for religious nonprofit status must provide the MOJ with an authorized copy of their charter and corresponding bylaws with charter members’ signatures and their national identification numbers.  The bylaws must include the organization’s mission, creed, and structure.  The charter must specify the signatories, the name of the organization, and its physical address, and it must include confirmation that the religious institution’s charter signatories approved the bylaws.  In the event the MOJ raises objections to the group, the group has 60 days to address the MOJ’s objections or challenge them in court.  Once a religious entity is registered, the state may not dissolve it by decree.  If concerns are raised regarding a religious group’s activities after registration, the semiautonomous Council for the Defense of the State may initiate a judicial review of the matter.  The government has never deregistered a legally registered group.  One registration per religious group is sufficient to extend nonprofit status to affiliates, such as additional places of worship or schools, clubs, or sports organizations, without registering them as separate entities.

ONAR is charged with facilitating communication between faith communities and the government and ensuring the protection of the rights of religious minorities.

By law, all public schools must offer religious education as an elective class for two teaching hours per week through pre-elementary, elementary, middle, and high school.  Local school administrators decide how religious education classes are structured.  Most religious instruction in public schools is Catholic.  The Ministry of Education also has approved instruction curricula designed by 14 other religious groups, including Orthodox and Reform Jews, evangelical Christians, and Seventh-day Adventists.  Schools must provide religious instruction for students according to students’ religious affiliations.  Parents may have their children excused from religious education.  Parents also have the right to homeschool their children for religious reasons or enroll them in private, religiously oriented schools.

The law grants religious groups the right to appoint chaplains to offer religious services in public hospitals and prisons.  Prisoners may request religious accommodations.  Regulations for armed forces and law enforcement agencies allow officially registered religious groups to appoint chaplains to serve in each branch of the armed forces, the national uniformed police, and the national investigative police.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In March, the government announced a mandatory lockdown on Santiago and 20 other cities during the weekends in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  According to media, Bishop of Punta Arenas Bernardo Miguel Bastres, whose Catholic diocese includes the southernmost regions of the country, criticized the measure and called for “civil disobedience,” adding that the local health situation was different from the capital.  Bastres said it was also necessary to consider that the national government restrictions did not contribute to the spiritual needs of the faithful.  In response to COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference called on the government to engage in a dialogue on freedom of worship and religion.  According to media, on March 14, the government modified its COVID-19 restrictions, announcing that Catholic masses and other religious gatherings would be allowed and that the maximum numbers of attendees would vary based on a region’s level of COVID-19 infection rates.

On September 3, Vice Minister of the Secretariat General of the Presidency Maximo Pavez and ONAR Director Jeremias Medina met with religious leaders and announced changes to visitor capacity that allowed 250 participants at indoor religious gatherings (or 1,000 participants if all had a “mobility pass” with proof of COVID-19 vaccination) and 500 participants in outdoor religious gatherings (5,000 if all had a mobility pass).  Pavez said, “Freedom of worship is a fundamental right.”

On June 2, the Chile-Palestine Inter-Parliamentary Group in the Chamber of Deputies drafted a BDS bill.  Lawmaker Sergio Gahona – one of the bill’s drafters – and other parliamentarians stated that the bill would prevent human rights violations in Israel-occupied territories.  Both the CJCH and the Chilean Community of Israel, the latter organization whose members live in Israel, condemned the bill, stating it “creates a clearly hostile environment against the members of the Jewish community in our country, which is reflected in various forms of aggression and antisemitism, which have increased alarmingly in recent weeks.”

On June 29, the Chamber of Deputies approved a resolution stating its absolute rejection of any types of discrimination and any act of tolerance coming from authorities and candidates for public office.  The resolution also called on mayor of Recoleta Municipality and then presidential candidate Daniel Jadue, who is of Palestinian origin, to “publicly and categorically deny the statements made in the biographical sketch of his high school yearbook, which classifies him as antisemitic.”  According to media, in the yearbook, Jadue wrote that the best gift they could give him was a “Jew to target.”  Jadue did not respond to the resolution.  Jadue previously accused Jews of controlling the country’s media and referred to the Jewish community as the “Zionist community.”  At year’s end, the draft BDS bill remained under consideration in the Constitution and Legislation Committee of the Chamber of Deputies.

In August, ONAR hosted a virtual symposium entitled, “How Does the State Recognize the Spirituality of Our Native Communities?,” which addressed religious freedom of the country’s indigenous communities.  ONAR Director Medina described the symposium as a point of convergence between ancestral spirituality and Chilean society, highlighting ONAR’s efforts to promote religious freedom as a fundamental human right.  Speakers included academics and representatives of the Mapuche and Aymara communities.

On September 28, President Pinera and First Lady Morel, along with several cabinet members, the Director of ONAR, and key members of the Jewish community, participated in a Tefilah prayer service in observance of the country’s national independence month.  During the service, CJCH President Gorodischer called on congress to draft and pass enhanced legislation to improve protections against hate crimes and to strengthen the antidiscrimination law.  He encouraged the government to adopt the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism.  There was no government decision regarding the request to adopt the IHRA’s definition by year’s end.

On September 18, President Pinera and leaders of the legislative and judicial branches attended an ecumenical Thanksgiving service (Te Deum) celebrated in observance of the country’s Independence Day.  Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Santiago Monsignor Celestino Aos led the service in the Metropolitan Cathedral.

In September, ONAR and the Social Organizations Division, an agency of the Ministry General Secretariat of Government, jointly conducted in-person training for leaders of religious organizations to provide tools to strengthen engagement between religious institutions and civil society organizations.  In September, ONAR also held a nondenominational symposium commemorating the educational and value-shaping contributions that the Bible has had in society, including the role of translation and interpretation.  In October, ONAR held several symposia on religious freedom to commemorate Religious Freedom Month.  On October 28, it cohosted an event on human dignity and religious freedom with the Argentine Council on Religious Freedom.  ONAR designated October 31 as the National Day of Evangelical Churches.

On October 28-29, ONAR cohosted the First Forum on Human Dignity and Religious Freedom in the Southern Cone, with Brigham Young University and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Center for Law and Religion, which was open to members of all religious groups.  The forum included in-person events in Santiago and virtual access for participants in other countries in the region.  The forum’s goals included reaffirming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reinforcing the principles of religious freedom in the Southern Cone.

ONAR continued to engage with local authorities in the communities affected by attacks on churches in several regions of the country, including the Araucania and Santiago Regions, to rebuild the damaged churches.  ONAR helped the affected churches report threats to police and pressed for increased police monitoring and patrols of religious buildings in the region.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right to profess one’s religious beliefs.  It prohibits discrimination based on religion.  There is no official state church or religion, but the law says the state “is not atheist or agnostic, nor indifferent to Colombians’ religious sentiment.”  The constitution states all religions and churches are equal before the law.  A 1998 Constitutional Court ruling upheld the right of traditional authorities to enforce the observation of, and participation in, traditional religious beliefs and practices on indigenous reserves.  Subsequent rulings refer to the 1998 decision to reaffirm the right of indigenous governors to prohibit the practice of non-indigenous religions on indigenous reserves.  A concordat between the Holy See and the government, recognized and enforced by law, recognizes marriages performed by the Catholic Church, allows the Church to provide chaplaincy services, and exempts members of the Catholic clergy from compulsory public service, including military service.  According to a court ruling, these provisions are constitutional as long as they apply to all religious groups, but the legal framework is not in place to extend them to all religious groups.  The law prohibits any official government reference to a religious affiliation for the country.

The MOI is responsible for formally recognizing churches, religious denominations, religious federations and confederations, and associations of religious ministers, as well as keeping a public registry of religious organizations.  Organizations formally recognized by the MOI may then confer this recognition, called “extended public recognition,” to affiliated groups sharing the same beliefs.  The application process requires submission of a formal request and basic organizational information, including copies of the organization’s constitution and an estimate of the number of members.  The government considers a religious group’s total membership, its “degree of acceptance within society,” and other factors, such as the organization’s statutes and its required behavioral norms, when deciding whether to grant formal recognition.  The MOI provides a free, internet-based registration process for religious and faith-based organizations seeking recognition.  Formally recognized religious organizations may collect funds and receive donations, establish religious education institutions, and perform religious services, excluding marriages.  Unregistered ones may perform religious activities without penalty but may not collect financial funds or receive private donations, which may be nonfinancial.

The government recognizes as legally binding marriages performed by the Catholic Church, the Jewish community, and 13 non-Catholic Christian denominations that are signatories to a 1997 public law agreement:  the Council of the Assemblies of God, Christian Community Spring of Eternal Life, Christian Crusade Church, Quadrangular Christian Church, Church of God in Colombia, House on the Rock Integral Christian Church, United Pentecostal Church of Colombia, Denomination of the Pan-American Mission of Colombia, Pentecostal Church of God International Movement in Colombia, Seventh-day Adventist Church of Colombia, Wesleyan Church, Christian Church of Long Bridge, and the Federation Evangelical Council of Colombia.  The agreement authorizes these religious groups to engage in activities such as marriages, funeral services, and spiritual assistance in prisons, hospitals, military facilities, and educational institutions.  Under this agreement, members of religious groups that are neither signatories to the agreement nor affiliated with signatories must marry in a civil ceremony for the state to recognize the marriage.  Religious groups not signatories to the 1997 public law may not provide chaplaincy services or conduct state-recognized marriages.

The constitution recognizes the right of parents to choose the education of their child, including religious instruction.  The law states religious education shall be offered in accordance with laws protecting religious freedom, and it identifies the Ministry of Education as responsible for establishing guidelines for teaching religion within the public school curriculum.  Religious groups, including those that have not acceded to the public law agreement, may establish their own schools, provided they comply with ministry requirements.  A Constitutional Court ruling obligates schools to implement alternative accommodations for students based on their religion, which could include students at religious institutions opting out of prayers or religious lessons.  The government does not provide subsidies for private schools run by religious organizations.

The penal code prohibits discrimination based on religious beliefs or violations of religious freedom, including physical or moral harm.  It imposes a penalty of one to three years in prison and a fine of 10 to 15 times the monthly minimum wage, approximately 8.3 million to 12.4 million Colombian pesos ($2,100-$3,100).

A Constitutional Court ruling ruled that citizens, including members of indigenous communities, may be exempt from compulsory military service if they can demonstrate a serious and permanent commitment to religious principles that prohibit the use of force.  Conscientious objectors who are exempt from military service may complete alternative, government-selected public service.  The law requires that regional interagency commissions evaluate requests for conscientious objector status; commission members include representatives from the armed forces, the Inspector General’s Office, and medical, psychological, and legal experts.  By law, the National Commission of Conscientious Objection reviews any cases not resolved at the regional level.  The law requires that every battalion or larger military unit designate an officer in charge of processing conscientious objector exemptions.

According to the law, all associations, foundations, and corporations declared as nonprofit organizations, including foundations supported by churches or religious organizations recognized by the MOI, must pay taxes.  Churches and religious organizations recognized by the MOI are tax-exempt, but they must report their income and expenses to the National Tax and Customs Authority.  According to a Constitutional Court ruling, the state may not seize the assets of non-Catholic churches in legal proceedings if the church meets the requirements for formal government recognition.

Foreign missionaries must possess a special visa, valid for up to two years.  The MFA issues visas to foreign missionaries and religious group administrators, who are members of religious organizations officially recognized and registered with the MOI.  When applying for a visa, foreign missionaries must have a certificate from either the MOI or church authorities confirming registration of their religious group with the MFA.  Alternatively, they may produce a certificate issued by a registered religious group confirming the applicant’s membership and mission in the country.  The visa application also requires a letter issued by a legal representative of the religious group stating the organization accepts full financial responsibility for the expenses of the applicant and family, including funds for return to their country of origin or last country of residence.  Applicants must explain the purpose of the proposed sojourn and provide proof of economic means.  A Constitutional Court ruling stipulates that, although missionaries may work in the country, no group may impose forced religious conversion on members of indigenous communities.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

On April 7, the Constitutional Court determined that an adolescent member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses had the right to refuse a blood transfusion for medical purposes due to her religious beliefs and instead receive alternate methods of treatment.  The decision was made in relation to a 2020 case in which a hospital and the Administrative Court of the Cundinamarca Region had previously determined that blood transfusions could be required to be administered to patients in cases of “extreme urgency.”

On May 21, the Constitutional Court reiterated that government officials should refrain from actions that could be interpreted as violating the separation of church and state and instructed the Presidential Counsel for Communication to ensure that government authorities use social media appropriately.

On July 22, the Constitutional Court ruled that the right to euthanasia – recognized in 1997 – applies not only to terminal patients, but also to those with “intense physical or mental suffering from bodily injury or serious and incurable disease.”  In response to the ruling, Catholic Church officials described euthanasia as a “serious offense to the dignity of life.”

The MOI reported there were 9,032 formally recognized religious organizations in the country at the end of the year, compared with 8,214 at the end of 2020.  It received 723 applications for formal recognition of religious organizations, compared with 393 in 2020; approved 595, compared with 343 in 2020; and deferred or denied 15, compared with 12 in 2020.  The MOI stated that the reason it deferred and denied petitions was because the applying entity failed to meet the legal requirements and/or because it failed to provide missing information during the year.  The MOI stated it continued to review the remaining applications.  According to the MOI, 99.4 percent of the applications were from evangelical Christian churches and the rest were from Muslim and Jewish entities.  The MOI continued to give applicants who submitted incomplete applications or incorrect supporting documents 30 days to bring their applications into compliance.  If the MOI deemed an application incomplete, it could deny the application; however, the applying organization could resubmit an application at any time, and the MOI indicated there was no waiting period to reapply.

The DRA provided support to the 32 departments to implement the National Public Policy of Religious Freedom and Worship adopted in 2018 to provide guarantees to exercise freedom of religion and worship.  The policy also formally recognized religions and their affiliated organizations as managers of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  It further guaranteed coordination between the regions and the different levels of government to promote peacebuilding, reconciliation, and forgiveness with a view to recognizing victims of conflict in the country.  As part of the initiative to support the policy, the DRA promoted the implementation of 90 public measures on religious freedom during the year.  These included public campaigns to promote religious tolerance and nondiscrimination as well as efforts to strengthen communication between religious groups and government institutions at the national and regional levels.  The DRA also provided technical assistance to officials by creating a Manual for Territorial Religious Liaisons containing guidelines to promote the protection of religious freedom.  The DRA additionally provided guidelines to implement the Comprehensive Public Policy on Religious Freedom and Religious Groups for territorial entities.  Passed in 1994, the policy regulates the right to freedom of religion and worship present in the constitution and addresses church-state relations and the legal status of non-Catholic religions.

During the year, the DRA created religious freedom liaison positions – government representatives to serve as liaisons between religious organizations and local and regional governments.  These religious liaisons were appointed in 29 departments, including in the municipalities of Chinchina, Caldas; Yopal, Casanare; Tierra Alta, Cordoba; Manizales, Caldas; Pasto, Narino; and the Departments of Antioquia, Boyaca, and Meta.

The DRA took steps to implement an international cooperation agreement with the UNDP signed in 2020 to study the religious community and gather relevant information regarding the characteristics, needs, challenges, and contributions of religious groups.  The goal was to implement public policies on religious freedom in a more detailed way and articulate actions between the religious community and the public sector to achieve common objectives.  During the year, the study involved the departments of Bolivar, Norte de Santander, Risaralda, and Valle del Cauca.  The project conducted 1,436 surveys that examined social, cultural, educational, coexistence, and peace and reconciliation elements.  According to the survey data, the religious community assisted vulnerable populations such as victims of conflict, women, the elderly, children, adolescents, and migrants.  The agreement with the UNDP also supported the training of religious community employees and public officials to focus on respect for religious freedom and empowering religious groups in the exercise of their rights.  By year’s end, 2,000 persons had taken the training.

According to the DRA and religious leaders, the MOI continued implementing its public policy goal of raising awareness of the role of religious groups in supporting victims of conflict and other vulnerable populations, as well as strengthening interreligious cooperation and tolerance at the local level through structured interfaith dialogues and technical assistance.  In May, the DRA created a dialogue commission with the Catholic Church to fulfill a legal mandate that a roundtable be created with the Church to adopt public policies concerning the Church’s status.  The DRA also promoted more than 200 interreligious engagements through committees, roundtables, and councils, and it led one training workshop on the legal framework of religious freedom.  On June 25, the DRA held an educational campaign through digital media on religious freedom, tolerance, nondiscrimination, and stigmatization or persecution for religious reasons.  It also supported an interreligious promotional campaign called “As Born Between Us” to support migrants in the country.

President Duque commemorated National Day of Religious Freedom on July 4, when he spoke in support of outreach and initiatives highlighting religious freedom.  By year’s end, 90 municipalities had adopted public policies on religious freedom.  The policies included public campaigns to promote religious tolerance and nondiscrimination as well as efforts to strengthen communication between religious groups and government institutions at the national and regional levels.  Religious freedom and respect for religious groups were included in new territorial development plans for 2020-23 in 16 of the country’s 32 departments and 24 municipalities.  The national outreach programs continued to prioritize integrating the religious community into public policy discussions, including on how to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, the increasing number of Venezuelans residing in the country, and how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government supplied hundreds of aid packages to humanitarian and religious programs.

The Ministry of National Education urged preschool, elementary, and middle school educational institutions to foster peaceful resolution to conflicts involving religious belief.

According to religious groups, individuals continued to have difficulty obtaining exemptions from military service on religious grounds.  Religious leaders expressed continued concern regarding a law requiring interagency commissions to evaluate requests for conscientious objector status.  Religious organizations reported mixed enforcement of the conscientious objector law, stating that some objectors were still required to serve in the military, although they were exempt from carrying a weapon.  The Ministry of Defense reported that by year’s end, it had approved 61 of 112 applications seeking conscientious objector status on religious grounds.

The CJCC continued to express concern about antisemitic rhetoric and actions on social media after the CJCC met with a presidential candidate in May as part of a series of meetings with all presidential candidates.  For example, social media included comments stating the Jewish community was “conspiring with communism” and committing “treason against the homeland.”  In November, Colombian National Police (CNP) cadets from the Simon Bolivar Police Academy in Tulua wore Nazi attire and displayed paraphernalia with swastikas at a ceremony the police claimed was to honor Germany.  President Duque condemned the incident, stating that any demonstration that uses or refers to symbols associated with those responsible for the Holocaust was unacceptable.  The Defense Ministry similarly denounced this act, and the police dismissed the head of the academy.  The national police suspended two senior officers at the academy.

The Colombian National Police, through the Protection and Special Services Directorate, continued to provide security for religious sites, and the National Protection Unit of the MOI provided personal security to individuals deemed at risk.

In connection with the observance of National Day of Religious Freedom, the MOI and regional governments held forums and other events to educate the public on the significance of the holiday and the new public policy to build bridges with religious organizations.  On July 7, President Duque met with youth representatives of the country’s main religious communities and organizations.  During the meeting, the youth representatives signed a pact to promote the Integral Public Policy of Religious Freedom that advocates youth supporting the common purpose of religious freedom.  President Duque highlighted the inclusion of religious freedom in the constitution, stating that all religions and belief systems have the same rights, freedoms, and obligations.  The MOI also launched the first knowledge repository of interreligious initiatives, a formal mechanism established to recognize and highlight practices of religious and social entities and to support the social, cultural, and educational work of religions entities and their organizations.

The AGO reported that there were no killings of religious figures, compared with three killings of religious figures in 2020.  NGOs and church representatives, however, reported that illegal armed groups continued to kill, threaten, or displace human rights defenders, including some religious leaders, for promoting human rights, assisting internally displaced persons, assisting with land restitution claims, and discouraging coca cultivation.

During the year, leaders of many religious groups continued to report that illegal armed groups, in particular the National Liberation Army, hindered peace and reconciliation programs, including those led by religious institutions, such as the Catholic Church, in rural areas with a limited state presence.  The AGO reported four cases of threats by members of illegal armed groups against religious leaders and one case of displacement of a religious organization leader, compared with nine threats and 16 attacks the previous year.

The Christian NGO Open Doors’ annual report for 2021, released on January 19, 2022, showed an increase from the previous year in persecution and attacks by criminal and guerilla elements against Christians for denouncing corruption and violence perpetrated by such groups, with greater prevalence in remote areas of the country.

Costa Rica

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution establishes Catholicism as the state religion and requires the state to contribute to its maintenance.  The constitution prohibits the state from impeding the free exercise of other religions that do not undermine “universal morality or proper behavior.”  Unlike other religious groups, the Catholic Church is not registered as an association and receives special legal recognition.  Its assets and holdings are governed consistent with Catholic canon law.

The constitution recognizes the right to practice the religion of one’s choice.  By law, a person claiming a violation of religious freedom may file suit with the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court and may also file a motion before the Constitutional Chamber to have a statute or regulation declared unconstitutional.  Additionally, a person claiming a violation of religious freedom may appeal to the Administrative Court to sue the government for alleged discriminatory acts.  Legal protections cover discrimination by private persons and entities.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship is responsible for managing the government’s relationship with the Catholic Church and other religious groups.  According to the law, a group with a minimum of 10 persons may incorporate as an association with judicial status by registering with the public registry of the Ministry of Justice.  The government does not require religious groups to register; however, religious groups must register if they choose to engage in any type of fundraising.  Registration also entitles them to obtain legal representation and standing to own property.

The constitution forbids Catholic clergy from serving in the capacity of president, vice president, cabinet member, or Supreme Court justice.  This prohibition does not apply to non-Catholic clergy.

An executive order provides the legal framework for religious organizations to establish places of worship.  Religious organizations must submit applications to the local municipality to establish a place of worship and to comply with safety and noise regulations established by law.

According to the law, public schools must provide nonsectarian Christian religious instruction by a person who is able to promote moral values and tolerance and be respectful of human rights.  If a parent on behalf of a child chooses to opt out of religious courses, the parent must make a written request.  The Ministry of Public Education provides religious education assistance to private schools, both Catholic and non-Catholic, including directly hiring teachers and providing teacher salaries and other funds.

The law allows the government to provide land free of charge to the Catholic Church only, but the government also provides funds to evangelical Christian groups.  Government-to-church land transfers are typically granted through periodic legislation.

Only Catholic priests and public notaries may perform state-recognized marriages.  Wedding ceremonies performed by other religious groups must be legalized through a civil union.

Immigration law requires foreign religious workers to belong to a religious group accredited for migration control purposes by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship, and it stipulates religious workers may receive permission to stay at least 90 days, but not more than two years.  The permission is renewable.  To obtain accreditation, a religious group must present documentation about its organization, including its complete name, number of followers, bank information, number of houses of worship, and names of and information on the group’s board of directors.  Immigration regulations require religious workers to apply for temporary residence before arrival.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The time limit to enact a draft 2009 bill that would reform the constitution to make the country a secular state expired in September 2020, and the Legislative Assembly did not advance a new bill on this issue during the year.

In June 17, the Legislative Assembly passed its first vote on a public employment bill that included an article on conscientious objection.  Some legislators, including those belonging to the government-affiliated Citizen Action Party and the National Liberation Party, objected to the inclusion of the article and appealed before the Constitutional Court.  On August 1, the Constitutional Court upheld as constitutional the article on conscientious objection.  Some religious groups had requested this provision to allow public employees to be exempted from participating in government-required LGBTQ+ training courses.  Another first vote, required to pass the bill, was pending at year’s end.

Some non-Catholic leaders continued to state the constitution did not sufficiently address the specific concerns of non-Catholic religious groups, particularly regarding registration processes.  Members of Protestant groups registered as secular associations continued to say they preferred a separate registration process that would specifically cover church construction and operation, permits to organize events, and pastoral access to hospitals and prisons for members of non-Catholic religious groups.  These Protestant groups continued to seek legislative reform to allow these changes through the passage of a religious freedom bill under legislative review since 2018.  In the case of the Catholic Church, the government continued to address such concerns through the special legal recognition afforded the Church under canon law.

During the year, the Constitutional Chamber received 12 claims of denial of the free exercise of religious freedom at educational institutions, Catholic institutions, or public places, compared with 24 claims in 2020.  Of the 12 claims presented in during the year, seven were dismissed, three were accepted, and two were unresolved through year’s end.  Reportedly, the decrease in numbers of claims was partly due to COVID-19 restrictions on in-person learning during the year.  The court dismissed seven claims due to insufficient evidence proving discrimination or because it found no basis for claiming discrimination.  In some of these dismissed cases, the claimants stated they experienced discrimination because of the government’s closure of places of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic and because of a pandemic-related restriction limiting the number of attendees at a religious service to 200 worshippers, regardless of the size of the venue.  For the purposes of limits on gatherings, religious organizations fell under the same category as sports, cultural and academic activities; the 200-person limit applied equally to all groups.  The court dismissed the complaints, stating the pandemic-related restrictions were applied to all places of worship for health reasons.


Two claims pertaining to a requirement that public employees attend a course on equal rights for LGBTQ+ persons remained unresolved through year’s end.  The chamber ruled in favor of three other claims.  In one case, a Jewish municipal employee filed a complaint seeking authorization to observe the Sabbath on Saturday.  In another case, the chamber ruled in favor of a minor claimant who opted out of a religious course, stating the minor could not be obligated to take an unrequired course.  The parents of children attending public schools filed the third claim against the Ministry of Education because the ministry had not replaced the school’s religion teacher several months after his retirement.  In its ruling, the chamber ordered the hiring of a new teacher of religion.

The government again included financial support for the Catholic Church and evangelical Christian groups in its annual budget.  It earmarked approximately 32.6 million colones ($51,100), 23 million colones ($36,000) for the Catholic Church and 9.5 million colones ($14,900) for evangelical Christian groups, for various projects requested by the religious groups, including funds to make improvements at churches and parish buildings in different parts of the country.  This total funding of 32.6 million colones ($51,100) for religious groups was included in supplemental budgets for the year and compared with 55 million colones ($86,200) earmarked in the 2020 budget.  According to a legislative aide, the decrease in allocation for religious groups was because of the overall decrease in the budget due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.  A semiautonomous government institution again sold lottery tickets, using the proceeds to support social programs sponsored by religious groups.

In June, Marco A. Fernandez Picado became the new director of religious education in the Ministry of Public Education.  According to Fernandez Picado, because most classes were virtual during the year due to continuing COVID-19 restrictions, there was no implementation of a 2019 Ministry of Education directive stating school directors should make decisions on whether to place religious images in educational institutions based on “mutual respect for the rights and liberties of all, as well as the values and principles under which the education system functions.”

According to political observers and opinion polls, in the lead-up to the 2018 national election, religious issues such as same-sex marriage were polarizing campaign topics that impacted voters’ decisions.  According to press reports, during the February 2022 election campaign, candidates tended to avoid raising these topics, likely to avoid repeating such polarization.

Representatives of political parties that defined themselves as evangelical Christian continued to occupy 14 of the country’s 57 legislative seats, and evangelical Christian parties contested the municipal election in February.  No evangelical Christian mayors were elected, but 38 evangelical Christians were elected as representatives in 82 municipal governments.  The president of the Evangelical Alliance again instructed pastors to refrain from electoral politics, while Catholic leaders continued to defend the right of the Catholic Church to engage in the political process.  At year’s end, 30 political parties had registered for the 2022 general election; seven of these parties stated a Catholic or evangelical Christian religious affiliation.

Religious groups, including the Catholic Church and Evangelical Alliance, continued to state their opposition to same-sex partnerships and to legislation passed and implemented in 2020 that recognizes same-sex marriages, citing moral grounds.  In July, evangelical Christian groups belonging to the Evangelical Alliance, including its president, organized a prayer night broadcast on radio “in favor of families, life, and children.”  Other Christian radio stations joined the program.

Abortion continued to be a frequent topic of public debate involving religious groups.  According to a December 2019 executive order requiring hospitals to develop protocols for doctors to perform an abortion when the life and health of the woman was in danger, abortion was permitted in such cases in accordance with the penal code.  The order also allowed health personnel to refuse to participate in abortion procedures for religious reasons.  Media reported that opposition of the Catholic Church and evangelical Christian groups to abortions continued.  From March 22 to April 4, legislator Nidia Cespedes of evangelical Christian party New Republic (Nueva Republica), protested barefoot in the Legislative Assembly’s plenary room, expressing her opposition to a proposed bill decriminalizing abortion, which was later introduced in August.  The same month, the Catholic Church organized its members to sign a letter requesting the government keep abortion illegal.  By year’s end, the Legislative Assembly did not vote on the bill.

In July, the Ministry of Public Education organized a National Week of Religious Education to present a preview of the ministry’s new religious education programs to be offered as part of basic general education and diversified education levels.  As a result of the July meeting, the ministry drafted an Interreligious Declaration for a Religious Education for A Culture of Peace, which the ministry presented at a Ministry of Education conference on September 22.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the constitution, “The state recognizes, respects, and guarantees religious liberty” and, “Distinct beliefs and religions enjoy equal consideration.”  The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious beliefs.  It declares the country is a secular state and provides for the separation of religious institutions and the state.

The constitution also “recognizes, respects, and guarantees people’s freedom of thought, conscience, and expression.”  It provides for the “right to profess or not profess their religious beliefs, to change them, and to practice the religion of their choice…,” but only “with the required respect for other beliefs and in accordance with the law.”  At the same time, it states, “Conscientious objection may not be invoked with the intention of evading compliance with the law or impeding another from the exercise of their rights.”  Military service is mandatory for all men, and there are no legal provisions exempting conscientious objectors from service.  Similarly, the penal code prohibits anyone from using a religious basis to oppose “educational objectives, the duty to work, the defense of the Homeland…” and other requirements in the constitution.

The government is subordinate to the CCP; the party’s ORA enlists the entire government, especially the MOJ and the security services, to control religious practice in the country.  The ORA regulates religious institutions and the practice of religion.  The Law of Associations requires all religious groups to apply to the MOJ for official registration.  The MOJ registers religious denominations as associations on a basis similar to how it officially registers civil society organizations.  The application process requires religious groups to identify the location of their activities, their proposed leadership, and their funding sources, among other requirements.  Even if the MOJ grants official registration, the religious group must request permission from the ORA each time it wants to conduct activities other than regular services, such as holding meetings in approved locations, publishing major decisions from meetings, receiving foreign visitors, importing religious literature, purchasing and operating motor vehicles, and constructing, repairing, or purchasing places of worship.  Groups failing to register face penalties ranging from fines to closure of their organizations and confiscation of their property.

The penal code states membership in or association with an unregistered group is a crime; penalties range from fines to three months’ imprisonment, and leaders of such groups may be sentenced to up to one year in prison in addition to fines.

The law regulates the registration of “house churches” (private residences used as places of worship).  Two house churches of the same denomination may not exist within 1.2 miles of one another.  House churches must provide detailed information – including the number of worshippers, dates and times of services, and the names and ages of all inhabitants of the house in which services are held – to authorities.  The law states if authorization is granted, authorities will supervise the operation of meetings; they may suspend meetings in the house for a year or more if they find the requirements are not fulfilled.  If an individual registers a complaint against a church, the house church may be closed permanently and members subject to imprisonment.  Foreigners must obtain permission before attending services in a house church; foreigners may not attend house churches in some regions.  Any violation will result in fines and closure of the house church.

The constitution states, “The rights of assembly, demonstration and association are exercised by workers, both manual and intellectual; peasants; women; students; and other sectors of the working people,” but it does not explicitly address religious association.  The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion.

A law in force since July 2019 curtails freedom of expression on the internet to protect against “disseminating information contrary to the common good, morals, decency, and integrity through public data transmission networks.”  The penalty for violating the law is 3,000 Cuban pesos ($120) or two to four years in prison.

Religious education is highly regulated, and homeschooling is illegal, with parents who homeschool their children subject to arrest.

The country signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2008 but did not ratify it.  The government notes, “With respect to the scope and implementation of some of the provisions of this international instrument, Cuba will make such reservations or interpretative declarations as it may deem appropriate.”

Government Practices

Many religious groups said that despite constitutional provisions providing for freedom of conscience and religion and prohibiting discrimination based on religion, the government continued to use threats, detentions, violence, and other coercive tactics to restrict the activities of some religious groups, leaders, and followers, including the right of prisoners to practice religion freely.  Religious groups also said the government applied the law in an arbitrary and capricious manner to target religious groups and individuals whose views were not in line with the government’s.  Some religious groups continued to express concerns that the constitution, in effect since February 2019, significantly weakened protections for freedom of religion or belief and diluted references to freedom of conscience, separating it from freedom of religion.

In its annual Watch List, Open Doors, a self-described nondenominational, ecumenical Christian organization, reported a continued rise in the persecution of Christians in the country.  It attributed the continued rise to the government’s “highly restrictive measures against churches deemed to be opponents of the regime ­especially non-registered Protestant churches.”  The report noted the government used the COVID-19 crisis “as a pretext to hinder church and community activities, monitor church leaders, make arbitrary arrests, confiscate private property and impose extortion fees.”

CSW reported security forces targeted religious leaders amid unprecedented nationwide public protests that began on July 11 and led to state-directed violence, detention, and harassment against religious figures from multiple faith communities.  According to CSW, security officers arrested Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo, pastor of the unregistered nondenominational Monte de Sion Church, and his teenage son in the town of Palma Soriano during one of several peaceful protests across the country on July 11.  Authorities charged Rosales Fajardo with committing a series of crimes, including “disrespect” and “public disorder.”  He said that while he was in detention, guards subjected him to a brutal beating.  Following his December 20-21 trial, Rosales Fajardo was found guilty of the charges and awaited sentencing at year’s end.  A sentence could entail up to 10 years in prison.  Rosales Fajardo’s son was released following a week in captivity, after his mother paid a fine.  Government authorities had previously targeted Rosales Fajardo, including as far back as in 2012 when they seized his church property.

According to HRW, either a state security agent or a member of rapid response, government-affiliated paramilitary forces beat Catholic priest Jose Castor Alvarez Devesa with a bat while he tried to assist an injured protester during a July 11 demonstration in Camaguey.  Security forces detained him when he sought medical attention for his injuries.  The government later released Alvarez Devesa, but he remained under investigation through year’s end for incitement to commit crimes, and with his movements restricted.

CSW also reported two other pastors detained on July 11 in Matanzas, Yeremi Blanco Ramirez and Yarian Sierra Madrigal, spent two weeks in jail, with no means to communicate with their families, lawyers, or friends before their release to house arrest following international pressure.  Both men received fines for joining the protests and remained under police surveillance through year’s end.  While they were in custody, a landlord evicted the family of Pastor Sierra Madrigal from their home after state security pressured the landlord, according to CSW.  Later, authorities forced both men to sign a document that would justify their imprisonment should they participate in future protests.  Also on July 11, security forces detained, released, and later interrogated and threatened with charges of incitement Pastor Yusniel Perez Montejo of the Eastern Baptist Convention of Cuba.

During a visit to the country on September 9, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, met with President Miguel Diaz-Canel.  The Associated Press reported that state media published images of the meeting but provided no details on the topics discussed.  On his departure from the country the following day, Cardinal O’Malley wrote in his blog that he had spoken to Diaz-Canel about the July 11 protests “and appealed for clemency for those involved in the demonstrations in a nonviolent way.”

The Global Liberty Alliance reported authorities continued to subject Free Yorubas leaders and members to additional arbitrary detentions, threats, fines, physical violence, and verbal harassment.  According to observers, although Yoruba and other African syncretic religious groups were given latitude to practice their beliefs as individuals, the government selectively recognized groups and leaders based on their favorable view of the government.  The NGO reported that in March, security forces beat and robbed a Free Yorubas youth leader, Dairon Hernandez Perez, outside his home as he returned from attending a religious event.  Hernandez Perez said members of the security forces and members of the government’s Black Berets, commonly described as shock troops and serving as a rapid response brigade, beat him extensively, damaged religious items, confiscated money, and threatened him with imprisonment for “pre-criminal dangerousness.”

In September, the Global Liberty Alliance sought precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of four members of the Free Yorubas, who faced extended pretrial detention after their arrests following the July 11 protests.  According to the NGO, Donaida Perez Paserio, Loreto Hernandez Garcia, Lisdiani Rodriguez Isaac, and Lisdani Rodriguez Isaac had faced repression from security forces over many years because the government did not recognize the Free Yorubas as a religious organization.  Prosecutors in Santa Clara cited a range of charges against the Free Yorubas detainees, including disobedience, public disorder, and assault or attack, and they sought eight-to-10-year combined prison sentences for the four.  At year’s end, all four were awaiting trial.

The Global Liberty Alliance recorded several other instances of Free Yorubas members being detained and fined for peaceful protests in July.  Police fined Elizabeth Cintron 3,000 pesos ($120) in August, thereby making her ineligible to stand trial.  Prior to paying the fine, Cintron was in pretrial detention.  Also in August, police forced Dayron Dadis Lorrando to pay a 1,000-peso fine ($40), which is approximately half the official minimum monthly wage, at a Santa Clara police station, a decision that denied him his right to due process.

According to media, in May, authorities released Christian human rights activist Mitzael Diaz Paseiro after he completed his three and a half-year sentence.  Diaz Paseiro said he was occasionally placed in solitary confinement, beaten, and deprived of water.  Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience.

In May, security forces arrested Pastor Yoel Demetrio, of the Cuban Apostolic Movement in Las Tunas, after eight security agents raided his church.  He was later released with a warning that he could face criminal charges for contempt.  In March, he had reported that unidentified individuals threw stones at his church in Las Tunas while members of his congregation held a prayer vigil inside.  Demetrio told reporters that authorities arbitrarily fined him several times, with no explanation of the reason for the fines.

Media reported police continued to detain members of the Ladies in White.  Throughout the year, Ladies in White leader Berta Soler Fernandez reported she faced repeated arrests and short detentions, although the organization had suspended much of its activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The group’s youngest member, Sissi Abascal Zamora, received a six-year sentence from a municipal court for participating in a July 11 protest.  The court found her guilty of contempt, hitting a police officer, and public disorder.

According to media, the potential for additional widespread protests in November led to increased repression against religious leaders, including the staging of “acts of repudiation” in front of their homes.  CSW condemned the targeting of religious leaders, which it said was a government attempt to block the November peaceful protests.  CSW reported police and state security agents summoned and interrogated many Protestant and Catholic religious leaders to intimidate and dissuade them from participating in the peaceful marches called by civil society groups.  The ORA delivered a direct warning to Catholic Church officials that three priests in Camaguey, Alberto Reyes Pias, Jose Castor Alvarez, and Rolando Montes de Oca, would be arrested if they participated in any protests.  One of the priests, Alberto Reyes, vowed to join the protests saying, “The gospel of Jesus Christ speaks of freedom, it speaks of justice, it speaks of truth… If being arrested is the price of being true to the teachings of the gospel, so be it.”  Multiple media outlets reported that on the morning of the proposed march on November 15, a group of CCP officials and sympathizers orchestrated an act of repudiation at the residence of the Archbishop of Camaguey, where Father Reyes was staying, along with Archbishop Wilfredo Pino Estevez.  According to press reports, the government used acts of repudiation that directed participants to verbally abuse and intimidate government critics so the critics would not leave their homes.  Because of the crowds at the protests and the presence of state security officers, the priests and many other religious leaders remained in their homes on November 15.

The Cuban Observatory of Human Rights registered at least 30 repressive acts against leaders and laypersons associated with various religious groups for showing their support for the proposed November marches.  Government actions included multiple acts of repudiation, police surveillance, internet cuts, and the harassment of the Mother Superior of the Daughters of Charity, Sister Nadieska Almeida, whom government supporters harassed on November 15 while she was walking to visit a friend in Havana.

According to CSW, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government targeted religious leaders by accusing them of hoarding goods, which many religious leaders provided to needy members of their communities.  CSW reported that in January, police arrested and detained Pastor Karel Parra Rosabal, the leader of an unregistered Apostolic Church in Las Tunas, on what the NGO said was a false charge of hoarding.  The pastor, who operated a small bike repair shop, was reportedly told by authorities he was being arrested “so that you learn that illegal churches in Cuba are not allowed.”  Authorities stated he had too many tools for his business without providing evidence that he had acquired them legally.  After 10 days in detention, authorities released him, and prosecutors dropped the charges against him.  They did not return his confiscated equipment, which he needed to provide for his family.

According to CSW, many religious groups continued to state their lack of legal registration impeded their ability to practice their religion.  Several religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to await decisions from the MOJ on pending applications for official registration, some dating as far back as 1994.  Despite a 2019 letter from Cuban Ambassador to the United States Jose Cabanas to the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ in Salt Lake City stating the denomination was “welcome” in the country, the MOJ had not approved the Church’s registration by year’s end.

Representatives of several religious organizations and religious freedom organizations said the government continued to interpret the law on associations as a means for the ORA and the MOJ to deny registration of certain groups.  They also said the MOJ’s determinations of ineligibilities for registration sometimes included the assertion that another group already had identical or similar objectives, which these representatives said was a pretext the government used to control and favor certain factions of a religious denomination or one religious group’s activities over others.

Members of Protestant denominations said some groups were still able to register only a small percentage of house churches in private homes, although some unregistered house churches could operate with little or no government interference.  CSW reported authorities continued to rely on two 2005 government resolutions limiting house churches to impose complicated and repressive restrictions on them.

At year’s end, Soka Gakkai continued to be the only Buddhist group registered with the government, and the Islamic League was the only registered Islamic group.

According to religious leaders and former inmates, authorities continued to deny prisoners, including political prisoners, pastoral visits and the ability to meet with other prisoners for worship, prayer, and study.  Many prisoners also said authorities repeatedly confiscated Bibles, crucifixes, rosary beads, and other religious items, sometimes as punishment and other times for no apparent reason.

CSW and religious leaders reported that the government, through the Ministry of Interior, continued to systematically plant informants in all religious organizations, sometimes by persuading or intimidating members and leaders to act as informants, or by sending informants to infiltrate a church.  The objective was to monitor and intimidate religious leaders and report on the content of sermons and on church attendees.  As a result, CSW said many leaders continued to practice self-censorship, avoiding stating anything that might possibly be construed as anti-Castro or counterrevolutionary in their sermons and teaching.  Catholic and Protestant church leaders, both in and outside the government-recognized Council of Cuban Churches (CCC), continued to report frequent visits from state security agents and CCP officials.  These church leaders said the purpose of the visits was to intimidate and to remind them they were under close surveillance, as well as to influence internal decisions and structures within the groups.

Many house church leaders continued to report frequent visits from state security agents or CCP officials.  Some reported warnings from the agents and officials that the education of their children, or their own employment, could be threatened if the house church leaders continued their activities.

According to news reports, authorities continued to harass Pastor Alain Toledano, a member of the Apostolic Movement and leader of the Emanuel Church in Santiago de Cuba.  Toledano said state security officials arrested him for “propagating the COVID pandemic” in August, when he said he held a socially distanced service.  In the weeks that followed, Toledano reported state security cited or interrogated at least eight members of his church for showing him support.

During the year, the government used internet laws restricting freedom of expression of independent journalists, including those promoting freedom of religion or belief and other human rights.  In addition, CSW continued to report the government used social media to harass and defame religious leaders, including Facebook posts and online editorials publicly targeting religious leaders or groups.  In most instances, accounts posting attacks targeting religious leaders seemed to be linked to state security.  According to the annual report of the U.S.-based human rights NGO Freedom House, the country had one of the most restrictive media environments in the world, including in terms of internet freedom such as restrictions on networks, blocking of social networks and websites, and the repression and arrest of individuals for using social media networks.  For example, according to HRW, on August 17, the government responded to the July 11 protests by issuing Decree Law 35, which further criminalized online content deemed to be critical of the government or that disseminated “content that violates the constitutional, social and economic precepts of the State” or incites acts that affect public order.

In July, the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement calling for dialogue and imploring the government to respect citizens’ rights to freedom of expression.  In November, the Conference of Cuban Religious and Catholic leaders released statements condemning state intimidation of religious leaders, as well as what they termed the systematic repression of voices who criticize the government.

In May, 34 individuals and organizations signed a letter addressed to Cuba’s Chief of Mission at its embassy in Washington, raising concerns about violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief taking place under two decree laws (349 and 370) that limit freedom of expression either through artistic means or online.  The letter called for the repeal of the two laws and highlighted the case of independent journalist Yoel Suarez, who regularly reported on religious freedom issues.  During the year, state security agents summoned Suarez for multiple interrogations, threatened him with criminal charges, and questioned his wife, reportedly to pressure her to convince him to abandon his work.

According to CSW, Christian leaders from all denominations said a scarcity of Bibles and other religious literature continued, primarily in rural areas.  Some religious leaders continued to report government obstacles, including bureaucratic obstruction and arbitrary restrictions such as inconsistent rules on importing computers and electronic devices, prevented them from importing religious materials and donated goods.  In some cases, the government held up religious materials or blocked them altogether.  According to the U.S.-based Patmos Institute, a civil society organization focusing on religious freedom and interreligious dialogue, the Cuban Association for the Divulgation of Islam was unable to obtain a container of religious literature embargoed since 2014.  Several other groups, however, said they continued to import large quantities of Bibles, books, clothing, and other donated goods.

The Catholic Church and several government-recognized Protestant groups continued to maintain small libraries, print periodicals and other information, and to operate their own websites with little or no formal censorship.  The Catholic Church continued to publish periodicals and hold regular forums at the Varela Center, where participants sometimes criticized official social and economic policies.

According to media, government officials frequently instigated or did not investigate harassment of religious figures and institutions.  Although most cases of what CSW defined as religious persecution were directed toward Christians, CSW also reported that religious minorities were also likely to be victims of religious persecution.  Patmos continued to report that Rastafarians, whose spiritual leader remained imprisoned since 2012, were among the most stigmatized and repressed religious groups.

Muslim community representatives said the country’s small Muslim community was subject to discrimination.  The government denied a Muslim woman permission to travel abroad for urgent medical care, a decision she said she believed was linked to her affiliation with an unregistered religious group.  According to CSW, Yusdevlin Olivera Nunez was prohibited from travelling due to a five-year sentence of restricted liberty she received upon joining the unregistered Cuban Association for the Dissemination of Islam.  At year’s end, Olivera Nunez – known as Mercy Olivera – had not received travel documents from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  She said the treatment needed for her medical conditions was not available in the country.

Before her detention following the July 11 protests, Free Yorubas President Perez Paseiro and member Yaimara Reyes Soler filed a legal complaint in June in Santa Clara, stating the government had committed dozens of religious freedom violations against members of their group.  The petition stated authorities had erroneously and intentionally determined the Free Yorubas to be a political entity rather than an association of Yoruba believers and that it forbade them from observing traditional practices such as wearing garments or head coverings in accordance with their faith.  Court officials initially refused to even accept the legal filing and by year’s end had not acted upon the complaint.

While some religious leaders reported that access to broadcast media had marginally improved during the year, several religious leaders continued to express concern about the government’s restriction on broadcasting religious services over the radio or on television.

According to CSW, while movement to, from, and within the country was again highly restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, religious travelers said they continued to experience higher levels of scrutiny than others and were often denied freedom of movement, including traveling to religious gatherings outside the country.  Patmos reported that immigration officers continued to target religious travelers and their goods and informed airport-based intelligence services of their incoming and outgoing travel.

According to CSW, during the year there were no reported cases of the ORA and immigration officials targeting foreign visitors by denying them religious visas.  CSW attributed the change to the government’s overall closure of borders to tourists as part of its efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Reportedly because of COVID-19-related restrictions on internal movement, government agencies continued to refuse to recognize changes in residence for pastors and other church leaders assigned to new churches or parishes.  These restrictions, not lifted until October, made it difficult or impossible for relocating pastors to obtain government services, including housing.  Legal restrictions on travel within the country also limited itinerant ministry, a central component of some religious groups.

According to media, religious discrimination against students continued to be a common practice in state schools, with multiple reports of teachers and CCP officials encouraging and participating in bullying of students belonging to religious groups perceived as being critical of the government.

According to religious leaders, the government continued to selectively prevent some religious groups from establishing accredited schools.  These leaders said religious groups with connections to the government and willing to participate in government events were allowed to operate seminaries, interfaith training centers, before-and-after-school programs, eldercare programs, weekend retreats, workshops for primary and secondary students, and higher education programs.  The Catholic Church continued to offer coursework, including entrepreneurial training leading to a bachelor’s and master’s degree through foreign partners.  Several Protestant communities continued to offer university-level degrees in theology, the humanities, and related subjects via distance learning; however, the government did not recognize these degrees.

Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders continued to state they found the requirements for university admission and the courses of study incompatible with the group’s beliefs because their religion prohibited them from political involvement.

On January 27, hundreds of Catholics, including bishops, religious, and laypersons, issued a public appeal for citizens to begin to take control of the future of their country.  The appeal stated, “The Cuban people, although slowly, have been overcoming and unlearning helplessness.… This is a very important path to empowerment and recovery of social self-esteem.  It is important that we come to feel stronger, that we convince ourselves that we can act and live without being paralyzed by fear, so that we come to express ourselves freely, to seek the good and justice while preserving peace, and to be critical of our reality, because in fact, it is the duty of everyone to contribute to the building of a new Cuba.”

According to international media, despite increased shortages of food, medicine, and other essential items, authorities greatly restricted many religious organizations’ ability to receive and distribute humanitarian assistance.  While the government allowed Caritas to continue providing food and other goods to the needy, it did not allow many smaller religious groups and charities that were not part of the government-recognized CCC to provide aid.  Other religious leaders also said the government continued to restrict their ability to receive donations from overseas.

Some religious groups continued to report the government allowed them to engage in community service programs and to share their religious beliefs.  Other religious groups reported government restrictions varied and were largely based on the government’s perceptions of the “political pliancy” of each religious group.  Religious leaders continued to report government opposition to and interference in religious groups’ providing pastoral services.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution grants all individuals the right to practice and profess publicly and freely the religion of their choice and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  It states the government has a responsibility to “protect voluntary religious practice, as well as the expression of those who do not profess any religion and will favor an atmosphere of plurality and tolerance.”  Individuals have the right to change their religion.  The constitution also states secular ethics are the basis for public service and the country’s legal system.  The constitution grants the right of self-determination to indigenous communities, including provisions granting freedom to “develop and strengthen their identity, feeling of belonging, ancestral traditions, and form of social organization.”

A 1937 concordat with the Holy See accords juridical status to the Catholic Church and grants it financial privileges and tax exemptions.  Other religious groups must register as legal entities with the government under a separate 1937 religion law and a 2000 decree on religion.  If a religious group wishes to provide social services, it must register under a 2017 executive decree regulating civil society.  The 2017 decree dictates how civil society organizations (CSOs) must register to obtain and maintain legal status.  A religious group does not need to register as a religious organization to register as a CSO and may conduct the processes separately.

According to a 2019 decree, the Human Rights Secretariat, a government body reporting to the President, oversees religious issues, including the registration process for religious groups and CSOs.  The Human Rights Secretariat maintains national databases of legally recognized religious organizations and legally recognized CSOs, including religious groups registered as CSOs.  Registration provides religious groups with legal and nonprofit status.  An officially registered religious group, whether as a religious organization or as a CSO, is eligible to receive government funding and exemptions from certain taxes, per the tax code.  All religious organizations must be not-for-profit and are not required to disclose their financial accounts to the government.

To register as a religious organization, a group must present a charter signed by all its founding members to the Human Rights Secretariat and provide information on its leadership and physical location.  Registrants may deliver their documentation to the Human Rights Secretariat directly, to one of the secretariat’s eight regional offices, or via email.  The registration process is free of charge.  The Directorate for Registration for Nationalities and Religious Organizations within the Human Rights Secretariat is charged with reviewing and approving the submitted documentation.

To register as a CSO, religious groups submit the same documentation required to register as a religious organization, in addition to approved statutes and a description of the mission statement and objectives of the organization.  A religious group registers as a CSO under the government agency overseeing the issues on which the group wishes to work.

The secretariat may dissolve a religious group if the group does not maintain legal status or does not adhere to the mission, goals, and objectives listed in its bylaws at the time of registration.  Dissolution may include liquidation of physical property and be voluntary – in which case, the religious group could decide to whom to transfer its property – or forced, in which case the Human Rights Secretariat would confiscate the group’s property.  By law, religious organizations are prohibited from participating in political parties or endorsing political candidates.  The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, a separate entity from the Human Rights Secretariat, protects and advocates for human rights, including rights pertaining to religious groups; however, its role in this regard is not clearly defined in the constitution.

The labor law states that in general, all work must be paid and does not distinguish religious workers from other types of workers.  A citizen participation law recognizes volunteerism and states social organizations may establish agreements with government authorities to employ unpaid labor.  The law, however, does not specifically reference religious volunteerism as a category to be utilized to establish such an agreement.

Foreign missionaries and religious volunteers must apply for a temporary residence visa and present a letter of invitation from the sponsoring organization, which may be foreign or domestic but must have legal status in the country, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The letter must include a commitment to cover the applicant’s living expenses and detail the applicant’s proposed activities.  Applicants also must provide a certified copy of the bylaws of the sponsoring organization and the name of its legal representative as approved by the government.

The law prohibits public schools from providing religious instruction.  Private schools may offer religious instruction but must comply with Ministry of Education standards.  There are no legal restrictions specifying which religious groups may establish schools.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Religious leaders said the Human Rights Secretariat’s registration process implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic remained efficient.  A Human Rights Secretariat official said the secretariat would fully implement an online registration system by year’s end after digitalizing all religious organizations’ documents to make the process more convenient for end-users.  According to a Human Rights Secretariat official, a total 5,131 religious groups were registered during the year, compared with 5,007 groups registered in 2020.  The secretariat official said there were approximately 195 pending registrations and that the registration processing time continued to average 30 days, similar to 2020.

Religious leaders continued to express concerns about the absence of a specific reference to religious volunteerism in the labor code, which they felt exposed religious organizations to potential negative legal consequences.  Religious leaders stated that the government expected religious organizations to define specific working hours for staff and pay them according to those hours, which, they said, presented a problem, since many staff viewed their religious vocation as a way of life requiring them to be always available to meet the needs of their congregation.

Jewish and Muslim leaders said customs regulations, import taxes, and onerous paperwork continued to hinder the ability to import kosher and halal foods, beverages, and plants used for religious ceremonies and holidays.  A Jewish leader said the law treated religious communities the same as companies because all imports, including those for religious purposes, were taxed and treated as commercial items.  Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders said they were exploring legal actions to address their concerns about local authorities’ violating religious organizations’ rights to receive certain tax privileges.  For example, they said, authorities in Quito denied their requests for property tax exemptions, and the municipal government in Duran in the Guayaquil area charged religious organizations permit fees intended for business entities.  A Jehovah’s Witnesses representative said he did not believe his organization was being singled out.

President Lasso invited leaders from Catholic and evangelical Protestant communities to attend his May 24 inauguration to convey what he said was his message of inclusion and reconciliation, stating that religious groups were called to be “witnesses of the reconciliation between the state and churches.”  According to evangelical Protestant leaders, it was the first time in the country’s history that non-Catholic leaders were formally invited to a presidential inauguration.

Religious leaders said they coordinated closely with national authorities to ensure COVID-19 health and safety protocols were followed in the staged reopening of in-person religious practices.  They also said they continued to work with authorities to deliver food kits and other humanitarian assistance to vulnerable communities.

Religious leaders said President Lasso’s first state of exception declaration for the national prison system due to violent prison riots, in effect July 22 to September 20, temporarily restricted visitors’ access to inmates, including visits by religious groups.  President Lasso declared a second state of exception for the national prison system from September 29 to November 28 after 118 inmates were killed during violent clashes between rival gangs in Guayaquil on September 28.  Lasso declared a third state of exception for the national prison system from November 29 to December 28 after 68 inmates were killed in a prison riot involving rival gangs on November 12.  Catholic and evangelical Christian volunteers said they were not allowed to visit inmates during the states of exception in Guayaquil-area prisons, where security concerns were greatest.  According to press reports, religious leaders expressed a willingness to participate in a dialogue with President Lasso to find a solution to the prison crisis.  Religious leaders welcomed Lasso’s December 16 announcement to appoint two religious representatives to serve on a newly formed commission with a mandate to develop a strategy to prevent, control, and respond to prison violence.

Religious leaders said the National Assembly that took office on May 14 made no progress on a proposal to reform the 1937 religion law that CONALIR, which includes representatives from Anglican, Baha’i, Buddhist, Catholic, evangelical and nonevangelical Protestants, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, and Seventh-day Adventist Church faith communities, discussed with the previous National Assembly in 2018.  CONALIR’s proposed reforms aim to create greater equality between the Catholic Church and other religious groups, to update the registration process for religious groups, and to recognize legally the nonprofit status of all religious groups and the practice of utilizing volunteers for certain activities.

On April 28, the Constitutional Court issued a ruling decriminalizing abortion in all cases of rape.  On April 26, the Episcopal Conference of Ecuador, representing Catholic bishops, issued a statement calling on the Constitutional Court to defend life and expressing concerns for decriminalizing abortion.  Then president-elect Lasso published a statement on April 28, saying his government would respect the court’s decision, despite his strong personal religious beliefs.  The statement also said he believed in the separation of powers and the separation between church and state.  In May, evangelical Christian organizations submitted an appeal of the ruling to the Constitutional Court.

On August 11, the Constitutional Court set a precedent involving the rights of religious organizations by ruling in favor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in a case involving a conflict with indigenous residents in the town of San Juan de Iluman in Imbabura Province.  The ruling concluded the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious freedom and right to equal treatment and nondiscrimination had been violated.  The Constitutional Court also ruled local courts had violated the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to due process by repeatedly dismissing their protective action requests and ordered intercultural training sessions for local government officials and judges involved in the case.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said the ruling was the first Constitutional Court case involving discrimination due to religious belief.  The case stems from a 2014 Jehovah’s Witness appeal after a group of protesters broke into and damaged a Kingdom Hall under construction.  According to religious leaders, local government authorities then coerced the Jehovah’s Witnesses leadership to sign a statement requiring the suspension of construction and preventing the group from gathering in town.

In December, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of a Seventh-day Adventist student who filed a lawsuit against the University of Guayaquil to accommodate the student’s request to reschedule an exam to allow the student to observe the Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath.  A provincial court ordered the school to accommodate the student’s request in 2019, but the university appealed the decision.  The Constitutional Court upheld the provincial court’s decision.

El Salvador

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for the free exercise of religion.  It states all persons are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  The PDDH monitors the state of religious freedom in the country, including issuing special reports and accepting petitions from the public for alleged violations of the free exercise of religion.

The penal code imposes criminal sentences of one to three years on individuals who publicly offend or insult the religious beliefs of others, or damage or destroy religious objects.  The law defines an offense as an action that prevents or disrupts the free exercise of religion, publicly disavows religious traditions, or publicly insults an individual’s beliefs or religious dogma.  Sentences increase to four to eight years when individuals commit such acts to gain media attention.  Repeat offenders may face prison sentences of three to five years.

The constitution states members of the clergy may not occupy the positions of President, cabinet ministers, vice ministers, Supreme Court justices, judges, governors, attorney general, public defender, and other senior government positions.  Members of the clergy may not belong to political parties.  The electoral code requires judges of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and members of municipal councils to be laypersons.

The law restricts support of and interaction with gangs, including by clergy members, and defines gangs as terrorist organizations.  Rehabilitation programs and ministry activities for gang members, however, are legal.

The constitution allows religious groups to apply for official recognition by registering with the government.  It grants automatic official recognition to the Catholic Church and exempts it from registration requirements and from government financial oversight.  Religious groups may operate without registering, but registration provides tax-exempt status and facilitates activities requiring official permits, such as building places of worship.  To register, a religious group must apply through the Office of the Director General for Nonprofit Associations and Foundations (DGFASFL) in the Ministry of Governance.  The group must present its constitution and bylaws describing the type of organization, location of its offices, its goals and principles, requirements for membership, functions of its ruling bodies, and assessments or dues.  The DGFASFL analyzes the group’s constitution and bylaws to ensure both comply with the law.  Upon approval, the government publishes the group’s constitution and bylaws in the official gazette.  The DGFASFL does not maintain records on religious groups once it approves their status, and there are no requirements for renewal of registration.

By law, the Ministry of Governance has authority to register, regulate, and oversee the finances of nongovernmental organizations and all religious groups except the Catholic Church, due to its special legal recognition under the constitution.  Foreign religious groups must obtain special residence visas for religious activities, including proselytizing, and may not proselytize while on visitor or tourist visas.  Religious groups must be registered to be eligible for their members to receive this special residence visa for religious activities.

The penal code imposes criminal sentences of six months to two years for individuals who publicly offend or insult the religious beliefs of others or damage or destroy religious objects.  If these acts are carried out with the purpose of publicity, sentences may increase to one to three years in prison.

Public education, as funded by the government, is secular and there is no religious education component.  The constitution grants the right to establish private schools, including schools run by religious groups, which operate without government support or funding.  Parents choose whether their children receive religious education in private schools.  Public schools may not deny admittance to any student based on religion.  All private schools, religiously affiliated or not, must meet the same academic standards to obtain Ministry of Education approval.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

According to the Attorney General’s Office, during the year, authorities prosecuted one case under the penal code for publicly offending or insulting the religious beliefs of others; it did not provide details on the case.  At year’s end, the PDDH reported it had not received notice of any cases of alleged violations of religious freedom.

According to the Ministry of Governance, there were 169 requests for registration of religious groups during the year, compared with 122 in 2020.  Of these, the ministry approved 28 and denied 24 because of incomplete documentation; 117 were pending at year’s end.  Government officials said the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact the registration process because several officials from the ministry teleworked and did not have access to all relevant documents.  The Ministry of Governance reported that although the registration process was available electronically, many religious groups did not present the required documents in a timely manner.  According to the ministry, delays in registration approvals occurred because religious groups were first required to obtain legal entity documentation and the paperwork that they submitted to the ministry was incorrect or incomplete.

Although the Minister of Prisons officially prohibited religious organizations, nonprofit organizations, and the PDDH from visiting prisons due to COVID-19 safety protocols, several religious organizations reported they had sporadic access to prisoners.

Alvaro Rafael Saravia Merino, a former military captain with an outstanding arrest warrant for the killing Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 as he celebrated Mass, remained a fugitive.  In March, civil rights attorneys stated that 41 years after the crime, the case still had not advanced.  They accused the Attorney General’s Office of negligence by not appointing a team to investigate the case, which remained pending at year’s end.

In February, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Spain dismissed former Salvadoran army colonel Inocente Orlando Montano’s appeal and ratified his sentence of 133 years and four months in prison.  In September 2020, Spain’s highest criminal court, Audencia Nacional, sentenced Montano for planning and ordering the November 1989 killings of five Spanish Jesuits at the Central American University in San Salvador.

According to press reports, the Attorney General’s Office had not replied to the December 2020 request by human rights advocates to reopen the case against former generals Juan Orlando Zepeda and Francisco Helena Fuentes and former president Alfredo Cristiani, all accused of planning the 1989 Jesuit killings.  Jesuit priest Jose Maria Tojeira said he was pressing the Prosecutor’s Office to reopen the cases and to investigate two magistrates who had ruled to close the cases in September 2020 because he said they seemed to intentionally ignore a 2007 decision by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court.  The 2007 decision annulled the 1993 amnesty law, which had provided amnesty against prosecution to war criminals, including the perpetrators of the 1989 Jesuit killings.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution requires the separation of state and religion, establishes freedom of religious choice and practice, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion, nor shall religion interfere in state affairs.  It permits limitations on religious freedom as prescribed by law to protect public safety, education, and morals as well as to guarantee the independence of government from religion.  The law criminalizes religious defamation and incitement of one religious group against another.

The law permits sharia courts to adjudicate personal status cases, provided both parties are Muslim and consent to the court’s jurisdiction.

Registration and licensing of religious groups fall under the mandate of the Directorate of Faith and Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Peace, which requires unregistered religious groups to submit a founding document, the national identity cards of its founders, and the permanent address of the religious institution and planned regional branches.  The registration process also requires an application letter, information on board members, meeting minutes, information on the founders, financial reports, offices, name, and symbols.  Religious group applicants must have at least 50 individuals for registration as a religious entity and 15 for registration as a ministry or association; the rights and privileges are the same for each category.  During the registration process, the government publishes the religious group’s name and logo in a local newspaper.  If there are no objections, registration is granted.  Unlike other religious groups, the EOTC is not registered by the Ministry of Peace but obtains registration through a provision in the civil code passed during the imperial era that is still in force.  Registration with the ministry confers legal status on a religious group, which gives the group the right to congregate and to obtain land to build a place of worship and establish a cemetery.  Unregistered groups do not receive these benefits.  Religious groups must renew their registration at least once every five years; failure to do so may result in a fine.

Registered religious organizations are required to provide annual activity and financial reports.  Activity reports must describe proselytizing activities and list new members, newly ordained clergy, and new houses of worship.

Under the constitution, the government owns all land; religious groups must apply to both the regional and local governments for land allocation, including for land to build places of worship.

Government policy prohibits the holding of religious services inside public institutions, per the constitutionally required separation of religion and state.  The government mandates that public institutions take a two-hour break from work on Fridays to allow Muslim workers to attend Islamic prayers.  Private companies are not required to follow this policy.

The constitution prohibits religious instruction in public and private schools, although both public and private schools may organize clubs based on shared religious values.  The law permits the establishment of a separate category of religious schools under the auspices of churches and mosques.  The Charities and Societies Agency, a government body accountable to the federal attorney general, and the Ministry of Education regulate religious schools, which provide both secular and religious instruction.  The Ministry of Education oversees the secular component of education provided by religious schools.

The law prohibits the formation of political parties based on religion.

The law allows all civil society organizations and religious groups to engage in advocacy and lobbying activities and to collect and obtain funding from any legal source.

Religious groups undertaking development activities are required to register their development arms as charities with the Charities and Societies Agency and to follow legal guidelines originating from the Charities and Societies Proclamation.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The conflict that erupted in northern Ethiopia in November 2020 spread to other regions during the year and victims of violence included religious figures.  According to media, at least 78 priests were reportedly killed in Tigray during the first five months of the year by soldiers from the national army and Eritrean troops.  The Telegraph reported the killings based on a church letter to the Synod of the EOTC that said “priests, deacons, choristers and monks” had been “massacred” over a period of five months.

In April, according to media, Co-Patriarch Mathias, an ethnic Tigrayan, accused the government of genocide in Tigray.  In a video shot the previous month on a mobile phone and taken out of the country, the Co-Patriarch addressed the Church’s millions of followers and the international community, saying his previous attempts to speak out were blocked.  “I am not clear why they want to declare genocide on the people of Tigray,” the Co-Patriarch said, speaking in Amharic.  “They want to destroy the people of Tigray,” he added, listing alleged atrocities including massacres and forced starvation as well as the destruction of churches and looting.

On February 25, the Europe External Programme with Africa reported that one monk was killed during the bombing and looting of Debre Damo Monastery in Tigray in January.  Reportedly, Eritrean troops aligned with the Ethiopian National Defense Forces were responsible for the attack.  The Times reported other buildings had been completely destroyed, including monks’ ancient dwellings.  Many reporters cited ethnic grievance as the basis of the attack and said there was no evidence the attack was religiously motivated.

On May 9, according to the Addis Standard, government security forces dispersed thousands of Muslims from Meskel Square where the Muslim community in Addis Ababa had organized a Grand Iftar event during Ramadan.  In response to videos and photos showing security forces firing teargas at the crowds, Muslim activists and clerics on social media decried the government’s actions as religiously motivated.  Some members of the EOTC said Meskel Square was the EOTC’s traditional property.  City officials, however, said the violent dispersal was due to safety concerns arising from the unexpectedly large number of attendees and ongoing construction in Meskel Square.  City officials consequently canceled the event and rescheduled it for May 11.  According to the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), the rescheduled event was held peacefully.  ENA also reported that the purposes of the event included demonstrating that Ramadan was a time of compassion, sharing, and supporting one another in line with Islamic teachings and praying for the unity of the country.  Despite the delay, event organizers thanked city administrators for allowing the event to take place.  Mayor of Addis Ababa Adanech Abiebie stated that the square belonged to all citizens – not just Christians – and called for Ethiopians to unite and celebrate religious differences.

In June, police accused a preacher from the Mahibere Kidusan – an EOTC congregation – of supporting the TPLF, which parliament had designated as a terrorist group.  Police reportedly arrested members of the Mahibere Kidusan for taking pictures of police officers during a demonstration outside the home of EOTC Co-Patriarch Mathias.  Demonstrators marched to show solidarity with Mathias after he publicly condemned the ongoing war in Tigray and characterized abuses against Tigrayans as genocide.

According to media, in July, police officers raided a church in Addis Ababa, interrupting prayers and forcing a dozen ethnic Tigrayan priests and monks into a pickup truck; they were released several weeks later.

In August, Minister of Health Lia Tadesse thanked the IRCE for holding a high-level advocacy meeting on reduction of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS and their families.  She tweeted, “Our Creator does not stigmatize and discriminate; let’s not stigmatize and discriminate.”

On January 5, the BBC reported the government agreed to repair the al-Nejashi Mosque that was damaged in 2020 during the conflict in Tigray.  Local Muslims said the mosque was the oldest in Africa.  The government said a nearby church would also be repaired.

During the year, the government provided funding to religious schools, including 250 Catholic schools and 219 Islamic schools.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for freedom of expression and freedom of religion, stating, “Every person has the right to practice their religion or belief in public within the limits of public order and the respect due to the beliefs of other creeds.”  The constitution recognizes the distinct legal personality of the Catholic Church through a concordat with the Holy See.

The constitution does not require religious groups to register for the purpose of worship, but groups seeking to obtain tax-exempt status or enter into contracts must register.  The Catholic Church receives these benefits without the requirement to register.  To register, a religious group must file with the Ministry of Interior a copy of its bylaws, evidence that it is a newly established legal entity that intends to pursue religious objectives, and a list of its initial membership with at least 25 members.  The ministry may reject a registration application if it believes the group does not appear to be devoted to a religious objective, appears intent on undertaking illegal activities, or engages in activities that could threaten public order.  Most applications are approved after a lengthy process.  All religious groups must obtain the permission of the respective municipal authorities for construction and repair of properties and for holding public events, consistent with requirements for nonreligious endeavors.

The constitution protects the rights of indigenous groups to practice their traditions and forms of cultural expression, including spiritual practices.  The law permits Mayan spiritual groups to conduct ceremonies at Mayan historical sites on government-owned property free of charge, with written permission from the Ministry of Culture.

The criminal code penalizes with one-month to one-year sentences the interruption of religious celebrations, “offending” a religion, which the law leaves vague, and the desecration of burial sites or human remains; however, charges are seldom filed under these laws.

According to the constitution, no member of the clergy of any religion may serve as President, Vice President, government minister, tax superintendent or part of the Tax Authority Directory, judge, or magistrate.

The law guarantees at least one “religious space, according to [the prison’s] capacity,” in each prison.  Chaplain services are limited to Catholic chaplains and nondenominational (usually evangelical) Protestant chaplains.  Prisoners of minority religious groups do not have guaranteed access to spiritual counselors from their faith.

The constitution permits, but does not require, religious instruction in public schools.  There is no national framework for determining the nature or content of religious instruction.  In general, public schools have no religious component in the curriculum.  Private religious schools are permitted and are found in all areas of the country.  Religious instruction is allowed, but attendance is optional in private religious schools.

The government requires foreign missionaries to obtain tourist visas to enter the country; the visas are renewable every three months.  After renewing their tourist visas once, foreign missionaries may apply for temporary residence for up to two years; the residential permit is renewable.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

On June 24, the San Benito, Peten Sentencing Court sentenced Domingo Choc’s three attackers, Edin Arnoldo Pop Caal, Romelia Caal Chub, and Candelaria Magaly Pop Caal, to 20 years in prison for killing Choc in 2020, but according to a family associate, his family was disappointed by the court’s decision not to recognize the killing as motivated by anti-Mayan spiritual hate but rather as a homicide without premeditation.  Mayan spiritual leaders said they widely believed the killing was motivated by anti-Mayan sentiment, but they said the court’s decision to try the case as homicide and not murder reflected the view of some, including the Evangelical Alliance and the Catholic Church, that the killing was a result of personal issues between families.  According to a statement from the Catholic church in Peten published in 2020 shortly after the killing, while expressing shock and horror at the killing of Domingo Choc, church officials said the killing was a result of a disagreement between two families and not a rejection of Mayan spiritual culture.  Family members said they continued to fear for their safety and remained in exile in the nearby town of Poptun.  The lawyer for Choc’s family, Juan Castro, said the case had both cultural and religious dimensions, but according to Castro, the judge had treated the case according to law as a simple murder (intentional homicide with a maximum sentence of 20 years) and not as an assassination (homicide of a targeted person based on religion, ethnicity, race, or political affiliation with premeditation, with a maximum sentence of 50 years).  Castro also said the judge did not consider as an aggravating circumstance that the killing was motivated by an accusation of witchcraft against Domingo, who was a Mayan scholar and researcher of ancient medicinal plants.  In addition, the judge did not impose economic compensation for Domingo´s family, only a 13,600 quetzal ($1,800) fine for funeral expenses.  In November, Castro challenged the ruling, and the court scheduled his appeal to be heard in February 2022.

During the year, the government applied more restrictive measures on churches and temples than other public venues, including restaurants and bars.  Representatives of Protestant and Catholic groups said the government’s COVID-19 pandemic restrictions limited the free exercise of religion, even if that had not been the government’s intent.  The government applied a traffic light color-coded system depending on the number of active COVID-19 cases to determine the severity of restrictions.  For example, under mild restrictions (Yellow Alert), religious services were limited to 30 minutes, with a mandatory one-hour break in between services and a minimum area requirement of 27 square feet per person.  Open-air dining restaurants, for example, were allowed a minimum of 16 square feet per person and could open continuously within curfew hours.  As a result of the restrictions, many religious groups used social media platforms to continue live religious services.

According to evangelical Protestant groups, non-Catholic religious groups must follow a vaguely defined registration process involving several steps that may take up to two years and cost approximately 10,000 quetzals ($1,300) to register with the Ministry of Interior to enter into contracts or receive tax-exempt status.

In May, three of the four Mayan spiritual groups associated with COLUSAG withdrew, leaving only one organization, the Consultants and Organizations of Ajq’ijab’, in the umbrella organization.  According to a former coordinator of COLUSAG, the departures of these groups continued a trend of decreasing relevancy for the committee.  The passage of a law on sacred sites, which COLUSAG submitted to Congress in 2009, remained pending.  According to a Mayan spiritual leader involved in drafting the bill, if passed, the resulting law would provide legally protected status for Mayan spiritual sites, making it a crime to damage them or remove spiritual objects from them.  The law would also establish a national council with legal authority to name holy sites and credential Mayan spiritual practitioners for the purposes of granting them access to protected sites.

According to the Ombudsman, the Congressional Commission on Human Rights approved PDH’s full annual funding of 120 million quetzals ($15.58 million) on November 24.  The Ombudsman said the 11-month delay hampered the PDH’s official functions of enforcing and monitoring the free expression of religion throughout the country.  According to the Ombudsman, the PDH’s delayed funding impeded its operations due to mounting debt and lack of funding to purchase fuel and supplies for its work throughout the country.

Some Mayan leaders said the government continued to limit their access to several religious sites on government-owned property and to require them to pay to access the sites, even though the Ministry of Culture offered free access to credentialed Mayan spiritual practitioners.  Those same leaders said these credentials were not given in a timely manner to all practitioners who wished to access the sites.  The government continued to state there were no limitations on access; however, anyone seeking access to the sites located in national parks or other protected areas had to pay processing or entrance fees.  In Tikal, a complex of Mayan pyramids dating from 200 A.D. and one of the most sacred sites for Mayan spirituality, the access fee was approximately 20 to 30 quetzals ($3 to $4), which, according to members of COLUSAG, was prohibitive for many indigenous populations.

The Mayan community of Chicoyoguito continued to petition for access to its sacred sites and the return of land in Alta Verapaz, located in the north-central part of the country, including its sacred ceremonial center and a spiritual site on a former military base from which the government removed them in 1978.  On June 9, National Civil Police arrested 21 Chicoyoguito community members who were peacefully protesting on the land.  On June 18, the First Court of Coban, Alta Verapaz, ordered the Public Ministry to investigate 18 protesters for aggravated criminal trespassing because the protesters refused to leave after police ordered them to do so; the remaining three were investigated for attempted trespassing.

During the year, the La Ruta initiative engaged approximately 12 spiritual leaders, providing them the opportunity to raise concerns with central government leaders regarding future private sector investment on sacred sites in the Western Highlands.  The spiritual leaders expressed their dissatisfaction concerning continued lack of access to some Maya spiritual sites, especially those considered private property.

According to the Guatemalan Interreligious Dialogue, an interfaith group with representatives of the Catholic Church, evangelical Protestant Churches, the Church of Jesus Christ, Mayan spiritual groups, and Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish groups, some municipal authorities in rural areas continued to discriminate against non-Catholic groups in processing building permit approvals and in local tax collection.

Missionaries, including some affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to report that complicated government procedures required to apply for temporary residence were made even more cumbersome by COVID-19 social distancing measures, especially in-person requirements such as presenting photographs and signing documents.  According to Church of Jesus Christ representatives, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many foreign missionaries voluntarily exited the country.  Due to the continued prevalence of COVID-19, many missionaries did not return during the year.

On June 2, more than 83 members of Congress presented a bill partially drafted and sponsored by the Association of the Importance of Family and the Council of Catholic Bishops, among other religious groups, entitled “The Initiative on the Law of Freedom of Religion and Consciousness,” to the Congressional Commission on Governance.  If passed, it would create a department in the Ministry of Interior to register new religious organizations, establish tax-exempt status for all religious organizations, and no longer require religious organizations to provide information on their finances, including an article that would allow churches to keep private the sources of their donations.  Although leaders of the Catholic Church, evangelical Protestant groups, and interfaith organizations helped draft the bill, some religious groups, including the Council of Catholic Bishops, objected to an article allowing churches to potentially hide the sources of their funding.  This article was added after the bill’s first draft before it was submitted to the congressional committee.  According to civil society groups that helped draft the original bill, anticorruption groups also widely criticized the article as a method to enable and protect money laundering.  At year’s end, the bill remained pending in committee.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, including the right to choose and change one’s religion.  The constitution protects the right of religious groups to provide religious instructions to their adherents.  No citizen is compelled to take part in any religious education, ceremony, or observance of a religion not his or her own without consent.  The constitution forbids taking an oath contrary to one’s religion or belief.  An unenforced law prescribes a prison term of one year for a blasphemous libel conviction; however, the law exempts religious expression made in “good faith and decent language.”

The constitution mandates the establishment of the ERC, with the purpose of promoting ethnic harmony and eliminating ethnic discrimination.  The ERC includes representatives of the country’s main religious traditions, including Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

There is no official system for formal registration of a religious group, but to receive government recognition, all places of worship must register through the Deeds Registry.  The Deeds Registry requires an organization to submit a proposed name and address for the place of worship, as well as the names of executive group members or congregation leaders.  Once formally recognized, a place of worship falls under legislation governing nonprofit organizations, allowing the organization to conduct financial operations, buy property, and receive tax benefits in its name.

Foreign religious workers require a visa from the Ministry of Home Affairs.  Religious groups seeking to enter an indigenous village for the purpose of proselytizing must apply for and obtain permission from the village council.  Application to a village council must include the name of the group, the names of its members who will be going to the village, their purpose, and the estimated date of arrival.

There is no religious education in public schools, regardless of whether the school is religiously affiliated.  Most public schools’ religious affiliations are Anglican or Methodist.  There are both public and private religiously affiliated schools.  Private schools are operated entirely by private groups and are not funded by the state.  All students attending private religious schools must participate in religious education, regardless of a student’s religious beliefs.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

According to media, representatives of the Rastafarian community continued to state a law criminalizing the possession of 15 grams or more of marijuana infringed on their religious practices.  “To deny me the holy herb for my sacrament is to deny me my human rights,” said Ras Simeon, an elder from the Rastafarian community.  In January, the government introduced into the National Assembly a draft bill to remove prison time for possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana and to remove the fine for smoking or otherwise using cannabis.  After the bill’s introduction, it was sent it to a select parliamentary committee for further deliberation on January 28.  At year’s end, the bill remained pending in committee.  The Guyana Rastafari Council continued to petition the government to legalize the use of small amounts of marijuana for religious purposes, holding regular protests in front of the office of the Attorney General.  In October, the general secretary of the council told media that authorities had conducted raids on their places of worship to seize marijuana.  He said the Rastafarian community would not stop planting or consuming marijuana and that authorities used drug laws as an excuse to publicly harass Rastafarians.  In July, the IROG, composed of representatives of all religious groups, including Rastafarians, released a statement to support “comprehensive law reform to recognize and respect the religious rights of the Rastafari community.”  A Rastafarian member of the IROG said he did not believe that the measures taken by the government to introduce but not pass legislation were sufficient and asked for international support to lobby the government.

The government continued to maintain regulations limiting the number of visas for foreign representatives of religious groups based on historical trends, the relative size of the group, and the President’s discretion; however, the government and religious groups, whose membership included foreign missionaries, continued to state the government did not apply the visa limitation rule.  Religious groups also said the visa quotas the government allotted to them were sufficient and did not adversely affect their activities.

In February, one of the ERC’s Muslim commissioners called the organization “dysfunctional and wasteful” and said it was not fulfilling its mandate.  According to the commissioner, the ERC, established in 2000 and reconstituted in 2018, continued to provide public messaging during local holidays, but its other public activities were limited, as the commissioners’ three-year term expired in April and the government did not name new members during the year.

The government continued to promote interfaith harmony and respect for diversity through its public messaging.  On all major Christian, Hindu, and Islamic holidays, President Mohammed Irfaan Ali delivered national messages.  During Ramadan, Ali stated, “Ramadan teaches us to have love for all and hatred for none.”  In his Easter message, Ali stated, “Christ’s selfless action and sacrifice must be the lesson [to] sacrifice for the greater good of humanity,” and in his Diwali message, Ali stated, “May the sacred festival of Diwali ignite in all of us the flame of love and concern for others, and may it bless us with the spirit of generosity.”

In January, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Services formalized its SAHN initiative, a partnership among the ministry and nearly 30 leaders from religious communities with the stated goal of increasing tolerance and strengthening interfaith cooperation, as well as developing recommendations and strategies to address social inequities and the marginalization of communities.  The government initiated the partnership as a response to the August 2020 killing of two Afro-Guyanese minors that many in the country viewed as ethnically motivated.  During the year, faith leaders belonging to SAHN reached out to communities affected by violence and offered financial support and counseling for family members.  The organization was fully government run, and its membership could not speak on its behalf without ministry clearance.

While many prominent religious leaders asked their congregations to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, according to press reporting in July, Minister of Health Frank Anthony expressed concern that several religious leaders in rural communities were discouraging congregants from being vaccinated on religious grounds.  “We’re confronted in some communities where people who have influence in those communities; some of the faith-based leaders have been telling their church members not [to] take vaccine,” the minister said.  According to press, the ministry aimed to increase rural outreach to religious leaders to increase vaccination rates.

Several individuals active in religious circles said that the government favored certain Christian, Muslim, and Hindu groups over others due to the personal affiliations of government ministers.  They said, however, that this favoritism did not affect freedom of religious expression or practice in the country.

In October, a Hindu citizen criticized the Ministry of Education in an editorial for allowing a prayer that he characterized as Christian to be recited at a ceremony announcing the results of the Caribbean Examinations Council (the regional organization overseeing curriculum and examinations processes), citing it as discriminatory.  The ministry replied that the prayer was universal, stating it was the same prayer routinely recited during parliamentary sessions.  In a statement, the ministry reiterated the government position that “no one religion, ethnicity, gender, etc. is or should be made to be seen as dominant over the other, and [it] has noted that there have been some events where the intention of the ministry and its policy was not followed and had re-issued a memo, with the universal prayer attached, reminding of said policy.”

Government representatives continued to meet with leaders of various religious groups with the expressed aim of promoting social cohesion and discussing the tolerance of diversity, including of Muslim, Hindu, and Christian groups.  Government officials also participated regularly in the observance of Christian, Hindu, and Islamic religious holidays throughout the year.  The government continued to declare some holy days of the country’s three major religious groups, including Eid al-Adha, Holi, Easter, and Diwali, as national holidays.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions.  Under the law, the BOW’s primary responsibilities are to register religious and missionary organizations and certify the credentials of clergy of all denominations, authorizing these operations in the country.  The law also tasks the BOW to encourage tolerance and arbitrate conflicts within and between religious groups.

Registering religious organizations and clergy offers certain benefits, but there are no penalties for noncompliance.  Benefits for registered religious organizations may include tax-exempt status, exemption from import duties on church-related items, standing in legal disputes, and eligibility to receive public land to build schools.  To obtain this status, a religious group must submit information on its leaders’ qualifications, a membership directory, a list of the group’s social projects, and annual activity reports to the BOW.  Completion of the separate clergy registration process also confers certain benefits, namely the legal authority to conduct civil ceremonies such as marriages and baptisms following an oath-taking ceremony organized by the Ministry of Justice.  To obtain registered clergy status, the individual sponsored by a registered religious entity must submit approximately 10 documents.  The required documentation package includes proof of completion for both secondary school and university or seminary-level religious studies as well as a police certificate confirming no criminal record and no outstanding warrants.

A concordat between the government and the Holy See signed in 1860 formalizes the relationship between the state and the Catholic Church.  The concordat affords privileges to the Catholic Church, including state protection and monthly stipends for some priests.  It also provides the President the right of consent over the appointment of Catholic archbishops and bishops to their positions.

Foreign missionaries operating in the country are subject to the same legal and administrative requirements as their domestic counterparts.

The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

According to media, on April 15, police fired tear gas at dozens of individuals participating in a nationwide event called “Mass for the Freedom of Haiti.”  On this date, the Catholic Church held hundreds of masses simultaneously across the country to protest the deepening political crisis and rising insecurity during the government of then President Moise.  At the time, the 400 Mawozo gang had been holding 10 Catholic clergy for a period of four days.  As a focal point for the event, 11 Catholic bishops led by Archbishop of Port-au-Prince Max Leroy Mesidor held Mass at the Church of St. Peter in Petion-Ville, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince.  Authorities said they used tear gas after the conclusion of Mass to prevent the escalation of violence because nearby demonstrators had begun to burn cars.  In the aftermath, Father Loudeger Mazile, spokesman for the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Haiti, asked everyone “to remain calm so that we can return to the route of democracy and development.”

Media also reported that on April 21, outside the National Palace, approximately 20 protesters, using a Vodou ritual, demonstrated against Moise-era overall insecurity and kidnappings of Catholic clergy.  While protesters were conducting the ritual, police used tear gas in an attempt to disperse them.

Religious leaders publicly called for the cessation of violence during the year.  In March, the Haitian Conference of Religious wrote an open letter calling on then President Moise to step down, citing what they said was rampant insecurity and injustice in the country, and it stated his administration represented a “descent into hell.”  The letter said of the then Moise government, “The country is dying, the population is under a yoke, insecurity is rampant, the poorest are no longer able to sustain themselves, the population is in disarray and on the verge of desperation… [President Moise] has the duty to give quick and concrete answers to the requests of the people, starting with respect for the laws of the country.”  The calls for government accountability expanded into major protests throughout the country during the entire month of March.  A wide-reaching coalition of Protestant churches joined the growing protests after the Protestant Commission Against Dictatorship in Haiti and the Episcopal Conference of Haiti issued statements calling upon the population to “defend the life, future, and dignity of the Haitian people.”  In April, Catholic leaders continued to publish statements and organize protests, but the focus was increasingly on the lack of government response to kidnappings and gang violence.

The 1860 concordat was a major subject of debate among religious leaders during the year.  A Catholic leader said the Church continued to adhere to the concordat because it was legally bound to do so under the country’s legal system.  One Protestant leader said the concordat was a contract between two sovereign states that must be respected until it was reassessed.  He added that his denomination valued its independence and had no interest in submitting its choices in religious leadership for government approval.  Conversely, several other non-Catholic religious leaders raised concern about the concordat.  One Protestant leader said the concordat afforded the Catholic Church powerful influence over the government.  Vodou leaders cited it as an example of “historical institutionalized predisposition” against them.

Vodou leaders said that while the state of religious freedom made them optimistic for the future, prejudice against them still lingered and often made Vodouists fearful to practice openly.  They did not, however, accuse the government of directly discriminating against them.  Vodou leaders said the government could do more to combat ongoing societal discrimination by encouraging acceptance of Vodouists.  One leader said, “The government should provide us financial support like they do for the Protestants, Catholics, and Episcopalians.”

Some Protestant religious leaders advocated for increased government regulation of religious groups.  One leader stated, “There may be too much religious freedom,” and she said some religious leaders had long called for more stringent government standards for clergy registration.  She said her concern was that self-described pastors with little religious training or accountability could prey on naive churchgoers.  Another Protestant leader also commented on the need for stringent standards for clergy, citing COVID-19 misinformation.  He said, “Hiding behind religious freedom, questionable leaders have preached against COVID-19 vaccination or even promoted unscientific cures.  The government should do something.”

The BOW said that it continued to work with less established religious groups to facilitate their registrations, while defending what it said was the importance of a rigorous registration process.  In May, the BOW granted an operating license to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, the smallest of the three Muslim communities in the country and the first to receive official status.  According to the BOW, the Ahmadiyya community followed the same registration procedure that applied to all religious groups.  The license allowed the MOE to register schools operated by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community so their students could take national exams.  BOW Director General Souffrant said the transparency of the Ahmadiyya leadership during the registration process assisted the government in its decision to grant it a license.  Sunni and Shia Muslim groups had not completed the procedures for registration and remained unregistered at year’s end.  Sunni and Shia leaders cited what they called “the complex political environment” as a factor delaying their registration, with one leader stating, “The current de facto government is not likely to take it upon itself to recognize a religion that is nascent in the country.”  BOW Director General Souffrant disagreed with this characterization, citing the successful example of the Ahmadiyya community.  At year’s end, representatives from the Sunni and Shia communities did not cite specific procedural barriers that distinguished their experience from other groups.

Despite the benefits of registering, many religious groups and leaders chose to remain unregistered.  According to the BOW, many religious groups and leaders preferred to remain unregistered to avoid government oversight.  Religious minorities said they generally disagreed with this assessment or suggested it was an oversimplification.  According to a Vodou leader, in contrast to its Catholic and Protestant counterparts, the decentralized Vodou community did not easily fit into the government’s criteria for institutional registration.  The Vodou leader also said Vodou clergy faced structural barriers to BOW registration because no degree-granting institution existed for Vodouists, and to create one would be contrary to their initiation rituals.  Two Vodouists had earlier received government recognition, but these were the religion’s highest-level officials, and they obtained the formal credentials required for BOW registration through their appointment to leadership positions within the National Confederation of Haitian Vodou.

According to the BOW, there were 9,195 certified Protestant pastors, 704 certified Catholic priests, and two certified Vodou clergy at year’s end, representing no change from 2020.  By year’s end, the government had not certified any Muslim clergy, including from the newly registered Ahmadiyya community.

According to a Catholic leader, the Catholic Church felt “penalized” whenever a Protestant or Vodouist headed the MFA, of which the BOW is part.  He stated that whenever the Catholic Church criticized government actions, the MFA retaliated by creating long delays for certification of clergy and other routine requests.  Representatives of the Episcopal Church said the registration process was “reasonable and fair.”

According to the World Bank, approximately 75 percent of total primary school enrollment and 82 percent of total secondary school enrollment in the country was in private, usually religious, schools.  The MOE stated that Catholic schools accounted for 15 percent (16 percent of total enrollment) of all schools in the education system, and public schools accounted for 12 percent.  The remaining 73 percent of schools were private institutions either run by Protestant churches (of a wide variety of denominations), secular for-profit, or secular nonprofit organizations.  Although there were no available official statistics, the majority of these were private Protestant institutions, according to the BOW.  The significant expansion of private Protestant institutions was initiated and facilitated in large part by the Jean-Claude Duvalier administration’s national education campaign during the 1970s and 1980s, which required missionaries to build an affiliated school with the construction of any church.

During the 2020-2021 school year, the MOE disbursed a total of 100 million gourdes ($1 million) to religious schools through the National Education Fund:  50 million ($501,000) to Catholic schools; 40 million to Protestant schools ($401,000); and 10 million ($100,000) to Episcopalian schools, which the ministry counted separately from Protestant schools.  The MOE distributed funds roughly in proportion to each religious group’s percent share of the student population.  The Director General of the Office of the National Education Fund stated on November 22 that the same amounts would be disbursed for the 2021-2022 school year.  In 2020, the government signed a three-year agreement with the Catholic Church calling for annual public financial support for Catholic schools, especially those in vulnerable areas, as identified jointly by political and civil society leaders.  By year’s end, there was no announcement regarding funding under this agreement.

The MOE continued to schedule national exams on weekdays instead of Saturdays, which allowed the full participation of Seventh-day Adventist students.

In September, Prime Minister Ariel Henry dismissed the incumbent members of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), seeking to replace them with what he called a “more credible” body of representatives.  Upon dismissing the incumbent members, he invited representatives from civil society to nominate new ones.  Among religious groups that received his request, the Catholic Church and Protestant Federation initially refused to participate in the process to join the CEP on the grounds that the representational institution had become too politicized.  Government officials said they expected Catholic, Protestant, and Vodou communities to nominate members from their respective associations by year’s end; however, at year’s end, none of these communities had nominated new members.  Government officials involved in the procedures for CEP formation stated that the nomination process for the Protestant representative to the CEP was particularly contentious because multiple Protestant coordinating bodies each saw themselves as the rightful representative of the country’s Protestants.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions as long as that exercise does not contravene other laws or public order.  The constitution prohibits religious leaders from holding public office or making political statements.

Religious organizations may register as legal entities classified as religious associations.  Organizations seeking status as a legal entity must apply to the Ministry of Governance, Justice, and Decentralization and provide information on their internal organization, bylaws, and goals.  Approved organizations must submit annual financial and activity reports to the government to remain registered.  They may apply to the Ministry of Finance to receive benefits, such as tax exemptions and customs duty waivers.  Unregistered religious organizations do not receive tax-exempt status.  The official NGO and religious organization registry office – the Directorate of Regulation, Registration, and Monitoring of Civil Associations (DIRRSAC) – is located within the Ministry of Governance, Justice, and Decentralization.

The law criminalizes discrimination based on religion and includes crimes committed against individuals because of their religion as aggravating circumstances that may increase penalties for criminal offenses.

The constitution states public education is secular and allows for the establishment of private schools, including schools run by religious organizations.  Public schools do not teach religion; however, private schools may include religion as part of the curriculum.  Various religious organizations, including the Roman Catholic Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, and evangelical Protestant churches, operate schools.  Parents have the right to choose the kind of education their children receive, including religious education.  The government dictates a minimum standardized curriculum for all schools.  Some private religiously affiliated schools require participation of all students, regardless of religious affiliation, in religious studies classes or events to graduate.

The government is a party to the Ibero-American Convention on Young People’s Rights, which recognizes the right to conscientious objection to obligatory military service, including for religious reasons.

The government requires foreign missionaries to obtain entry and residence permits and mandates that a local institution or individual must sponsor a missionary’s application for residency and submit it to immigration authorities.  The government has agreements with the CEH, the Church of Jesus Christ, and Seventh-day Adventists, among others, to facilitate entry and residence permits for their missionaries.  Groups with which the government does not have written agreement are required to provide proof of employment and income for their missionaries.

Foreign religious workers may request residency for up to five years.  To renew their residence permits, religious workers must submit proof of continued employment with the sponsoring religious group at least 30 days before their residency expires.  According to immigration law, individuals who “fraudulently exercise their religious profession or office or commit fraud against the health or religious beliefs of citizens of the country, or the national patrimony” may be fined or face other legal consequences.

The criminal code protects clergy authorized to operate in the country from being required by the court or the Attorney General’s Office to testify regarding privileged information obtained in confidence during a religious confession.  The law does not require vicars, bishops, and archbishops of the Roman Catholic Church and comparably ranked individuals from other legally recognized religious groups to appear in court if subpoenaed.  They are required, however, to make a statement at a location of their choosing.

The official regulations for the penal system state that penitentiaries must guarantee the free exercise of religion without preference for one specific religion, as long as the kind of worship is not against the law or public order.  Prisoners have access to religious counseling from leaders of their faith.

While the government authorizes clergy from all religious groups to conduct marriage ceremonies, by law it recognizes only civil marriages conducted with a lawyer authorized to perform marriage ceremonies.

The official work week is Monday to Saturday, with no exceptions for religious groups that celebrate Friday or Saturday as their Sabbath.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In advance of the November 28 general elections, some religious groups issued public statements encouraging their followers to peacefully participate in the electoral process.  In addition, some religious organizations, such as the Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas and the Association for a More Just Society (a Christian nongovernmental organization [NGO]), participated as civil society election observers during the voting and vote count process.

During the year, the DIRRSAC registered 151 religious associations of a total of 208 applications, compared with a total of 86 applications and 66 registered associations in 2020.  According to the DIRRSAC, it did not deny any registration requests by religious associations during the year, and 57 applications continued to be under review through year’s end.

Representatives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church continued to express concerns that some schools and other public and private institutions did not grant them leave to observe their Sabbath on Saturday because Saturdays were part of the official work week.  They cited specifically the public Francisco Morazan National Pedagogical University and the Catholic University of Honduras in La Ceiba.  They said the Supreme Court had ruled favorably in 2019 on a constitutional challenge that Seventh-day Adventist students filed in 2015 seeking alternatives to taking classes or exams on Saturdays, but these two universities did not uphold that ruling, nor did the government enforce it.  Reportedly, students at both universities requested the institutions comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.  Other students said they decided not to pursue further recourse due to fear of additional discrimination and retaliation from their professors, or they opted to withdraw from the university.

Some religious organizations, including the evangelical Protestant umbrella organization FIH, which states that 40 religious groups are members and does not have a formalized agreement with the government, said the government continued to give preference to religious groups belonging to the evangelical Protestant umbrella organization CEH, which states its membership includes 360 religious groups.  On September 30, the FIH said the government discriminated against its members in the application of residency permits and a request for tax exemption.  The FIH said the government did not approve or respond to an application for tax exemption for the construction of a religious building or applications for residence permits for its foreign missionaries, while approving similar applications from the CEH, which has an agreement with the government.

At year’s end, CONADEH reported it had not received any complaints of religious discrimination or restrictions on religious freedom.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution states all persons have the right to follow or adopt the religion of their choosing, or not to follow a religion.  This freedom includes the right to participate individually or collectively, both in public and in private, in ceremonies, devotions, and acts of worship if they do not constitute an offense otherwise prohibited by law.  The constitution declares the country a secular state.  Secularism is mentioned in three other articles, including one dedicated to education.  Philosophical freedoms of conscience and religion receive equal treatment by the state.  Congress may not dictate laws that establish or prohibit any religion.  Religious acts of public worship should be held in places of worship.  Individuals who conduct religious ceremonies outside of places of worship, which requires a permit, are subject to regulatory law.  Active clergy may not hold public office, advocate partisan political views, support political candidates, or publicly oppose the laws or institutions of the state.

To establish a religious association, applicants must certify that the church or other religious group observes, practices, propagates, or instructs a religious doctrine or body of religious beliefs; has conducted religious activities in the country for at least five years; has established domicile in the country; and shows sufficient assets to achieve its purpose.  Registered associations may freely organize their internal structures and adopt bylaws or rules pertaining to their governance and operations, including the training and appointment of their clergy.  They may engage in public worship and celebrate acts for the fulfillment of the association’s purpose lawfully and without profit.  They may propagate their doctrine in accordance with applicable regulations and participate in the creation, management, maintenance, and operation of private welfare, educational, and health institutions, provided the institutions are not for profit.

Religious groups are not required to register with DGAR to operate, but registration is required to negotiate contracts, purchase or rent land, apply for official building permits, receive tax exemptions, or hold religious meetings outside of customary places of worship.  A religious group registering for the first time may not register online; its representatives must register in person.  Religious groups must apply for permits to construct new buildings or convert existing buildings into places of worship.  Any religious building constructed after January 27, 1992 is the property of the religious group that built it and is subject to relevant taxes.  All religious buildings erected before then are considered part of the national patrimony and owned by the state.

Religious associations must notify the government of their intention to hold a religious meeting outside their licensed place or places of worship.  Religious associations may not hold political meetings of any kind or own or operate radio or television stations.  Government permission is required for commercial radio or television to transmit religious programming.

The federal government coordinates religious affairs through SEGOB.  Within SEGOB, DGAR is mandated to promote religious tolerance, conducts conflict mediation, and investigates cases of religious intolerance.  If a party presents a dispute based on allegations of religious intolerance, DGAR may mediate a solution.  Each of the 32 states has offices responsible for religious affairs.  CONAPRED is an autonomous federal agency responsible for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity, including for minority religious groups.

The law provides that prisoners receive dignified and equal treatment from prison staff without distinction based on religious preferences.

The constitution requires that public education be secular and not include religious doctrine.  Religious groups may operate private schools that teach religion and hold religious ceremonies at their schools.  Private schools affiliated with a religious group are open to all students regardless of their religious beliefs.  Students in private schools are exempt from participating in religious courses and activities if the students are not affiliated with the school’s religious group.  Homeschooling is allowed at the secondary level after completion of schooling at an accredited primary school.

A visa category exists for foreign clergy and religious associates to obtain a temporary resident visa or visitor visa without authorization to perform paid religious activities.

The constitution recognizes the right of indigenous communities to autonomy, codifying their right to use their own legal systems for the resolution of conflicts within their communities.  Indigenous autonomy is subordinate to human rights provisions as defined in the constitution and the international treaties to which the country is a signatory.  The constitution also protects the right of indigenous leaders to practice their own “uses and customs.”  This right of self-governance for indigenous communities sometimes conflicts with other constitutional rights, including freedom of religion, for members of those communities.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  It claims both an interpretative statement and a reservation relating to freedom of religion in the covenant.  Article 18 of the ICCPR states that countries may limit religious freedom only when it is “necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”  The country’s interpretative statement states that religious acts must be performed in places of worship unless granted prior permission and that the education of religious ministers is not officially recognized.

Government Practices

DGAR continued to work with state and local officials to mediate conflicts involving religious intolerance.  DGAR investigated five cases related to religious freedom at the state and one at the federal level during the year, compared with four in 2020 in Michoacan and Guerrero.  Most of these cases involved religious minorities who stated members of the majority religious community where they lived had deprived them of the right to basic services, including water, education, and electricity.  In one case, a community forced religious minorities to build a Catholic church.  According to DGAR, the state government received most incidents of religious discrimination because the federal government did not have jurisdiction.  Some NGOs stated municipal and state officials mediated disputes between religious groups, but government officials said this was not official practice.  NGOs noted municipal and state officials frequently sided with local leaders at the expense of minority religions.  Some groups also said officials rarely pursued legal punishments against offending local leaders, preferring instead to reach informal, mediated solutions.  According to CSW, vulnerable religious communities described high levels of impunity and a lack of protections granted by state officials, whom they said often sided with members of majority religious groups.

During the year, CONAPRED received three complaints of religious discrimination, compared with two in 2020.  Two of the three complaints were against public servants purportedly discriminating against Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, the other was against a private individual who discriminated against an LLDM member, according to CONAPRED.  The incidents took place in the states of Baja California, Jalisco, and Veracruz.  During the year, CONAPRED documented religious intolerance against LLDM members in schools, workplaces, and temples, possibly linked to the arrest of its church leader Joaquin Garcia, accused of child rape.  CONAPRED also recorded antisemitic and anti-Muslim social media attacks during the Israel-Palestinian conflict in May and after the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in August.  In September, in Monclova, Coahuila, CONAPRED mediated a conflict following Father Lazaro Hernandez Soto’s statement that “women who abort are useless” and calling on parents to kill their daughters if they committed abortion.  In response, the Episcopal Conference of Mexico issued an apology.  According to some sources, cases of religious discrimination were often not reported due to lack of awareness of the filing process.

DGAR registered 61 new religious associations during the year, compared with none in 2020.  By year’s end, DGAR listed 9,615 registered religious associations.  Registered groups included 9,571 Christian, 12 Buddhist, 10 Jewish, three Islamic, two Hindu, and three International Society for Krishna Consciousness groups as well as 14 new religious expression groups.  According to DGAR, new religious expressions groups are philosophical or spiritual communities that might be born of new beliefs or be part of a broader religion; DGAR stated they were on the periphery of traditional religions.

On January 10, according to the Christian news site Evangelical Focus, Tzotzil Catholics from the indigenous Mitzition community in San Cristobal, in the state of Chiapas, damaged five houses belonging to evangelical Protestant pastor Alejandro Jimenez Jimenez and his sons.  Mitzition community authorities arrested the pastor and his son Miguel Jimenez Heredia on charges of illegally building a church.  According to the El Heraldo de Chiapas, the pastor’s family was building a house and not a church.  The evangelical Protestant family was expelled by the community and was living in a refugee shelter at year’s end.  On June 18, according to the El Heraldo de Chiapas, when Jimenez returned to visit his mother, authorities detained him and his family for an hour and Catholics burned down what remained of Jimenez’s and his family’s five homes.  Pastor Esdras Alonso Gonzalez accused authorities of not doing enough to address the situation.  In August, evangelical Protestant and Muslim leaders protested in San Cristobal de las Casas, demanding that the federal government act on the Jimenez case.  On July 25, according to CSW, authorities from the majority Catholic community of Ahuacachahue, Guerrero imprisoned a family who, citing their religious beliefs, refused to sell alcohol during a Catholic festival.

According to CSW, in March, local community members continued to farm the land of one of four evangelical Protestant families forcibly displaced by local community members of Cuamontax, in the state of Hidalgo, in July 2019.  In June 2020, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief made an inquiry to the government; in August 2020, officials of the Mexican Permanent Mission to the United Nations acknowledged receipt of the inquiry and said they would relay it to the relevant offices.  In January, the evangelical Protestants filed a complaint with Hidalgo’s Human Rights Office.  In March, community leaders denied the Protestant families titles to their land.

NGOs and some religious organizations continued to state that authorities in some rural and indigenous communities expected residents, regardless of their faith, to participate in and fund traditional community religious gatherings and, in some cases, to adhere to the majority religion.  According to CSW’s 2020 report, some Protestant minority families from indigenous communities were denied access to crucial utilities such as water and electricity, and some children were not allowed to attend local schools because their families did not adhere to the majority religion.

On April 26, SEGOB released a statement warning of sanctions against religious associations that intervene in partisan politics ahead of June legislative elections.

In June, the SCJN ordered state of Jalisco authorities to supervise the implementation of a 2020 ruling guaranteeing reintegration and protection for a group of indigenous Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tuxpan de Bolanos, Jalisco.  The SCJN also ordered Jalisco authorities to mediate between community members to uphold the safety of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  In 2017, community members expelled the Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to participate in Catholic community activities.  The court decided the affected parties must be reintegrated into their original communities and ordered state authorities to guarantee their security.  The court also ruled the Jehovah’s Witnesses should be relocated to a different plot of land within the territory and their prior community could continue to deny their “rights and obligations” as community members, “as they no longer share an essential element, their religion.”  CSW stated many traditional authorities mandate community uniformity in terms of religious practice and belief, compelling all members of the community to participate in the religious activities of the majority or face punishment.  According to CSW, the SCJN ruling was the first to provide protection for indigenous persons whose rights were reportedly abused through an indigenous community’s legally protected “uses and customs.”  CSW also stated, “We remain concerned that the court considers it ‘legitimate’ that these Jehovah’s Witnesses should be stripped of their rights as members of their communities.  This may embolden those who commit crimes in their efforts to harass and intimidate religious minorities and who are rarely held to account.  We urge the state governments of Jalisco and Oaxaca to guarantee the safe return and reintegration of these families.  We also call on both federal and state governments in Mexico to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief and to ensure just outcomes for all other religious minority communities residing in temporary accommodations as a result of being expelled from their communities on account of their religious beliefs.”

Religions for Inclusion, a government-run interfaith working group, invited experts to discuss demographic religious affiliation data and the electoral process.  In December, the group held a forum on human rights and religion.  On a quarterly basis, the group discussed experiences with religious intolerance and discrimination.  Members of the group included leaders of the Protestant, evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic, Church of Jesus Christ, LLDM, Old Catholic Church (Veterocatolica), Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Baha’i, Buddhist, Church of Scientology communities and a DGAR government representative.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion.  It provides for freedom of belief, religion, and worship, and it states no one “shall be obligated by coercive measures to declare his or her ideology or beliefs.”  The constitution states there is no official religion; however, the law entrusts government-controlled, community-level action groups, known as Family Committees, with the responsibility for promoting “Christian values” at the community level.

The requirements for registration of religious groups – except for the Catholic Church, which has a concordat with the government – are similar to those for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).  Registration requires an application, articles of association, and designation of officers.  The National Assembly must approve a group’s application for registration or legal standing.  Following approval, the group must register with the Ministry of Interior as an association or NGO, which allows it to incur legal obligations, enter into contracts, and benefit from tax and customs exemptions.  Following registration, religious groups are subject to the same regulations as other NGOs or associations, regardless of their religious nature.  The Catholic Church is not required to register as a religious group because its presence in the country predates the legislation; however, the government requires organizations dedicated to charity or other social work affiliated with the Catholic Church to register.

According to a 2020 law, organizations and persons receiving resources of foreign origin must not participate in internal politics.  If the government finds any person or entity in violation of the law, the person or entity could be fined, imprisoned, or have their assets frozen or confiscated.  The law excludes accredited religious organizations from the requirement to register with the Ministry of Interior.  By law, those receiving exemptions may not participate in activities that would interfere in the country’s affairs.

Ministry of Education regulations for primary school education establish that the educational goals and curriculum for elementary grade students and teachers follow the government’s “Christian, Socialist, and Solidarity” principles.  The government’s 2021-26 human development policy recognizes the practice of religious activities as part of the country’s cultural traditions.  The law establishes education in the country as secular but recognizes the right of private schools to be religiously oriented.

Mssionaries must obtain religious worker visas and provide information regarding the nature of their missionary work before the Ministry of Interior will authorize entry into the country.  A locally based religious organization must provide documentation and request travel authorization from the Ministry of Interior seven days prior to the arrival of the visiting person or religious group.  The process generally takes several weeks to complete.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In November, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted Bishop Abelardo Mata (who retired in July) precautionary (protective) measures – in which the IACHR requests that a state serve a protective function and protect a person from irreparable harm – after it received reports from human rights organizations that Mata was a victim of constant harassment and had received death threats.  Mata had been an outspoken critic of government violations of human rights, including religious freedom, since before 2018.  The commission stated in its decision that “the information presented demonstrates prima facie that the persons identified are in a serious and urgent situation, since their rights to life and personal integrity are at risk of irreparable harm.”

According to media reports, Father Edwing Roman, a Catholic priest granted precautionary (protective) measures by the IACHR since 2018, continued to be a victim of harassment and received multiple death threats during the year.  According to media, during the voter registration process in July ahead of the November election, a government supporter verbally harassed Father Roman in Masaya at his local voting center.  The man shouted at Father Roman, “You are a criminal, a murderer!”  On August 3, Roman traveled to Miami and said he had initially planned to return within 15 days.  He delayed his return, however, after Vice President Murillo made statements to local media on August 6 calling him “that priest from Masaya” and a “criminal.”  By year’s end, Roman had not returned to the country.

In April, the Church of Saint Michael in Masaya celebrated Mass in memory of Alvaro Gomez, a prodemocracy protester killed by an unidentified shooter in 2018.  Reports stated that dozens of police stationed in front of the church intimidated worshippers as they entered the service to dissuade them from attending Mass.  In the same month in Esteli, Catholic clergy closed the cathedral after parapolice harassed and intimidated worshippers attempting to hold Mass in commemoration of Franco Valdivia, reportedly killed by an unidentified sniper during the 2018 civic protests.  Police prevented worshippers from entering the church and took Valdivia’s relatives to the police station, where reportedly police detained them for a few hours, beat them, ordered them to strip, and verbally threatened them.  Also in April, a group of government supporters interrupted Mass in Our Lady of Rosary Church in Chinandega chanting, “Long Live Daniel!” in reference to President Ortega.

According to press and social media reports, Catholic Church leaders throughout the country continued to experience harassment from government supporters, who often acted in tandem with police.  Other Catholic leaders privately said they felt fear and intimidation when celebrating Mass.  Clergy reported police and parapolice forces congregated at the entrance of churches and took pictures to intimidate priests and churchgoers in several cities throughout the country, including Managua, Masaya, Matagalpa, and Esteli.  Clergy also reported drones flying over churches and adjacent parking lots.  In October, Father Vicente Martinez told media that the Matagalpa police chief visited him the day after a video of his Sunday homily went viral.  In his homily, Martinez criticized the electoral process.  Martinez said that, although the police chief called it a “courtesy visit,” “the message [threat] was clear.”

In September, local media reported a large vendor fair appeared on the main public road in front of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Matagalpa.  Such fairs require authorization from the FSLN-controlled Matagalpa City Hall and police.  The vendors installed tents in front of and around the cathedral, making access to the church difficult.  Music played loudly over speakers and interrupted the regularly scheduled church services.

Catholic clergy continued to report that the government denied access to prisons following the 2018 prodemocracy uprising.  Reportedly only one priest was allowed access to prisons during the year.  Prior to April 2018, clergy said they regularly entered prisons to celebrate Mass and provide communion and confession to detainees.  According to human rights organizations, from May to October, police imprisoned 39 citizens, including opposition leaders, journalists, and human rights defenders.  Human rights organizations described their detention as arbitrary and categorized them as political prisoners.  Several of these prisoners requested Bibles through family visits, but prison authorities denied these requests.

Through clergy homilies and pastoral letters, the Catholic Church, including priests throughout the country, continued to speak out against violence on the part of the government and progovernment groups, also denouncing the lack of democratic institutions.  On October 15, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Managua issued a written statement that said, “A valuable opportunity to correct the country’s course was missed,” referencing the November 7 general election.  On August 10, the commission said the Catholic Church had been subject to threats in previous months as well as “insults to priests and bishops, limitations on visas or residence permits of foreign priests, harassment of the lay faithful, and other illegal and intimidating actions.”  The commission’s statement said the difficulties faced by the Catholic Church took place amid a lack of conditions for a free and fair election in November.  La Prensa in August said that the harassment and threats made against the Catholic Church came from FSLN political operatives affiliated with the Ortega-Murillo government.  On June 8, the commission wrote that “no one has the authority to deprive individuals of their rights,” referring to the arbitrary arrests of presidential hopefuls, opposition leaders, businesspersons, students, and civil society leaders beginning in May.

According to media, the NNP on October 26 began surrounding the home of Cardinal Brenes, a tactic observers said the government often used to intimidate opposition leaders.  In September, police began monitoring Brenes’ home and photographing all individuals who entered, including priests.

According to La Prensa on August 11, “The Ortega regime has engaged in an open war against the Catholic Church since April 2018.”  In February, a priest quoted in local media said the Ortega administration had increased its persecution of the population and the Catholic Church.  He said, “We have our hands up, we are unarmed against these people [the government].”

In multiple speeches during the year, President Ortega and Vice President Murillo criticized Catholic clergy and accused the Catholic Church of having backed an alleged “coup” against the Ortega-Murillo government in 2018.  On October 5, Ortega called Catholic bishops “terrorists” during his campaign launch speech ahead of the November general election.  On September 6, Ortega again referred to Catholic priests as “terrorists in cassocks.”  In a July 30 speech, Ortega spoke of colonization, stating, “Along with the cross, the sword; along with the cross, robbery; along with the cross, the most brutal crimes against our ancestors.”  He added, “Pharisees have not disappeared, they are still there and go around talking as if they were saints, and all you have to do is look and what you find is filth, where there is no respect for God.”  Local media interpreted Ortega’s remarks as a clear attack on Catholic clergy.

On June 10, Murillo said during a radio address that Catholic clergy spread “death” and approved of “robbery and theft.”  In August, radio commentator William Grigsby, commonly considered an unofficial spokesperson for the government, accused Catholic bishops of conspiring with the U.S. and Spanish ambassadors in Nicaragua to overthrow the Ortega-Murillo government.  On June 9, Grigsby said during his radio program that “cassock wearers were next,” alluding to the government’s wave of arbitrary detentions of opposition leaders, journalists, and human rights defenders that began in late May.

In June, Edwin Suarez, a well-known progovernment social media activist with 16,000 Twitter followers, tweeted, “In Nicaragua the Catholic hierarchy is not only a participant in the attempted coup, it is also an actor and director of events of serious violations of the rights of the people since 2015, blackmailing Ortega so that he would hand over power to them.”

On August 11, FSLN National Assembly member Wilfredo Navarro gave an extensive interview to a local televised program in which he singled out Cardinal Brenes and several bishops, calling them “servants of the devil.”  Navarro also indirectly accused Father Roman (calling him “that priest from Masaya”) of covering up the alleged killing of a policeman in 2018 by prodemocracy protesters.  During the same interview, Navarro said he believed the Catholic Church could face criminal charges for a statement the Archdiocese of Managua Peace and Justice Commission issued on August 10.  Navarro said he believed the commission had committed an electoral crime by encouraging voter abstention in the November national election.  Catholic leaders stated that the government denied citizens their right to choose their leader because potential opposition candidates had been disqualified or imprisoned.

According to news reports, when the government broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan on December 9 and recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan attempted to donate its former embassy building to the Managua Archdiocese.  On December 26, however, the Ortega administration blocked Taiwan’s donation and gave the property to the PRC, stating it supported a one-China policy.  The Attorney General’s Office issued a statement saying all of Taiwan’s properties belonged to the PRC and invalidated the donation to the Managua Archdiocese.  Taiwan’s Foreign Relations Ministry condemned the confiscation of the property and the “arbitrary obstruction by the Nicaraguan government of the symbolic sale of its property to the Nicaraguan Catholic Church.”

On November 17, the government abolished the position of the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, designated exclusively to the Holy See representative by presidential decree since 2000.  The government said the decision to remove this position would foster equal treatment among chiefs of mission.  Some international relations experts said they believed the change was a political move reflecting the growing tension between the Catholic Church and the government.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Catholic Church continued to suspend all religious activities that traditionally generated large crowds such as the celebration of Saint Dominic in Managua and the pilgrimage to Rivas.  Notwithstanding the pandemic, the government once again organized and sponsored local religious activities through FSLN-controlled municipal governments, including an August festival in Managua honoring Saint Dominic, the annual pilgrimage to Rivas, the annual celebration of Saint Lazarus in Masaya in March, and the Stations of the Cross in Granada, all of which reportedly garnered hundreds of participants.  Vice President Murillo promoted the large gatherings in her daily radio remarks.  During the Saint Dominic celebration, the government used a replica image of the statue of Saint Dominic normally carried in a Catholic procession, and the individuals carrying the replica image wore the official colors of the ruling Sandinista party.  Catholic clergy said the government manipulated religious traditions and symbols to coopt powerful religious imagery and portray normalcy in a country ravaged by COVID-19 and sociopolitical upheaval.  According to a clerical source, the government sought to confuse a segment of the Catholic population and dilute the Catholic Church’s authority by ignoring the Catholic leadership’s recommendations to suspend large activities and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

According to press reports, on November 9, the government cancelled the operating license of evangelical Protestant television Channel 21, the only channel in the country that since 1991 exclusively broadcast local and foreign evangelical programs.  Telecommunications regulator TELCOR cited alleged irregularities in Channel 21’s operations after TELCOR officials made an unannounced visit to the television station.  TELCOR revoked Channel 21’s broadcasting license and took the channel off the air the same day.  Channel 21 denounced what it called the government’s arbitrary decision to revoke its license.  TELCOR also revoked the operating license of evangelical Protestant radio station Nexo 89.5 FM the same day.  Channel 21 and Nexo 89.5 FM were owned by family members of evangelical pastor Guillermo Osorno, who ran as presidential candidate in the November election.  The closure of the channel and radio station occurred the day after Osorno gave a press conference in which he denounced irregularities in the electoral process.

The government continued to restrict travel selectively for some visa applicants intending to visit the country for religious purposes based on the perceived political affiliation of the applicant’s local sponsor.  According to Catholic clergy, a 2016 regulation instructing all churches to request entry authorization for their missionaries or religious authorities continued in effect.

On March 8, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Managua issued a statement expressing concern regarding new government limitations on residence permits for missionaries.  Local media reported that immigration authorities denied entry to two Franciscan friars, Santos Fabian Mejia Sagastume and Javier Lemus, who had resided in the country as missionaries for many years and were citizens of El Salvador.  Immigration authorities denied entry to Mejia Sagastume on January 31.  They notified him that he was “not eligible for entry” and suspended his residency.  On February 16, immigration authorities also denied Lemus entry into the country.

On April 30, immigration authorities notified Friar Damian de Cosme Muratori, originally from Italy and who had lived and served in Nicaragua for 45 years, that his residence permit would not be renewed and that he was only authorized a 90-day stay in the country.  Muratori told media he had renewed his residence permit on an annual basis without problems since 1976.  Muratori received two 90-day extensions to stay in the country.  In both instances, his resident status remained uncertain until the day before his extensions expired, at which point immigration authorities would inform him of a decision to renew his residency, grant an extended 90-day stay, or deport him from the country.  He remained in the country at year’s end.

In November, local media reported that immigration authorities at Managua International Airport had seized Monsignor Silvio Fonseca’s passport and did not allow him to leave the country.  Immigration authorities reportedly told Fonseca that his passport failed to scan properly, but Fonseca said he had used the same passport without any problems when he traveled to the United States four months prior.

Religiously affiliated NGOs continued to face operational limitations.  The Interior Ministry continued to deny or delay legally required annual operations permits and tax exemption approvals.  Sources reported that the Interior Ministry continued to deny Caritas, an international Catholic NGO accredited to the country since 1965, its legally entitled tax exemptions, a practice since 2018.  Since 2019, Caritas informed donors to stop sending donations because it was unable to retrieve them from Customs.  Caritas continued to report that since 2018, it had not received its annually renewable certificate from the Ministry of Interior, which technically authorized it to operate in the country.  Caritas sources continued to say the failure to renew the certificate impeded it from receiving tax exemptions, prohibited the importation of materials, and hindered its ability to bring in medical missions as part of its social services.  Caritas further reduced its social services because of harassment from government supporters in the communities where it worked.

Bishop Mata told press in January that the government had reduced by 20 million cordobas ($563,000) the allocated budget for the Universidad Catolica del Tropico Seco, a private university run by Mata.  Mata stated that the government had reduced the funds, representing more than a 50 percent decrease, in retaliation for his public criticism of the Ortega-Murillo administration.  Mata said the stark reduction in funds left the university unable to grant new scholarships for the academic year, and it was struggling to maintain existing scholarships.

Catholic clergy continued to say they believed the government directed or encouraged vandalism and desecration of churches by individuals not directly affiliated with it.  According to local media, on May 25, unidentified individuals broke into a Catholic church in the community of San Andres in Boaco and destroyed sacred images.  Media reported that on April 11, unidentified individuals broke into Our Lady of Candelaria Church in Chinandega, broke sacred images, and stole money designated for the construction of church buildings.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution, laws, and executive decrees prohibit discrimination based on religious practices and provide for freedom of religion and worship, provided that “Christian morality and public order” are respected.  The constitution recognizes Catholicism as the religion of the majority of citizens but does not designate it as the state religion.  It limits the public offices clergy and members of religious orders may hold to those related to social assistance, education, and scientific research.  It forbids the formation of political parties based on religion.

The constitution grants legal status to religious groups, permitting them to manage and administer their property within the limits prescribed by law.  If groups decline to register, they may not apply for grants or subsidies.  To register, a group must submit to the Ministry of Government (MOG) a power of attorney, charter, names of its board members (if applicable), a copy of the internal bylaws (if applicable), and a four-balboa ($4) processing fee.  Once the MOG approves the registration, the religious association must record the MOG’s resolution in the Public Registry.  Registered religious associations must apply to the Directorate of Internal Revenue of the Ministry of Economy and Finance to receive clearance for duty-free imports.  The government may allot publicly owned properties to registered religious associations upon approval by the Legislative Tax Committee and the cabinet.  The law states that income from religious activities is tax-exempt as long as it is collected through such activities as church and burial services, and charitable events.

Registered religious groups are the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church, Episcopal Church, Methodist Church, Evangelical Methodist Church, the Baha’i Faith, Soka Gakkai International (Buddhist), Church of Jesus Christ, Muslim Congregation of Colon, Muslim Congregation of Panama City, Muslim Congregation of Cocle Province, Muslim Congregation of Chiriqui Province, Jewish Kol Shearith Israel Congregation, Jewish Shevet Ahim Congregation, Jewish Beth El Congregation, Baptist Church, Hossana Evangelical Church, Casa de Oracion (house of prayer) Cristiana Evangelical Church, Pentecostal Church, Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church, Crossroads Christian Church, Ministry of the Family Christian Church, Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Rastafarian congregation and the Babalaos have chosen not to register.

By law, indigenous tribes control their own autonomous lands within the country, which are called comarcas (literally “counties,” but similar to U.S. Native American tribal nations).  According to the law, tribal autonomy allows the practice of religion and cultural traditions without interference from the state.

The ombudsman mediates disputes but the office’s formal recommendations are not binding.  The ombudsman may act only if the office receives a formal complaint, or if a complaint is made public through media.

The constitution requires public schools to provide instruction on Catholic teachings.  Parents may exempt their children from religious education.  The constitution also allows the establishment of private religious schools.  Private religious schools may not refuse to enroll a student who is not a member of the religious group sponsoring the school.

Vaccinations are not mandatory for enrollment in school.

Immigration law grants foreign religious workers temporary missionary worker visas that they must renew every two years, for up to a total of six years.  Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian priests and nuns are exempt from the two-year renewal requirement and issued six-year visas, with no limitation other than “respect for Christian morality.”  Clergy of other religious groups, as well as other religious workers, are also eligible for the special six-year visa but must submit additional documentation with their applications.  These additional requirements include a copy of the organization’s bylaws, the MOG-issued registration certificate, and a letter from the organization’s leader in the country certifying the religious worker will be employed at its place of worship.  The application fee is 250 balboas ($250) for all religious denominations.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

According to religious group representatives, the discretionary power of immigration officials made entry of missionaries from certain countries more difficult.  During the year, Central American missionaries from the Balboa Union Church and the Church of Jesus Christ said immigration authorities delayed or questioned their visits for pastoral work.  Representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ said two young Nicaraguan missionaries experienced mistreatment and officials did not allow entry into the country in July and August, despite government approval of their missionary visas.  Representatives stated there was miscommunication between the National Migration Service and its airport immigration officers.  These officers eventually allowed the missionaries to enter the country after repeated engagement between church leaders and immigration authorities.

Baha’i representatives said they decided to have short-term foreign missionaries enter the country on legal 90-day tourist visas due to the complexity of the religious visa process.  Some religious leaders suggested that immigration authorities should better educate their officers and airport agents or create a special unit of officers with expertise in processing missionary visas, to prevent problems arising from officers’ abuse of their discretionary authority.

According to a Baha’i representative, during the year Baha’i members encountered administrative difficulties with local and central authorities.  Some Baha’is said challenges in resolving such issues resulted from their minority religious status.  As an example, they cited informal street vendors who illegally installed kiosks at the entrance of the private road to their temple.  The congregation made numerous formal complaints to the local mayor’s office about the illegal kiosks, but without successful resolution.  By year’s end, the mayor’s office had taken no action and, according to the Baha’i community, had failed to respond to follow-up telephone calls.  The operating concession for a Baha’i radio station in Soloy town in the Ngabe Bugle territory expired during the year, and Baha’i representatives filed for an extension with the Public Services Authority (ASEP), which regulates communications.  According to concerned individuals, ASEP officers mistakenly classified their request as a commercial one despite the Baha’is’ status as a registered religious denomination with legal standing as a nonprofit organization.  At year’s end, ASEP had not corrected the file nor extended the concession.

Members of non-Catholic religious groups said the constitution was ambiguous, in that it forbade religious discrimination, yet designated Catholicism as the sole religion taught in public schools.

Some religious leaders, including Jewish, Islamic, and evangelical Christian leaders, opposed inclusion of a question in the next national census (date to be determined) about an individual’s religious affiliation.  Sources stated that concern about the government mandating a response on religious affiliation and collecting lists of minority religions generally fueled the leaders’ opposition.  Leaders cited examples of similar opposition in other countries, including the United States.  According to Roman Catholic representatives, however, the church did not oppose including the question.  Government officials said the government had no plans to include such a question.

During the year, some indigenous persons declined COVID-19 vaccines due to their religious beliefs.  In November, health officials reported on television that some new COVID-19 cases occurred in families that chose not to vaccinate because of their religious beliefs.

Representatives from the Interreligious Institute of Panama said that although authorities generally respected the institute, officials did not always solicit its opinions on decisions that impacted general issues of religious freedom and practice.  According to the representatives, the group felt strongly about the need to create a government-level Secretariat for Religious Affairs similar to the existing secretariats for Afro-descendants and persons with disabilities.

At public events, the government continued to invite primarily Roman Catholic clergy to offer religious invocations.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides individuals, including members of indigenous communities, the right to choose, change, and freely practice their religion.  The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and specifically recognizes the right of indigenous communities to express their religion freely.

According to the constitution, the relationship between the state and the Roman Catholic Church is based on “independence, cooperation, and autonomy.”  The Church, however, must comply with all regulations the state imposes on other religious groups.  The law allows political parties based on a specific faith, but the constitution prohibits active members of the clergy from any religious group from running for public office.

The law requires all religious and philosophical groups to register with the VMW and submit annual reports stating the organization’s key leadership and functions.  Organizations must complete a form containing 14 items, provide supporting documents to the VMW, and pay a fee of 125,000 guaranies ($18) to register.  The form requests basic information, including entity name, mission or vision, history in the country, addresses of houses of worship, membership size, and types of activities.  The VMW also requires the certification of a legal representative and the entity’s bylaws as supporting documentation for registration.  VMW regulations require that names of religious entities be sufficiently distinguishable to avoid confusing worshippers.  Once registered, religious and philosophical groups must update their registration on an annual basis and pay an annual fee of 62,000 guaranies ($9).

The VMW may apply nonmonetary administrative sanctions against organizations that fail to register, including ordering the suspension of religious services.  The National Anti-Money Laundering Secretariat requires that all religious organizations register as nonfinancial agents.  Religious groups must demonstrate legal status as a nonprofit organization and agree to annual recertification.  Annual recertification requires groups to resubmit the registration form with updated information.  Religious leaders must submit to financial and criminal background checks.

The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools.  The constitution provides private schools the right to offer religious education; staff teaching these courses are required to “possess suitability and ethical integrity.”  Registration for private religious schools is not mandatory, but the Ministry of Education and Science recognizes only diplomas and degrees granted by registered institutions, and only registered schools with nonprofit status may receive subsidies for teachers’ salaries.  Students belonging to religious groups other than the one associated with a private religious school may enroll.  All students, however, are expected to participate in religious activities that are a mandatory part of the schedule.

The constitution and laws provide for conscientious objection to military service based on religious beliefs.

Foreign missionaries who are members of registered religious groups are eligible for no-cost residency visas from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Missionaries must also register annually with the VMW to receive official documentation identifying their status.  Missionaries choosing not to register may enter the country on tourist visas.  A law provides for Mennonites to implement their own education programs and exempts them from military service based on their religious beliefs.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The VMW did not impose penalties or monetary sanctions on religious groups that did not complete its mandatory registration or reregistration process by the end of the year, extending the deadline indefinitely with the intention of reassessing annually based on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic and progress made in implementing a fully virtual registration process.  The VMW continued to focus on raising public awareness of the registration law and stated it continued to implement the registration law consistently across religious groups.  According to the VMW, once it received all required information and documents from a religious group, it completed the process in 15 days.

The VMW reported that 17 new groups registered during the year, bringing the total of religious groups having active registrations with the government to 586.  Of the 586 groups, 407 did not renew their registration during the year, taking advantage of the VMW’s indefinite extension of the renewal period due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The VMW stated it considered these groups to be actively registered.

According to the VMW, approximately 50 percent of religious groups were registered at year’s end, compared with 15 percent reported the previous year.  VMW representatives attributed the discrepancy to an effort to digitalize VMW records over the past year, allowing more accurate statistics and a better estimate of the number of nonregistered religious groups, which the revised data showed to be much lower than 2020 estimates.  Although the VMW continued to offer electronic (email) registration, the requirement to travel to Asuncion to pay registration fees and pick up proof of registration remained a major barrier for submitting and renewing applications.

ICCAN in August began its third attempt to officially register with the VMW, after VMW rejected its second request in 2020.  By year’s end, VMW had not approved ICCAN’s request.  The VMW said it did not approve ICCAN’s registration due to the inclusion of “Catholic” in its title, making ICCAN’s name not sufficiently distinguishable from the Roman Catholic Church.  The VMW had stated there was no other reason for its decision and would approve ICCAN’s registration if the two religious groups could agree on an acceptable change to ICCAN’s official name.  An ICCAN representative stated he believed the VMW’s justification was not in accordance with the law, and suggested VMW officials were following instructions from the Roman Catholic Church.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses Association reported the Supreme Court during the year concluded three cases from previous years involving individual Jehovah’s Witnesses receiving hospital blood transfusions against their will.  The Supreme Court ruled against two of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ suits and dismissed the third suit following the death of the individual involved.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses Association stated there were no new reports of forced blood transfusions during the year.

The VMW reported the Ministry of Education provided subsidies to schools of various religious affiliations.  The ministry stated it distributed subsidies based primarily on the need to reach certain underserved communities, focusing especially on the underserved rural Chaco region.  The ministry continued to subsidize the salaries of hundreds of teachers in registered, nonprofit schools operated by predominantly Roman Catholic religious communities.

According to representatives of the Mennonite community, the government continued to provide subsidies to their schools; Jewish community members said they did not request government subsidies.  According to a ministry representative, the ministry maintained an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church governing the allocation of subsidies to schools in areas not served by public schools.  The representative also stated that a separate agreement set very similar regulations for subsidy allocation to other religious schools located in underserved areas serving student populations and providing educational or scholarship services to students.  Mennonite schools in Boqueron Department continued a consultation process with departmental authorities concerning Mennonite and Ministry of Education curricular priorities.

The government continued to support chaplaincy programs open to all religious groups in the armed forces.  The programs included the training of clergy to provide services to members of the armed forces deployed either in combat zones or on peacekeeping missions.  The government also continued to allow all registered religious groups to operate in and provide their services within prisons for adults and youth.  During the year, however, only Roman Catholic and Protestant groups made use of this option.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution bars discrimination and persecution based on religious affiliation or belief and provides for freedom of religion, either individually or in association with others.  It states every person has the right to privacy of religious conviction.  It establishes the separation of religion and state but recognizes the Catholic Church’s role as “an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral foundation” of the country.

A concordat between the government and the Holy See accords the Catholic Church certain institutional privileges in education, taxation, and immigration of religious workers.  A religious freedom law exempts Catholic Church buildings, houses, and other real estate holdings from property taxes.  Other religious groups often must pay property taxes on their schools and clerical residences, depending on the municipal jurisdiction and whether the group seeks and/or receives tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization.  The law exempts Catholic religious workers from taxes on international travel.  The government also exempts all work-related earnings of Catholic priests and bishops from income taxes.  By law, the military may employ only Catholic clergy as chaplains.

The MOJ is responsible for engaging with religious groups, through the Office of Catholic Church Affairs, or the Office of Interconfessional Affairs for all other religious groups.

Registration with the MOJ is optional and voluntary.  The stated purpose of the registry is to promote integrity and facilitate a productive relationship with the government.  Religious groups do not have to register to obtain institutional benefits but doing so allows them to engage directly with the government.  The regulations allow all religious groups, registered or not, to apply for tax exemptions and worker or resident visas directly with the pertinent government institutions.  Registration is free, the process usually takes one week, and the MOJ helps in completing the application forms.

By law, all prisoners, regardless of their religious affiliation, may practice their religion and seek the ministry of someone of the same faith.

The Ministry of Education mandates all schools, public and private, to provide a course on religion through the primary and secondary levels, but the 2011 Religious Freedom Law specifies that such a course is provided “without violating the freedom of conscience of the student, parents, or teachers.”  Public schools teach Catholicism in religion class, and the Ministry of Education requires the presiding Catholic bishop of an area to approve the public schools’ religious education teachers.  Parents may request the school principal exempt their children from mandatory religion classes.  The government may also grant exemptions from the religious education requirement to secular and non-Catholic private schools.  Non-Catholic children attending public schools are also exempt from classes on Catholicism.  The law states schools may not academically disadvantage students seeking exemptions from Catholic education classes.  According to a 2018 Constitutional Court ruling, government financing for schools operated by religious groups is unconstitutional because it is “incompatible with the principle of secularism.”  The ruling provides the state must suspend funding for these schools within a reasonable period or establish a general and secular system of subsidies for all private educational institutions regardless of their religious affiliation.

The law requires all employers to accommodate the religious days and holidays of all employees; this accommodation includes allowing an employee to use annual vacation leave for this purpose.

Foreign religious workers must apply for a visa through the National Superintendency for Migration (SNM) of the Ministry of Interior.  If the religious group registers with the MOJ, the SNM accepts this as proof the applicant group is a religious organization.  If the group does not register with the MOJ, the SNM makes its decision on a case-by-case basis.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

During the year, the government registered 166 non-Catholic groups, compared with 156 in 2020.  Among the newly registered groups were the International Center of Holistic Theo-Therapy, Peruvian Association of the Sokka Gakkai International, the Hallelujah Christian Community, Church of God of Prophesies, Evangelical Church of the Peruvian Northeast, and United Korean Christian Church of Peru.  According to the MOJ and local interfaith groups, the government accepted and approved applications from all interested religious groups, with no reported denials.  In December, the MOJ director general for justice and religious affairs and the MOJ director for interreligious affairs (in charge of the state’s relationship with non-Catholic groups) affirmed the government’s commitment to advancing religious freedom and the fair and equal treatment of all religious beliefs before the law.

In May, the Constitutional Court ruled it was unconstitutional to require a religious entity to have a minimum number of members to register with the MOJ.  In response, the MOJ amended registry regulations in July, eliminating the requirement for a minimum number of members for a religious group, previously set at 500.

FREPAP, a political party founded by and directly affiliated with the Israelites of the New Universal Pact religious group, lost its status as a political party following results of the April general election.  Although FREPAP obtained 8.4 percent of the national vote and 15 congressional seats in the 2020 parliamentary election, it obtained only 4.6 percent in the April election.  This result fell short of the 5 percent threshold to obtain congressional representation and retain status as a political party.

According to the MOJ’s Office of Catholic Affairs, the government provided an annual grant of approximately 2.6 million soles ($655,000) to the Catholic Church for stipends to archbishops and pastors, in accordance with the concordat with the Holy See.  Each of the 45 Catholic ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the country also received a monthly subsidy of 1,000 soles ($250) for maintenance and repairs of church buildings, some of them of significant historical and cultural value.  Some Catholic clergy and laypersons employed by the Church received subsidies from the government, in addition to these funds.  These individuals represented approximately 8 percent of the Catholic clergy and pastoral agents.  According to Catholic Church representatives, the Church used these and other Church funds to provide humanitarian services to the poor, regardless of their religious affiliation or non-affiliation.  Similar stipends were not available to other religious groups.

The Interreligious Council of Peru, whose members include the Roman Catholic Church, Islamic Association of Peru, Jewish Association of Peru, Baha’i Community of Peru, Brahma Kumaris of Peru, Methodist Church of Peru, and Union of Evangelical Churches of Peru, among others, continued to engage the MOJ to promote religious freedom principles, such as equal access to government benefits for all religious groups (e.g., tax exemptions on income, imports, property, and sales; and visas for religious workers), and the opportunity to serve as military chaplains, all benefits for which the Catholic Church automatically qualifies but for which other religious groups must apply.

Protestant pastors said some non-Catholic soldiers continued to have difficulty finding and attending non-Catholic religious services because by law, only Catholic chaplains may serve in the military.

In February, a judge of the 11th Constitutional Court ruled in favor of a terminally ill woman’s euthanasia request.  The court ruled in this specific case that Ana Estrada, who suffered from a degenerative and incurable disease, had the right to die on her own terms.  According to media, the Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement opposing the decision, saying, “We must remember that euthanasia will always be the wrong path, because it goes against the inalienable right to life, causes the direct death of a human being and, as a result, is an intrinsically evil act.”  The bishops also said the court’s decision violated the constitution.  The state had an opportunity to appeal the ruling but decided against it.  The judiciary elevated the case to the Supreme Court to ratify the 11th Constitutional Court’s decision.  The Supreme Court was expected to hear the case in 2022.

In March, the MOJ held a conference on women, religion and religious organizations, and joint efforts to combat family violence.  In July, the MOJ held a two-day seminar to mark 10 years since the establishment of the 2011 Religious Freedom Law.  In November, the MOJ held a conference on religious freedom and the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence, during which Vice Minister for Human Rights Guillermo Vargas Jaramillo highlighted the importance of the state’s guarantee of religious freedom.

In December, the MOJ published a first-of-its-kind report that reviewed the religious landscape in the decade since the 2011 Religious Freedom Law entered into force.  The report provided a historical overview of faith communities in the country and further defined the secular nature of the state under the constitution.  It also highlighted the cultural contributions of religious groups in the country and their recent work to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution states that everyone has freedom of religion, and individuals may not be discriminated against on the grounds of religion.  Individuals may choose to change their religion.  Any violation of religious freedom may be brought before a court of justice.

The penal code provides punishment for those who instigate hate or discrimination against persons based on religion or creed in any way.  Those found guilty may be sentenced to a prison term of no longer than one year and a fine of up to 25,000 Surinamese dollars (SRD) ($1,300).  In cases where an insult or act of hatred is instigated by more than one person, as part of an organization, or by a person who makes such statements habitually or as part of work, the punishment may include imprisonment of up to two years and fines of up to SRD 50,000 ($2,600).

Religious groups must register with the Ministry of Home Affairs only if they seek financial support, including stipends for clergy, from the government.  Registering with the ministry does not confer tax benefits.  To register, religious groups must supply contact information, a history of their group, and addresses for houses of worship.  Most religious groups are officially registered.

The law does not permit religious instruction in public schools.  The government prohibits prayer groups in public schools.  Private schools managed by religious groups include religious instruction in the curriculum.  All students attending schools run by religious groups must take part in religious instruction, regardless of their religious background.  Laws and government decrees do not permit parents to homeschool children for religious reasons.

The government funds salaries for all teachers and support staff in primary and junior secondary schools established and managed by various religious groups.  Additionally, the schools receive a subsidy for their operational costs based on the number of students.  The government also provides 90 percent of funding for books and other materials.  Religious groups must provide the remaining funding, which includes construction costs, funding for school furniture, supplies, and additional maintenance expenses.  Religious organizations administer approximately 50 percent of primary (ages 4-12) and junior secondary (ages 12-16) schools in the country.  Religious organizations do not administer higher secondary schools (ages 16-19).  The Catholic Diocese of Paramaribo, Moravian Church, and Hindu community administer most private schools.  Through the Ministries of Education and Finance, the government provides a fee per registered child and pays teacher salaries to the religious organizations administering these schools.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

According to the Ministry of Social Affairs, the government attempted to meet its payment obligations to homes for children as well as the elderly administered by religious organizations but was often hampered by budgetary constraints and a lengthy process for release of funding by the Ministry of Finance.  The government, through the Ministry of Education, continued its subsidies to schools managed by religious organizations at the same level as prior years.  The government prohibited schools receiving public funds from increasing school fees for the 2021/2022 school year.

The armed forces continued to maintain a staff chaplaincy with Hindu, Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic clergy available to military personnel.

In prisons, where religious services were normally accessible, COVID-19 measures at times resulted in limited or suspended access.

Throughout the first half of the year, different religious groups, mostly evangelical Protestants, protested the government’s weekend lockdown measures, which included Sunday church closures to prevent COVID-19 transmission.  The Association of Full Gospel and Pentecostal Churches in Suriname, along with other religious organizations, petitioned the National Assembly to have their churches reopened.  The organizations said the government was infringing on the religious freedom of their congregants by not allowing them to attend church and by limiting access to religious guidance.  Other religious organizations had varying opinions on reopening.  Representatives for two larger religious organizations, the Moravian Church and the Suriname Islamic Association, told the press that the health and well-being of congregants was more important than reopening during a wave of COVID-19 cases.  The government offered religious organizations access to its digital and social media platforms to enable congregants to worship virtually.  In early July, the government lifted weekend lockdowns, but churches were not allowed to open until late July, when a protocol for reopening was reached with religious groups.

The Religious Affairs Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs collaborated with different religious organizations to begin the process of standardizing and formally recognizing religious training programs.  Formal recognition would allow the ministry to set stipends for clergy under the government wage system.  During the year, the process was managed by individual organizations, and there were no minimum requirements.  The standardized training developed with support of religious groups was designed to help the government determine who is clergy and the accuracy of the stipends they received.  The ministry said it guaranteed the standardization process would not have an impact on recognition of religious organizations.

In public statements, government officials continued to raise the importance of religious freedom, respect for religious diversity, and their commitment to protecting religious minorities.  President Santokhi and other government officials noted the country’s religious diversity and the importance of respect for that diversity during public speeches.  In a September keynote speech in the Netherlands honoring Anton de Kom, who fought for equity and freedom in Suriname in the 1930’s and 1940’s, President Santokhi pointed to what he stated was the country’s rich cultural and religious diversity and how mutual respect for that diversity resulted in a peaceful and harmonious society.  The Ministry of Home Affairs supported the organization of the Inter-Religious Harmony Week in January by promoting and sharing video messages of different religious groups on its social media pages and through government media with the goal of creating understanding and increasing respect for different religions.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states, “The state does not support any particular religion.”  The penal code prohibits discrimination based on religion.

The law calls for an annual commemoration of secularism to be held on March 19.

The constitution accords the Catholic Church the right to ownership of all its churches built wholly or partly with previous state funding, except for chapels dedicated for use in asylums, hospitals, prisons, or other public establishments.

Religious groups are entitled to property tax exemptions only for their houses of worship.  To receive exemptions, a religious group must apply to and be approved by MEC as a registered nonprofit organization.  The ministry routinely approves these registrations, after which the group may request a property tax exemption from the taxing authority, usually the local government.

By registering for official recognition and certification with MEC, religious groups can receive benefits, services, recognition, and tax reductions from the government.  Religious workers must provide proof of certification from their affiliated religious institution to confirm the applicant’s identity and to guarantee financial support of the sponsoring religious group.  According to regulations, the state must enforce these standards equitably across all religious groups.

Each local government regulates the use of its public land for burials.  Many departments (equivalent to states) allow burials, services, and rites of all religions in their public cemeteries.  Public health regulations, however, require burial in a coffin.

The INDDHH, an autonomous branch of parliament, and the CHRXD enforce government compliance with antidiscrimination laws.  Both organizations receive complaints of discrimination, conduct investigations, issue separate rulings on whether discrimination occurred, and provide free legal services to plaintiffs.  These rulings include a recommendation on whether cases should receive a judicial or administrative hearing.  Only the courts or the Ministry of Labor may sanction or fine for discrimination.

A correctional authority protocol regulates religious issues in prisons, including standardizing access to religious counseling and religious meeting spaces.  Several prisons in the country have a dedicated space for religious practice.

Public schools do not offer courses on religion, although the law does not prohibit schools from offering such instruction.  Public schools close on some Christian holidays.  In deference to its secular nature, the government does not refer to holidays by their Christian names.  For example, Christmas is formally referred to as “Family Day” and Holy Week is widely referred to as “Tourism Week.”  Students belonging to non-Christian or minority religious groups may be absent from school on their religious holidays without penalty.  Private schools run by religious organizations may decide which religious holidays to observe.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government’s official commitment to secularism and how it impacted religious groups continued to generate controversy among religious groups and political leaders.  Differing interpretations of the term “secularism” continued to lead to disagreements on the state’s role in enforcing the country’s secularism laws.  Throughout the year, several representatives of minority religious groups said government authorities often interpreted secularism as the absence of religion, rather than as the coexistence of multiple religions or beliefs and the independence of religion from the state.

With the stated goal of increasing understanding of the country’s religious diversity, representatives of several religious communities, including Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Muslims, Brahma Kumaris, the Unification Church, Methodists, and the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to request the government include in the public school curriculum comprehensive information about different religions with a presence in the country.

In May, a local Frente Amplio (FA) party and council member in Rocha Department posted the following comment on Facebook regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict:  “Every day I ask myself whether Hitler was so wrong.”  Local council members strongly criticized the FA representative and demanded his resignation.  His fellow FA members submitted the case to the party’s political conduct tribunal and demanded he be suspended from his party functions until the tribunal made a final decision.  Following this condemnation by his party, he subsequently resigned from his council position.

Some non-Christian minority religious groups reiterated they believed the government favored Christians, as evidenced by the government’s renaming Christian holidays as official secular holidays, thereby automatically granting Christians time off from work to observe their holidays.  The government, however, continued to not designate holidays of other religious groups as official holidays, making it necessary for followers of other religions to request a day off to observe their holidays.

In August, the government relaxed its COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, including the number of participants that could attend a religious service or event and the length of a given religious event.  Some representatives of minority religious groups said they had not been included in the drafting of the protocols and that the protocols favored some religious groups over others, such as the prescribed length of a church service.

Representatives of the Muslim community continued to report authorities rarely made appropriate meals available in public primary schools for Muslim children who observed halal restrictions.

Religious leaders praised the correction authority protocol standardizing access to religious counseling and religious meeting spaces and expressed the need to have similar protocols for other institutions.

Members of the Jewish community continued to say the government should issue regulations to allow alternate university-level exam dates for students observing religious holidays, instead of leaving that decision to individual professors.

The total number of cases of discrimination based on religion, released by the CHRXD, was not available at the end of the year.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to manage the System for the Monitoring of Recommendations, an interagency, computer-based tool used to monitor and report on human rights issues, including discrimination based on religion.

In January, the government broadcast a national message commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day in which Minister of Foreign Affairs Bustillo referred to the Holocaust as the “most shameful and horrifying crime committed by men.…  It will always be a warning to the entire world of the dangers of hatred, fanaticism, racism and prejudice.”  The Minister closed his speech saying, “Whenever we remember the Holocaust and its victims, we do so with the enormous sadness of what was suffered, but also as heirs of the endless love that they left us as legacy and that we keep alive from generation to generation.  This is the true triumph, costly, painful, but full of faith and hope.  Those who perpetrated such horror have ceased to exist; their victims bloom in memory and in every smile of a child.”

In December, an appeals court ratified a 2019 court ruling in favor of private parties who had found and wished to sell an 800-pound bronze eagle bearing a Nazi swastika recovered from the German battleship Graf Spee.  The ship had been scuttled by the Germans in 1939.  The ruling required the state to sell the piece and pay the private parties that had retrieved it.  In July 2020, the Simon Wiesenthal Center had expressed concern regarding the 2019 ruling and had urged authorities to ensure that the display of these symbols would serve as a warning to future generations of what should never be repeated.  The center said that in light of the country’s commitment to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, the government was obligated to prevent “the public use of symbols that recall ethnic cleansing.”  Minister of Defense Garcia said government officials would make sure the piece was bought only for pedagogic purposes and did not fall in the hands of neo-Nazis.  By year’s end, dealers had not auctioned the eagle.

On November 9, President Lacalle Pou and other government officials and politicians, along with human rights activists, attended the Central Israelite Committee’s commemoration of the 1938 Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht).  Several participating government officials and politicians later posted online about the commemoration, emphasizing the need to remember and reflect, and to foster tolerance and coexistence.


Section II. Status of "Government" Respect for Religious Freedom

The constitution provides for freedom of religion on the condition that the practice of a religion does not violate public morality, decency, or public order.  A 1964 concordat governs relations between the government and the Holy See and provides for government funding for Catholic Church-run schools.  In 2017, the now dissolved National Constituent Assembly (ANC), which the National Assembly, democratically elected in 2015, and the Guaido-led interim government and much of the international community considered illegitimate, passed an antihate law criminalizing acts of incitement to hatred or violence.  Individuals who violate the law face 10 to 20 years in prison.  The law includes 25 articles stipulating a wide array of directives, restrictions, and penalties.  The law criminalizes political party activities promoting “fascism, intolerance, or hatred,” which comprise numerous factors, including religion.  It also criminalizes individual acts promoting violence or hatred, the publication or transmission of any messages promoting violence or hatred by any media outlet, and the publication of messages promoting violence or hatred on social media.  Among the violations are those committed by individuals or media outlets, including by members of religious groups or media associated with a religious group.

The Directorate of Justice and Religion (DJR) in the Maduro-controlled Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace maintains a registry of religious groups, disburses funds to religious organizations, and liaises with religious communities.  Each religious group must register with the DJR to acquire legal status as a religious organization.  Registration requires declaration of property belonging to the religious group, identification of any religious authorities working directly for it, and articles of incorporation.  Religious groups are required to demonstrate how they will provide social services to their communities and to receive a letter of acceptance from the regime-controlled community council in the neighborhood(s) where the group will work.  The ministry reviews applications and may delay approval indefinitely.  Religious groups must register any new statutes with the DJR.

The law neither prohibits nor promotes religious education in public schools.  An agreement between the CEV and the state allows catechists to teach Christian and sacramental values in public schools in preparation for First Communion, but the regime did not consistently honor this agreement.  According to church leaders, regime authorities did not allow religious representatives access to some public schools, preventing them from teaching these courses.

The law provides for Catholic chaplains to minister to the spiritual needs of Catholics serving in the military.  There are no known similar provisions for other religious groups.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

"Government" Practices

CEV and ECV representatives said the Maduro regime harassed, intimidated, and retaliated against their clergy and other members of their religious communities for continuing to call attention to the country’s humanitarian crisis.  According to press reports, on August 23-24 in the Mocoties Valley, Merida State, heavy rains caused flooding and mudslides, leaving at least 20 persons dead and more than 14,000 families affected in Merida and nearby states.  Auxiliary Bishop of Merida Luis Enrique Rojas officiated at a Mass in Tovar Municipality, Aragua State, one of the municipalities most affected by the flooding.  When Rojas returned to deliver food, medicine, household goods, and other humanitarian aid to the affected inhabitants, officials from the Bolivarian National Guard confronted him and prevented him from entering the town.  The CEV condemned the actions, stating in a public letter, “We regret and condemn the attitude of some civil authorities, as well as the Bolivarian National Guard, who, far from cooperating, not only prevented access to a large part of the aid sent from various parts of the country, but have also maintained an attitude of indifference and offense towards members of the Church and other institutions.”  In a September 2 television appearance, Maduro defended the regime’s actions and described the bishops as “devils in cassocks.”  On September 8, ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) Vice President Diosdado Cabello further criticized Rojas’ actions and labelled the Catholic Church in the country a “political party.”

Church leaders reported SEBIN officials continued to intimidate priests who criticized Maduro in their sermons.  The leaders said SEBIN officers followed and harassed Catholic laity involved in delivering humanitarian aid or participating in public demonstrations and photographed their homes.

According to media reports and other sources, throughout the year, Maduro and members of his regime attempted to discredit religious organizations for criticizing the regime.  On May 25, during a Venezuelan Television broadcast, Maduro called Father Arturo Sosa, Superior General of the Society of Jesus and a citizen, a “mercenary of the pen” after Sosa said in an interview with the Argentinian newspaper La Nacion that Maduro was the head of a dictatorship.

During a July 21 television broadcast, Maduro accused Cardinal Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, of meddling in national affairs after the Cardinal sent a letter to FEDECAMARAS, a business chamber, calling for its support towards serious negotiations to resolve the current crisis.  Maduro said the letter was a “compendium of hatred, of venom” and described it as full of poison, hatred, intrigue, cynicism, and attacks.  Regime Vice President Rodriguez, who was present at the FEDECAMARAS annual assembly, also responded to the Parolin letter, telling the business leaders, “Priests that want to do politics, let them take off their cassocks and do politics.”

The Catholic Church continued to urge the regime to accept international aid to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and declared its willingness to collaborate with the vaccination process.  According to the organization Outreach Aid to the Americas, the Catholic Church, working through Caritas, provided food donations and operated feeding programs and health and nutrition services.  On May 31, Monsignor Mario Moronta, Bishop of San Cristobal, Tachira State and the First Vice President of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, requested that authorities not politicize COVID-19 vaccinations.  Moronta said there was discrimination when individuals requested the regime-issued “homeland card” (carnet de la patria) to get vaccinated, a card that required the holder to maintain a PSUV (regime political party) political affiliation.

Some members of the Jewish community stated the regime and those sympathetic to it, including some regime-affiliated media outlets, used anti-Zionism to mask antisemitism, saying they avoided accusations of antisemitism by replacing the word “Jewish” with “Zionist.”  CAIV members reported that on May 25, regime “shadow governor [protectorate]” of Tachira State Freddy Bernal called for the downfall of the “murderous Zionist State of Israel” during a speech at a rally that followed fighting between Israel and Hamas that month.

The Catholic Church continued to express its concern regarding the political and social state of the country.  On January 7, Bishop of San Felipe and Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Barquisimeto Victor Hugo Basabe referred to the country’s political crisis and expressed concern about what he said was politicians disconnecting from the reality of the country’s citizens and their problems, such as deteriorating public services.

On January 11, the CEV released a pastoral letter on the occasion of its annual assembly expressing concern about what it stated was the regime’s illegal assumption of control of the legislative branch, human rights violations, and the deterioration of basic services and the economy.  The CEV called for a “radical change in political leadership” to find solutions for all Venezuelans.

On June 23, the CEV issued a statement rejecting “the gradual implementation of a totalitarian system” in the country.  It stressed that the humanitarian, political, and economic crisis in the country was a period of adversity that must be met and overcome.  The CEV also expressed concern about the increase in the number of migrants leaving the country and urgently called for generating a “radical change” involving all sectors.  The CEV stressed that political leaders must once again connect with the needs of Venezuelans and not make agreements that only favor their own interests.

On July 9, the CEV condemned violence in the Caracas neighborhood of La Cota 905.  In a statement it declared, “Once again it shakes us and it saddens us to see how fear, barbarism, abuse, [and] hatred take over the streets of our country, our cities, our popular areas.”  The statement highlighted what the conference said was the failure of the Maduro regime to guarantee peace and security and citizens’ loss of confidence in regime authorities.

The Maduro regime promoted the National Religious Council that it created in 2020.  As part of this effort, members of the regime helped organize meetings throughout the year with the Evangelical Christian Movement for Venezuela (MOCEV), a pro-Maduro organization.  Evangelical Protestant leaders said members of MOCEV did not speak for their religious communities and lacked credibility among their followers due to MOCEV’s tendency to focus on politics rather than religion and spirituality.

On March 30, the Ministry of Interior, Justice and Peace proposed a new antiterrorism requirement that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other nonprofits, including religious organizations, provide information on the activities, contributions, and names of beneficiaries, which religious communities and NGOs said was sensitive.  Under its broad definition of “beneficiaries,” the measure proposed the requirement that humanitarian NGOs provide the identities of the victims and vulnerable communities that they served.  The measure had not been implemented as of November, but NGOs expressed concern regarding the possibility it could be and expressed fear the regime was developing a registry to begin implementation.

Independent bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council Independent Fact Finding Mission in its September report, found the regime regularly violated core tenants of the ICCPR.