Antigua and Barbuda
The constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, as well as the right to practice and change one’s religion or belief. While its restrictions to address the COVID-19 pandemic were in effect, the government on occasion granted curfew exemptions to religious leaders to perform religious rites. Some members of the Rastafarian community said they objected to the government’s requirement of vaccinations for all children attending public schools.
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
Embassy officials spoke with government officials, including from the Ministry of Social Transformation and Human Resource Development’s Office of Ecclesiastical Affairs, and a member of the Rastafarian community to highlight the value of religious diversity in contributing to society and the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental human right. The embassy maintained frequent social media engagement on religious freedom issues. In January, a series of posts highlighted U.S. National Religious Freedom Day, and also included the history of religious freedom in the Eastern Caribbean.
The constitution and laws provide for freedom of religion and the right to profess freely one’s faith. The constitution grants the Roman Catholic Church preferential legal status, but there is no official state religion. Several religious groups continued to express frustration that the government required them to register as both civil associations and religious groups in order to be eligible for tax-exempt status, receive visas for foreign clergy, and hold public activities, noting that the Catholic Church was exempt from this requirement. They also criticized an August General Inspectorate of Justice (IGJ) resolution requiring all civil associations, including religious groups, to have gender parity on their administrative and oversight bodies as unconstitutional and a violation of religious freedom. Restrictions imposed by the national and provincial governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited religious groups’ ability to meet in person, including for ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. Although many religious leaders supported the measures as being in the interest of public health, the president of the interfaith Argentine Council for Religious Freedom (CALIR) criticized the national government’s restrictions for not expressly including religious workers as “essential.” The executive branch formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism in June, and the National Congress did the same in September. According to media, in July, President Alberto Fernandez told Jewish community leaders he wanted to see progress in bringing to justice those responsible for the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish Community Center in which 86 persons died. On December 23, a federal court acquitted Carlos Telleldin of direct involvement in the bombing. Further appeals were expected. In July, President Fernandez publicly stated that Holocaust denial “cannot be tolerated.” On December 30, senators voted in favor of legislation legalizing abortions until 14 weeks of pregnancy. The Chamber of Deputies approved the bill earlier in the month. Religious figures of various faiths opposed the legislation.
The Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA) reported 918 complaints of anti-Semitism in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics were available, compared with 834 reported complaints in 2018. The most commonly reported incidents tracked by the report were anti-Semitic slurs posted on websites. On April 1, Jewish organizations and the Ambassador of Israel criticized remarks by television journalist Tomas Mendez in which he blamed Israel for the COVID-19 virus; Mendez later apologized. In June, a Jewish cemetery in Rosario, Santa Fe Province, was vandalized, according to community members who denounced the act. Religious communities worked together to support people in need as a result of the pandemic, including through the #SeamosUno initiative that delivered its goal of one million boxes of food and sanitary necessities by the end of September. Interreligious groups, such as the Interreligious Committee for Peace in Argentina, whose members include Catholic, Protestant, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, and indigenous religious groups, and the Argentine Council for Religious Freedom continued work to promote tolerance and increase opportunities for interreligious action on common societal challenges.
U.S. embassy officials met with senior government officials, including the Secretariat of Worship and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship’s (MFA) human rights office, and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, to discuss ways to promote respect for religious minorities and counteract religious discrimination. The Ambassador recorded a message in September for an AMIA-produced remembrance video for the victims of 9/11 and another in October for a video commemoration organized by the Latin American Jewish Congress, marking the anniversary of a 2017 terrorist attack in New York in which five Argentines perished. Embassy officials supported interfaith cooperation and universal respect for freedom of religion through both public statements and social media postings.
The constitution states freedom of religion is a fundamental right; individuals may practice freely the religion of their choice or practice no religion at all. The law prohibits discrimination based on religion. Some Rastafarians continued to state the government violated their constitutional right to religious freedom by prohibiting the legal use of marijuana in ceremonial rituals and detaining them for its use. A February preliminary report by the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana included a recommendation to grant Rastafarians and other religious groups the right to use marijuana for religious purposes. In October, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis announced the government would expunge records of individuals convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana starting in 2021, although this would require parliament to pass legislation. The government regularly engaged the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC), comprising religious leaders from a wide spectrum of Christian denominations, to discuss societal, political, and economic issues.
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
U.S. embassy representatives met regularly with officials from the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss promoting tolerance and respect for religious diversity in the country. Embassy representatives also met with the president of the BCC, and representatives of the Muslim, Rastafarian, and Jewish communities to discuss the importance of societal tolerance for religious diversity and inquire about how government policies and practices, including COVID-19 restrictions, affected religious freedom.
The constitution and other laws provide for freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion, and prohibit discrimination based on religious belief. The government does not require religious groups to register and grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and provide religious instruction. In October, the government announced its approval of an exemption for official photographs to allow male and female applicants to wear religiously-mandated head coverings. The exemption will apply to passport, drivers’ licenses, and national identification card photographs, among others. Muslim and Rastafarian communities requested the exemption and said they were pleased with the outcome. On September 15, the government announced its intention to decriminalize the personal use and possession of small amounts of marijuana, legally recognize same-sex civil unions, and raise the question of whether same-sex marriage should be legal through a public referendum. Some religious leaders, including of the Anglican Church, expressed opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage and said they would not perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Asheba Trotman, the head of the Rastafarian community organization Ichirouganaim Council for the Advancement of Rastafari (ICAR), welcomed marijuana decriminalization, but said the community hoped eventually further measures would enable them to cultivate marijuana on their farms for personal as well as commercial use.
ICAR head Trotman said that in the organization’s view, social attitudes had changed, and Rastafarians were well accepted.
On October 8, the Ambassador hosted an event with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom. Representatives from the Anglican, Pentecostal, Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, Church of the Nazarene, and Jewish communities participated.
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. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion. By law, the Belize Council of Churches (BCC), a board including representatives from several major Christian denominations, and the Belize Association of Evangelical Churches (BAEC), alternate in appointing one individual, the “church senator,” to the Senate with the Governor General’s concurrence. In August, authorities arrested and charged an evangelical Protestant pastor under the COVID-19 state of emergency regulations, which limited gatherings to under 10 persons, after he led a congregation of 16 persons in worship. In September, the government withdrew the introduction of the Equal Opportunities Bill (EOB) after the Belize Council of Churches (BCC) said it could not support it in its “current form.” Many religious groups opposed the EOB, stating that the government forced the bill through the approval process without consulting them and that the EOB provided no specific protections on the basis of religion or personal belief. In December, the Governor General appointed Reverend Alvin Moses Benguche, a Methodist Bishop, as the new church senator representing all religious groups, on the BCC’s recommendation following the November parliamentary election.
Religious groups continued collaboration with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to carry out missionary work in the country. The interfaith Belize Chaplain Service (BCS) continued to promote several initiatives, including counseling services for relatives of crime victims and for police officers, with the stated objective to provide professional, multifaith, compassionate pastoral care to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of the public.
U.S. embassy officials, including the Charge d’Affaires, reiterated the importance of religious tolerance in meetings with government officials and encouraged the government’s engagement with a wide spectrum of religious groups. The embassy invited representatives of religious groups, including Anglican Bishop Philip Wright, Catholic Bishop Lawrence Nicasio, and representatives of religious minorities to participate in embassy programs and outreach to reinforce the role of religious groups in promoting respect for religious diversity and tolerance. Due to COVID-19 restrictions on public engagement and assembly, the embassy used social media to highlight the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity.
The constitution stipulates the state is independent of religion and provides for “freedom of thought, spirituality, religion, and worship, expressed individually or collectively, in public and in private.” The constitution and other laws accord educational institutions the right to teach religion, including indigenous spiritual belief classes. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, there were administrative delays reported in implementing and enforcing the 2019 Law of Religious Freedom, Religious Organizations and Spiritual Beliefs, which created a clear distinction between nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious organizations. Evangelical Protestant community representatives again reported several smaller religious communities with “house churches” preferred not to register their organizations because they did not want to provide the government access to private internal information.
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
In October, embassy representatives met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) officials to discuss the challenges related to COVID-19 restrictions and their impact on religious freedom and the status of implementation of the religious freedom law. Embassy staff regularly met with religious leaders to underscore the importance of religious freedom. The Charge d’Affaires hosted a virtual interfaith meeting with religious leaders in October, including representatives from Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Jewish groups, to engage them in interfaith dialogue, discuss the impact of COVID-19 in their communities, and hear their views on the current state of religious freedom. Embassy officials met on other occasions with representatives from Muslim, evangelical Protestant, and Catholic groups to discuss the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on their congregations and their relationships with the interim government under the leadership of President Jeanine Anez, which was in power until November when newly elected President Luis Arce took office.
The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and it provides for the free exercise of religious beliefs. The constitution prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any religion. According to media reports, a military officer threatened an Afro-Brazilian religious group multiple times, including with weapons. In July, media outlets reported an electrician would press charges against the mayor of Belford Roxo in Rio de Janeiro State because the mayor’s staff threatened him and made derogatory statements about his Afro-Brazilian Candomble religion. The city government later apologized. On July 31, a Sao Paulo court awarded custody of a 12-year-old girl to her maternal Christian grandmother, removing the girl from her mother, who had supported her daughter’s choice to practice Candomble. In an August 14 appeal decision, the court restored custody to the mother. During the year, high level government officials made public remarks that religious minorities considered derogatory. In January, President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed Culture Minister Roberto Alvim after Alvim included in remarks excerpts from a speech by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. In October, the Santa Catarina Liberal Party leadership removed a history professor from its candidate list 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. In February, in response to attacks on Afro-Brazilian religious places of worship, known as terreiros, the municipal government in Baixada Fluminense, Rio de Janeiro State, inaugurated the Center for Assistance to Victims of Religious Intolerance to support victims of religious intolerance in the region. On January 21, municipalities throughout the country commemorated the National Day to Combat Religious Intolerance. In May, the Sao Paulo Legislative Assembly held the Sao Paulo State Religious Freedom Week, a series of virtual meetings to promote freedom of religion and tolerance.
According to national human rights hotline data and other sources, societal respect for practitioners of minority religions continued to be weak, and violent attacks on terreiros continued. Although less than two percent of the population followed Afro-Brazilian religions, 17 percent of the cases registered by the human rights hotline during the first six months of 2019 involved victims who were practitioners of Afro-Brazilian religions, down from 30 percent the previous year. According to the National Secretariat of Human Rights of the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights, the national human rights hotline received 410 reports of religious intolerance in 2019, compared with 506 in 2018. Media reported individuals set fire to, bombed, and destroyed Afro-Brazilian places of worship, sometimes injuring or threatening worshippers. From January to August, the Jewish Federation of Sao Paulo recorded 149 incidents and allegations of anti-Semitism in the country in its annual Anti-Semitism Report. A global survey released in June by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) showed that the percentage of Brazilians who harbor some anti-Jewish sentiment increased from 19 percent in 2019 to 26 percent in 2020. Authorities investigated the physical assault on a Jewish man in rural Sao Paulo in February. Three attackers shouted anti-Semitic offenses while they beat the victim and cut his kippah with a knife. Media and religious organizations reported increased accounts of hate speech directed at religious minorities on social media and the internet, in particular anti-Afro-Brazilian and anti-Semitic comments. On December 13, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella inaugurated the Monument in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. Religious organizations hosted interfaith community events, including the 11th Annual Walk against Religious Intolerance in Salvador, Bahia, which drew approximately five thousand Candomble followers.
In October, the Ambassador met with the Minister of Women, Family, and Human Rights. In September, embassy representatives met with the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights’ Secretariat of Global Protection to discuss the importance of religious freedom. On September 1, the Ambassador met virtually with the President of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops. In July, the embassy and consulates held an interfaith virtual roundtable to discuss the state of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity in the country. In July, a representative from the consulate in Rio de Janeiro met with a representative of the local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Jewish Federation of Rio de Janeiro (FIERJ) to discuss challenges faced by the Jewish community in Rio de Janeiro and cases of anti-Semitism in the state. A consulate representative met with Candomble priest and head of the Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance (CCIR) Ivanir dos Santos to learn about the challenges faced within the Candomble community due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new cases of religious intolerance involving followers of Afro-Brazilian religions, and possible areas in which the United States could serve as a partner for promoting religious freedom. In August, the embassy held a virtual roundtable with four speakers, including a representative of an Afro-Brazilian community known as a quilombo (founded by runaway slaves), who discussed the challenges for members of the community who participate in religious events in the terreiro. The Rio de Janeiro Consul General wrote an op-ed in honor of the August 22 International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, published by Bahia newspaper Correio. On October 8, embassy representatives hosted a roundtable with representatives from three religious faiths and two interfaith organization representatives to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country and raise concerns regarding attacks on religious minorities.
The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination based on religion. The government does not require religious groups to register, but some registered groups may receive tax-exempt status. In November, the Quebec Court of Appeal reduced the sentence of a man to 25 years before eligibility for parole after he pled guilty in 2018 to six counts of first-degree murder for the 2017 killing of six worshippers at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec. In November and December, a Quebec court concurrently heard challenges by four groups of plaintiffs, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the English Montreal School Board, a Quebec teachers union, and individuals to strike down as unconstitutional a provincial law prohibiting certain categories of government employees from wearing religious symbols while exercising their official functions. The law remained in force through year’s end. Provincial governments imposed societal restrictions on assembly, including for all faith groups, to limit the transmission of COVID-19, but some religious communities said provincial orders and additional measures were discriminatory. Quebec authorities imposed a temporary mandatory COVID-19 quarantine on a Hasidic Jewish community in a suburb of Montreal that some members said was discriminatory because it applied only to Jews, although the religious community had initiated the quarantine voluntarily. Some members of Hutterite colonies in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta said they experienced societal discrimination outside their communities due to provincial governments publishing outbreaks of COVID-19 in Hutterite communities. In January, Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge announced plans to abolish the province’s ethics and religious culture course, compulsory in all Quebec schools since 2008 and taught from grades 1 to 11, with the exception of Grade 9. In May, Public Schools of Saskatchewan filed an application with the Supreme Court to appeal a March ruling by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal that the provincial government continue to fund non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools. The public school plaintiffs stated the case had national implications, including for publicly-funded Catholic schools in Alberta and Ontario, and that conflicting judgments from lower courts required clarity from the country’s top court. In August, the Alberta Human Rights Commission ruled again in favor of two Muslim students barred in 2011 from praying at their nondenominational private school after the Supreme Court returned the case to the commission for a new hearing. The school said it would appeal the second finding of discrimination
Reports continued of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents, including cases of violence, hate speech, harassment, discrimination, and vandalism. In December, Statistics Canada released hate crime statistics for 2019 showing the number of police-reported religiously motivated hate crimes was 608 incidents, approximately 7 percent lower than in 2018. The B’nai B’rith League Canada for Human Rights recorded 2,207 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2019, compared with 2,041 in 2018. On September 18, police charged a male suspect with first-degree murder in the September 12 killing of a congregant in the parking lot of the International Muslim Organization of Toronto mosque in Rexdale, a Toronto neighborhood. Media reports linked the male suspect to white supremacist postings online. Toronto Police Services continued its investigation through December and did not rule out bringing additional hate crime charges. Unidentified individuals damaged statues outside Buddhist temples in Montreal in a series of attacks in February and March, including lion statues symbolizing protection smashed on two different occasions with a sledgehammer at the Quan Am Temple. In January, an unidentified individual pelted the National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa with eggs days after the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Embassy, consulate, and other U.S. government officials raised respect for religious freedom and diversity with the government. Embassy officials discussed strategies to combat religious intolerance through engagement with religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and minority religious groups. The embassy sponsored and participated in public programs and events encouraging interfaith dialogue and freedom of religion. It funded two grants to Liberation75, organizations formed to mark the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust, combat anti-Semitism, and promote education and remembrance. In January, the Consul General in Quebec City hosted an event with representatives of One World Strong, an NGO that offers peer-to-peer support to survivors of terrorism, and the survivors of the 2017 attack at a Quebec City mosque. On September 24, the Consul General hosted 11 Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, and indigenous animist faith leaders at an interfaith breakfast in which they discussed religious freedom and the impact of COVID-19 on their communities. The embassy and consulates amplified activities and policy content from senior Department of State officials in Washington through social media.
The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and worship. The law prohibits religious discrimination and provides civil remedies to victims of discrimination. Religion and state are officially separate. The National Office of Religious Affairs (ONAR), an executive government agency, is charged with facilitating communication between faith communities and the government and ensuring the protection of the rights of religious minorities. ONAR continued to work 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. In October, the Secretary General of the Government, Jaime Bellolio, condemned the use of Nazi symbols and gestures displayed during a protest against a referendum on drafting a new constitution. In July, the mayor of the city of Recoleta said there was a “Zionist conspiracy” in the country to control media during a radio interview. The Jewish community and other public representatives condemned the mayor’s accusations. In July, the senate approved a nonbinding pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) resolution calling on President Sebastian Pinera to adopt a law boycotting goods from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and commercial activities with companies operating in the West Bank. The Jewish Community of Chile condemned the resolution, stating it was anti-Semitic. According to ONAR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the nonbinding resolution had no impact on government action. During the year, ONAR held roundtable discussions with religious leaders to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s quarantine and movement restrictions on religious communities. Some religious groups opposed the government’s COVID-19 measures, including two associations of evangelical churches, which filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) against the country for violating the freedoms of religion and worship established in the American Convention on Human Rights.
In November, unknown subjects burned an evangelical Christian church in the southern region of Araucania, and several priests and churches in the region reportedly received threats during the year. Jewish community leaders continued to express concern regarding the rise in anti-Semitism in the country, including anti-Semitic signs and chants during marches in October by self-described nationalist groups opposed to a referendum on drafting a new constitution. On October 18, hooded individuals marking the one-year anniversary of civil unrest in the country set fire to two churches in downtown Santiago. The bell tower of the Church of the Assumption was completely destroyed.
The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy representatives periodically met with government officials to discuss reports of anti-Semitism, religious minorities’ security concerns, and institutional cooperation among government and religious organizations. They also met with civil society and religious leaders to discuss religious diversity and tolerance and to raise incidents of concern, including perceived threats to the Jewish community. The embassy continued to use social media to underscore the importance of interfaith understanding and tolerance.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right to profess one’s religious beliefs. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) is responsible for formally recognizing churches, religious denominations, religious federations and confederations, and associations of religious ministers. The MOI continued to hold training sessions on community development strategies for religious groups and societal leaders. Religious leaders expressed continued concern regarding a law requiring interagency commissions to evaluate requests for conscientious objector status. Religious leaders noted their increased involvement with the MOI, including in the planning process for the country’s role as host of the Hemispheric Forum on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Religious leaders reported arbitrary enforcement of the tax law, specifically regarding the taxability of donations to religious organizations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) and the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) 2019 agreement to study the social contribution and sustainable development goals of religious organizations went into effect, and the department of Cundinamarca officially enrolled in the study in August. On February 28, the MOI released a new public policy draft decree on religious freedom and worship aimed at increasing coordination with religious groups in an effort to update a 1997 agreement that stipulated which religious organizations might perform government-recognized services. According to the MOI, these decrees would enable religious groups, in addition to the original signatories, to have the authority to engage in activities such as marriages, funeral services, chaplain services, and spiritual assistance. By year’s end, 19 major cities and 14 departments had adopted new public policies on religious freedom, up from 14 and 11 at the close of 2019.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that illegal armed groups threatened and physically attacked leaders and members of religious organizations in many areas of the country. The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) reported members of illegal armed groups killed three leaders of religious organizations and committed acts of violence against 16 others that resulted in injury.
The Jewish community reported continued anti-Semitic comments on social media sites, including some that questioned Israel’s right to exist. During the year, the Catholic Church, Mennonite Church, and other religious groups continued to conduct programs focused on religious tolerance, land rights, peace, and reconciliation. Faith-based and interfaith NGOs, including DiPaz and the Inter-Ecclesiastical Commission on Justice and Peace, continued to promote religious freedom and tolerance through their programs and community engagement. The Catholic Church in the country and other religious organizations helped the Association of Food Banks of Colombia distribute more than 33 million pounds of food during the COVID-19 pandemic to all in need regardless of religion.
U.S. embassy officials raised issues of religious freedom, including conscientious objection to military service and the effect of illegal armed actors on religious practice, with government officials. Embassy officials met with the Human Rights Directorate of the MFA, the International Affairs Directorate of the AGO, the Religious Affairs Directorate of the MOI, and members of congress. Embassy officials discussed with the MOI public policies on religious freedom and worship, including support for victims of conflict and other vulnerable populations and the importance of ensuring indigenous groups were included in government-sponsored events on religious tolerance and inclusion. Embassy officials also met with representatives from a wide range of religious groups, including the Jewish and Muslim communities, Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Baha’is, Greek Orthodox, and members of indigenous groups. In these meetings, embassy officials discussed issues related to the government’s policies on religious freedom, conscientious objection, anti-Semitism, and government support for religious organizations providing services for trafficking victims, internally displaced persons, and Venezuelan migrants and refugees.
The constitution recognizes Roman Catholicism as the state religion; the law requires the state to contribute to the Catholic Church’s maintenance. The constitution prohibits the state from impeding the free exercise of religions that does not impugn “universal morality or proper behavior,” and it provides for redress in cases of alleged violations of religious freedom. In February, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) rejected an accusation of political hostility filed against the Conference of Catholic Bishops. A draft 2019 bill that would reform the constitution to make the country a secular state remained on the Legislative Assembly’s plenary agenda, but it was not on the priority list of bills for legislators during the year. In June, Catholic bishops, with the support of the Evangelical Alliance, stated their opposition to the proposal to remove Catholicism as the official state religion, stating doing so would erode religious freedom in the country. Some non-Catholic religious leaders continued to state the constitution did not sufficiently address the specific concerns of their religious groups, in particular regarding registration processes, expressing a preference for a separate registration procedure for religious groups rather than being obligated to register as associations. The Constitutional Chamber received 24 claims of denial of the free exercise of religious freedom in government institutions and discrimination by government entities, an increase related to cases based on COVID-19 restrictions, compared with 10 in 2019. The chamber dismissed 19 of the claims, stating there was insufficient evidence or no basis for claiming discrimination, compared with eight dismissals in 2019. Many of the dismissed claims involved government restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the other five cases, the chamber ruled in favor of the claimants, including two Seventh-day Adventists – a student and a police officer – who defended their right to observe the Sabbath on Saturdays.
Instances of anti-Catholic language on social media continued, reportedly spurred by continued high level investigations of priests charged with sexual abuse. Jewish community leaders reported anti-Israeli comments, some of which they considered anti-Semitic, although not directed at Jews living in the country. Interludio, an interreligious forum created in 2017 and with participants from Catholic, evangelical Christian, Lutheran, Jewish, Buddhist, Baha’i, Muslim, and indigenous communities, continued to promote dialogue among the country’s faith communities. The group met periodically throughout the year and hosted a variety of events, including informative talks, concerts, and drive-through activities during the pandemic.
U.S. embassy representatives engaged with public officials to discuss religious freedom and tolerance. They also met with religious leaders throughout the year, including those representing religious minorities, to discuss their views on religious freedom, the situation of churches during the pandemic, and the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the free exercise of religious beliefs. The embassy provided funding to the Resilience Academy, coordinated by the Museum of Empathy and providing psychological and spiritual support to those especially vulnerable due to the pandemic. On October 5, the embassy hosted a roundtable with leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant communities; representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education; and other religious groups to discuss religious freedom and their members’ experiences during the pandemic. The embassy used social media to send congratulatory messages highlighting tolerance and respect for religious diversity to religious groups on special religious occasions.
The country’s constitution contains written provisions for religious freedom and prohibitions against discrimination based on religious grounds. According to the religious freedom advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and religious leaders, the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), through its Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), continued to control most aspects of religious life. CSW’s annual report concluded the government “violated freedom of religion or belief routinely and systematically” through arbitrary detentions, false charges, threats, and harassment of religious leaders and religious freedom defenders. The report also noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government confiscated food that some religious groups intended to provide to those in need, blocked overseas humanitarian aid, and threatened and charged religious leaders for “spreading disease.” There were reports that authorities continued to subject leaders of Free Yorubas of Cuba to arbitrary detentions, threats, and verbal harassment. Media and religious freedom defenders reported the government continued to restrict the right of prisoners to practice religion freely, limit or block international and domestic travel, and harass and detain members of religious groups advocating for greater religious and political freedom, including Ladies in White leader Berta Soler Fernandez and Apostolic Church Pastor Alain Toledano. CSW reported 203 documented cases of freedom of religion violations, compared with 260 in 2019, attributing the decrease to the decision of the Ladies in White to halt their weekly attendance at Catholic Mass for seven months during the pandemic. On October 30, state security officers surrounded a church affiliated with Toledano in Santiago de Cuba and destroyed it; authorities arrested Toledano while he live streamed the destruction on Facebook. According to media, authorities temporarily detained Apostolic leader Yilber Durand Dominguez and Christian artist Jose Acebo Hidalgo when they resisted letting government officials into their homes during the COVID-19 quarantine. In March, authorities released homeschooling advocate Ayda Exposito after she served a sentence for “other acts against the normal development of a minor.” Her husband, Reverend Ramon Rigal, was released in July. Media reported authorities threatened to deny the couple custody of their children if they resumed homeschooling. According to religious groups, the ORA and MOJ continued to deny official registration to certain groups, including to several Apostolic churches, or did not respond to long-pending applications, such as those for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ). In April, a female convert to Islam told media she stopped wearing a hijab after her government-run workplace forbade her from wearing it. In January, a member of the Jewish community in Nuevitas, Camaguey Municipality, said a local state prosecutor forced him to sign a document acknowledging that if his children came to school wearing kippahs, he and his wife would be arrested and charged with “acts against the normal development of a minor,” with a potential one-year prison sentence. According to CSW, many religious leaders continued to practice self-censorship because of government surveillance and infiltration of religious groups. A coalition of evangelical Protestant churches, Apostolic churches, and the Roman Catholic Church continued to press for legal changes, including easing registration of religious groups, ownership of church property, and new church construction.
Unlike in previous years, the Community of Sant’Egidio, recognized by the Catholic Church as a “Church public lay association,” was unable to hold an interfaith meeting due to COVID-19 restrictions. Some religious groups and organizations, such as the Catholic charity Caritas, however, continued to gather and distribute relief items, providing humanitarian assistance to individuals regardless of religious belief.
Due to lack of government responsiveness, U.S. embassy officials did not meet with or otherwise engage the ORA during the year. Embassy officials met regularly, both in person and virtually, with a range of religious groups, including Protestants, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and Catholics, concerning the state of religious freedom and political activities related to religious groups’ beliefs. In public statements and on social media, U.S. government officials, including the Secretary of State, continued to call upon the government to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the freedom of religion. On October 5, the Secretary stated, “Vast swathes of humanity live in countries where religious freedom is restricted, from places like…Cuba, and beyond.” Embassy officials remained in close contact with religious groups, including facilitating meetings between visiting civil society delegations and religious groups in the country.
On December 2, 2020, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State again placed Cuba on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of thought, freedom to practice one’s religion, and freedom from oaths contrary to one’s beliefs. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in March, the government temporarily suspended all public religious gatherings. On May 30, the government granted special permission and provided protocols exclusively for churches and places of worship to reopen provided they had no more than 250 individuals in attendance and implemented health protocols. Rastafarians continued to press the government to legalize marijuana use. On October 26, the parliament decriminalized the possession of up to 28 grams of marijuana for personal religious use to individuals 18 years and above.
Interdenominational organizations continued their efforts to advance respect for religious freedom and diversity. Televised religious services were available throughout a government-mandated COVID-19 shutdown from March 24 to May 30, and religious groups broadcast via radio, television, and social media. In September, the Dominica Association of Evangelical Churches (DAEC) and other religious groups established counseling hotlines for persons experiencing fear, worry, or emotional stress as a result of COVID-19.
The U.S. embassy continued to maintain social media engagement on religious freedom. In January, for example, a series of posts highlighted U.S. National Religious Freedom Day, including the history of religious freedom in the Eastern Caribbean.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief. A concordat with the Holy See designates Roman Catholicism as the official state religion and extends to the Catholic Church special privileges not granted to other religious groups. These include funding for expenses, including administration and construction, visa exceptions, and exemptions for customs duties. Some members of non-Catholic groups said they did not approve of the government’s preference for the Catholic Church, lack of explicit legal protection for churches beyond what the constitution provided, and treatment of non-Catholic churches as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). According to representatives of non-Catholic groups, a draft law to register and regulate religious entities, if passed, could reduce what they characterized as unequal treatment of religious groups. President Luis Abinader divided the duties of the director of the executive office charged with outreach to the Christian community, with one director overseeing outreach to the evangelical Protestant community and a second director overseeing outreach to the Catholic Church.
In October, the Pontifical University in Santo Domingo, Brigham Young University, the Latin American Consortium of Religious Freedom, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) hosted a virtual symposium titled “Challenges and Opportunities for Religion in the Post-COVID Era.” One of the central themes of the three-day symposium was the importance of interfaith collaboration as a tool for fostering respect for fundamental human rights.
In September, U.S. embassy officials encouraged the Abinader administration to join the United States in reaffirming the fundamental rights set forth in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, including freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. The embassy continued to support Holocaust remembrance and education initiatives through grants to the Sosua Jewish Museum and to two U.S. institutions to support the Sosua Jewish Museum’s efforts to preserve and digitize museum archives telling the story of Jewish refugees welcomed to the country after fleeing Nazi persecution. It publicized these efforts on its social media pages. Embassy officials engaged non-Catholic leaders to learn about efforts to pass a law that would create a process specifically to register and regulate religious entities. In August, an embassy official met with the leader of the Interfaith Dialogue Coalition to discuss religious freedom and the organization’s plans to engage with the incoming government. In December, an embassy officer participated in an interfaith panel discussion sponsored by the Interfaith Dialogue Coalition that included representatives from several Christian denominations.
The constitution grants individuals the right to choose, practice, and change religions; it prohibits discrimination based on religion. The constitution also states secular ethics are the basis for public service and the legal system. The law requires all religious groups to register with the government; failure to do so can result in the group’s dissolution and liquidation of its physical property. Multiple religious leaders continued to express concern regarding the 2019 administrative consolidation of religious affairs issues within the Human Rights Secretariat, stating the change had improved the registration process but reduced a religious group’s ability to advocate its interests before the government. Religious leaders said the registration processing time decreased from six-month delays in 2019 to an average 30-day wait. On September 1, the human rights ombudsman ruled in favor of a group of COVID-19 victims’ relatives, stating authorities had infringed on the freedom of worship during the pandemic outbreak by misplacing or losing several remains and thus preventing religious traditions regarding burial customs from taking place as prescribed. Religious leaders said the National Assembly made no progress on the proposal to reform the 1937 religion law that the interfaith National Council on Religious Freedom and Equality (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, first discussed with the National Assembly in 2018. Jewish and Muslim leaders said general customs regulations continued to hinder their ability to import products for use in religious festivals. Religious leaders expressed opposition to a health reform law the National Assembly passed on August 25, but which President Lenin Moreno vetoed on September 25. Catholic and evangelical Christian leaders asked the President to reject the law because of a provision requiring medical doctors to provide emergency care to women who had begun an abortion or had complications from an abortion to protect the mother’s life. Two cases involving Seventh-day Adventist students remained pending in the court system; both involved the refusal of two different universities to accommodate the students’ requests to observe Saturday, the Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath.
Some Catholic and Protestant leaders said COVID-19 infection fears sparked social media disinformation about places of worship being epicenters for COVID-19 contagion. Several religious leaders expressed concern regarding what they considered a rise in secularism and societal discouragement of their participation in important legal and cultural discussions. A Muslim leader said a common societal view was that Muslims were foreigners, with some individuals saying Muslims should “return to their countries,” even though they were citizens or residents.
U.S. embassy and consulate general officials met with officials in the Ministry of Government to discuss the registration process for religious groups, government promotion and protection of religious freedom, and other related human rights. A senior embassy official hosted an October 15 roundtable with religious leaders to discuss challenges facing their communities. The Consul General in Guayaquil hosted a roundtable on September 29 with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom and their communities’ response to COVID-19. Embassy officials spoke with representatives from CONALIR to encourage continued interfaith and ecumenical dialogue.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states all persons are equal before the law. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. The constitution grants automatic official recognition to the Roman Catholic Church and states other religious groups may also apply for official recognition through registration. Some clergy and faith-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers said police and other government agents continued to arbitrarily detain, question, or search young congregants and youth leaders because of their ministry work with active and former gang members. According to sources, while many religious communities focused on education and youth development programs, particularly in the area of violence prevention, intimidation of religious individuals did not appear to be intended as persecution based on their religion. During the year, President Nayib Bukele, of Palestinian background, continued to be the target of anti-Muslim commentary, mainly on Twitter, by some of his political opposition. On September 11, Spain’s highest criminal court, Audencia Nacional, sentenced former Salvadoran army colonel Inocente Orlando Montano to 133 years and four months in prison for planning and ordering the November 1989 killings of five Spanish Jesuit priests at the Central American University. On October 29, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court in El Salvador dismissed the case against former generals Juan Orlando Zepeda and Francisco Helena Fuentes for their alleged roles in those killings. According to press reports, this ruling favored former President Alfredo Cristiani, accused of being an intellectual author of the killings.
On February 7, the daily newspaper La Prensa Grafica reported the First Sentencing Court of Sonsonate sentenced Abraham Mestizo, a former sacristan accused of killing Catholic priest Cecilio Perez Cruz, to 25 years in prison for aggravated homicide. Although a letter found near the priest’s body suggested that the MS-13 gang had killed the priest for not paying extortion fees, the court ruled out any gang involvement. On September 9, unknown assailants killed three men who were praying near the Cristo Te Llama Church, an evangelical Protestant church in San Martin, San Salvador Department. Leaders of Catholic, evangelical Protestant, and other Christian groups continued to report that members of their churches could not reach their respective congregations due to fear of gang crime and violence. According to widespread media reports, gang activity continued to create security concerns at a national level, which affected the general population, including members of religious groups, but was not based on religious discrimination.
During a meeting with the ombudsman for human rights on October 9, U.S. embassy officials continued to highlight the importance of government officials carrying out their official duties regardless of their religious beliefs or affiliation. The Ambassador tweeted in support of International Religious Freedom Day on October 27. In meetings with Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Muslim, and Baha’i groups during the year, embassy officials continued to discuss the difficulties religious groups experienced in attempting to reach followers in gang-controlled territories, and they stressed the importance of filing complaints with law enforcement agencies and the ombudsman for human rights.
The constitution protects freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and religion. The criminal code prohibits the publication and sale of blasphemous language; however, the code is not enforced. The government continued to review its religious affairs program to determine appropriate resource allocation and to design a work program for religious groups. Denominational and ecumenical Christian worship services and prayer continued to form part of official festivities on national holidays, religious holidays, and other public functions. Government officials consulted and collaborated with religious groups during the COVID-19 pandemic on emergency protocols to ensure every religious group had the opportunity to practice its beliefs and traditions.
The Conference of Churches Grenada (CCG), an ecumenical body, continued to promote unity and mutual understanding among members of the Christian community despite the restrictions on all gatherings, including religious services, during the global COVID-19 pandemic. The CCG held virtual meetings and continued to encourage discussions with other faith-based groups, including evangelical Protestant groups, as well as non-Christian denominations, including the Muslim community. In May, the CCG and the Alliance of Evangelical Churches held a virtual National Day of Prayer.
The U.S. embassy engaged the Prime Minister, Minister for Religious Affairs, and religious leaders, both in person and virtually, due to the government’s declared COVID-19 state of emergency and related restrictions. The Principal Officer held virtual meetings with the presidents of the CCG and the Alliance of Evangelical Churches to discuss religious freedom in the country and the challenges the organizations faced as a result of the pandemic. Embassy representatives also used social media to promote religious freedom, including freedom of conscience, belief, and thought.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of worship and the free expression of all beliefs. The constitution recognizes the distinct legal personality of the Roman Catholic Church. Non-Catholic religious groups must register with the Ministry of Government to enter into contracts or receive tax-exempt status. Following the killing of indigenous spiritual leader Domingo Choc, President Alejandro Giammattei condemned the killing and met with members of Choc’s spiritual council to hear their grievances. The Committee on the Designation of Sacred Sites (COLUSAG), which registers sites as sacred places for Mayan spirituality, said its mission was hindered during the year after President Giammattei announced the closure in April of the Secretariat of Peace (SEPAZ), which had provided COLUSAG with a meeting place and an organizational structure in the government. After the announcement of SEPAZ’s closure, COLUSAG moved temporarily to the Presidential Secretariat for Planning and Public Policy Coordination. In August, civil society groups and political parties challenged the constitutionality of closing SEPAZ. On December 29, Mayan leaders from COLUSAG protested SEPAZ’s closure and called upon the legislature to legally protect sacred indigenous sites. At year’s end, the Constitutional Court did not issue a decision on SEPAZ’s future and the government did not clarify COLUSAG’s status. In November, lawmakers proposed a budget that would cut funding for the national human rights office and other social programs. The proposal triggered widespread demonstrations, including protesters setting fire to Congress. The country’s Catholic bishops were among several civil society groups that urged President Giammattei to veto the budget bill and called for calm. Lawmakers withdrew the proposed budget after the protests. Non-Catholic groups stated some municipal authorities continued to discriminate against them in processing building permit approvals and in local tax collection.
On June 6, villagers in San Luis, Peten Department, beat and burned to death Mayan spiritual leader and herbalist Domingo Choc after accusing him of using witchcraft to kill a man a few days earlier. Videos of Choc’s killing circulated on social media, and public outrage grew quickly. On June 9, National Civil Police (PNC) arrested several villagers for the killing; they awaited trial at year’s end. Mayan spiritual leaders reported an increase in violent acts and societal prejudice against their community following the killing. Some Catholic clergy continued to report threats and harassment against them because of their association with environmental protection and human rights work. According to reports from the Archbishop’s Office of Human Rights, at least five priests received serious threats during the year.
The U.S. embassy regularly engaged with government officials, civil society organizations, and religious groups to discuss issues of religious freedom, including threats against Catholic clergy and the reported lack of access to Mayan spiritual sites. Embassy officials emphasized the value of tolerance and respect for religious diversity, including for religious minorities, in meetings with various civil society and religious groups. Embassy officials also emphasized the need to denounce and prevent violence against Mayan spiritual practitioners.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, including the right to choose and change one’s religion. The government recognized the first church for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community – The Open and Affirming Church. 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. In December, the cabinet approved a decision to amend the law to remove custodial sentencing for small amounts of marijuana. According to interfaith leaders, the government continued to promote religious tolerance and diversity, including through public messaging on religious holidays. The government did not hold interfaith activities because of COVID-19 precautions and restrictions and what local and international press described as a volatile five-month period from the March 2 national election until a winner was declared on August 2.
On March 1, the interfaith Universal Peace Federation – Guyana hosted a ceremony to encourage all persons to promote peace and refrain from violence during the national election. The Inter-Religious Organization of Guyana (IRO), whose members include representatives of the Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Rastafarian, and Baha’i faiths, continued to conduct interfaith efforts, and its constituent religious groups made oral pledges to promote social cohesion and respect religious diversity.
In October and December, the Ambassador spoke with the Minister of Culture, Youth, and Sports regarding the importance of keeping the country’ s multireligious and multiethnic society strong despite tensions occurring during the five-month electoral impasse. The two also spoke about engaging all religious groups in public observances of national religious holidays to further strengthen the country’s existing commitments to religious freedom, diversity, and tolerance. U.S. embassy officials promoted social cohesion and religious tolerance, meeting with representatives of Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Rastafarian groups and discussing issues related to religious tolerance. Embassy officials amplified these messages through discussions about religious tolerance on social media.
The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions. Any religious group seeking official recognition must receive government approval by law, a multistep process requiring documentary support. The Bureau of Worship, a unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), continued to provide some preferential treatment to the Roman Catholic Church, including a monthly stipend to Catholic priests. Vodou and Muslim representatives said their religious groups still struggled to gain support for registration and financial assistance for their educational institutions. Islamic groups said they continued to wait for official government recognition. From March to July, the government suspended all public gatherings of more than five persons, including religious services, to limit the spread of COVID-19. In March, police arrested 32 individuals of various religious affiliations throughout the country for violating the restrictions. In late July, religious leaders said some of the government’s COVID-19 measures were unfair because businesses and government agencies were permitted to reopen, while houses of worship were not. Vodou and Islamic organizations said their exclusion as official COVID-19 relief implementing partners was discriminatory. In July, Christian groups objected to the government’s new penal code, which enters into force within two years, because it included significant protections for LGBTI persons, the decriminalization of abortions, and the lowering of the age of sexual consent from 16 to 15.
In August, Hope Ministry reported what it considered the targeted killing of a Presbyterian pastor by unidentified individuals who shot the pastor and no other persons riding in a vehicle with the pastor. During the year, priests and pastors were among the hundreds of victims of gang-related kidnappings for ransom. In July, a Catholic Church representative said the country’s general insecurity hindered the movement and flow of resources to support social initiatives. According to media, the Evangelical Baptist Union Mission of Haiti (UEBH) had to relocate church activities and ministries from Boulos, near Port au Prince, due to gang activity in the area. Various religious organizations, including the Haitian Pastors Conference, publicly condemned the country’s continuing political and social instability. According to Vodou leaders, there were no killings of Vodou priests during the year, compared with one killing in 2019. As in previous years, Vodou leaders said non-Vodou followers often mischaracterized their religion as sinister. In September, Landy Mathurin, President of the Haitian Muslims National Council, said the population generally respected Muslims, including their right to wear the hijab.
In January, a Department of State official visited the country to discuss the importance of religious freedom and tolerance, particularly addressing registration issues. During the visit, he and U.S. embassy officials met with senior MFA officials and discussed fair and equal treatment for all religious groups. Throughout the year, embassy representatives regularly met with MFA officials and religious representatives, including through virtual meetings, to discuss religious freedom.
The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions. Religious organizations may register as legal entities classified as religious associations and thereby acquire tax-exempt status and other government benefits. Seventh-day Adventists continued to state some public educational institutions did not respect their religious observance on Saturdays because Saturdays were part of the official work week. On October 15, the Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum (FIH) – an interfaith nongovernmental organization (NGO) – reported government discrimination in residency applications for foreign missionaries. It stated the government did not approve or respond to applications of residency extensions for certain religious groups, while favoring others. According to Muslim leaders, members of their community no longer encountered unnecessary bureaucratic and discriminatory barriers when requesting basic governmental services or permits, an improvement from previous years. The FIH reported the government granted safe-conduct permits for movement during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown from March to October only to religious organizations covered under the Evangelical Fellowship of Honduras (CEH). FIH representatives said many organizations not belonging to the CEH were limited in their social work because the government provided biosecurity equipment to only 10 FIH member organizations.
Muslim leaders reported one incident where individuals who self-identified as evangelical Protestants appeared at an Islamic community outreach event, making offensive remarks regarding their community. Representatives of the Muslim community said they conducted community events to promote religious freedom and tolerance, including discussion of issues such as common misconceptions of the tenets of Islam. The FIH also conducted community events to promote religious freedom and tolerance. The CEH reported its members received threatening messages from unknown individuals that they believed were in response to the CEH’s support of a government proposal to provide financial assistance to elderly evangelical Protestant pastors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Charge d’Affaires underscored with the Minister of Human Rights the importance of religious freedom as a fundamental right. U.S. embassy officials met with officials of the Secretariat of Human Rights, the Secretariat of Foreign Relations, and the autonomous National Commission of Human Rights (CONADEH) to discuss issues of religious freedom, including the importance of respect for minority religious groups and for equal treatment under the law for all religious groups. On November 25, the Charge d’Affaires met with Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, who described the Church’s disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricanes Eta and Iota. On October 28, the Charge d’Affaires hosted an interfaith roundtable to discuss religious freedom and tolerance. Topics included religious freedom in schools, challenges some faith groups faced in addressing registration issues, societal violence, poverty reduction, and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected religious groups. Embassy officials continued to engage with religious leaders and other members of a wide range of religious communities regarding societal violence and their concerns about the government’s dealings with religious groups in the country.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom to worship and to change one’s religion. It prohibits discrimination based on belief. A colonial-era law criminalizing the practices of Obeah and Myalism remains in effect, but it is not enforced. In July, the Supreme Court ruled the constitutional rights of the claimant were not violated in the 2018 case of a child blocked from attending Kensington Primary School due to her locs (dreadlocks) because her parents did not identify as Rastafarian. School officials, however, allowed her to continue attendance. The Supreme Court decision continued to garner attention from advocacy and religious groups that noted the case’s potential impact on cultural identity and religious expression. Rastafarians said the court’s judgment underscored false misconceptions about the health and cleanliness of people who wear their hair in locs. The government formally began compensating individuals from a trust fund it established in 2017 for victims of the 1963 Coral Gardens incident, in which eight persons were killed and hundreds injured in clashes between a Rastafarian farming community and security forces. Seventh-day Adventists reported that their observance of a Saturday Sabbath was not taken into account by government COVID-19 lockdown restrictions because the government made Saturdays one of only two permitted shopping days.
Rastafarians continued to report prejudice against their religion, while they also said there was increasing societal acceptance and respect for their practices. Local media outlets continued to provide a forum for religious dialogue open to participants from all religious groups. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Jamaica Council for Interfaith Fellowship, which includes representatives from Christian, Rastafarian, Hindu, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Baha’i, Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist organizations, continued to hold events to promote religious tolerance and diversity.
U.S. embassy officials regularly engaged with senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade; the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport; and the Jamaican Defense Force to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country, including the rights and treatment of religious minorities. Embassy officials also met regularly with leaders of religious groups, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Rastafarians. The embassy published a press release on January 17 from the Ambassador celebrating U.S. National Religious Freedom Day and recognizing the importance of religious freedom. Other embassy representatives included similar references to the value of religious freedom and tolerance in speeches and other public engagements, press releases, and social media.
The constitution provides all persons the right to religious freedom, including the right to engage in religious ceremonies and acts of worship. The constitution declares the country a secular state. Under the constitution, indigenous communities enjoy a protected legal structure, allowing them some measure of self-governance and to practice their own particular “uses and customs.” The General Directorate for Religious Affairs (DGAR) within the Secretariat of the Interior (SEGOB) continued to work with state and local officials on criminal investigations involving religious groups. During the year, DGAR investigated four cases related to religious freedom at the federal level, compared with seven in 2019. The cases were in the states of Morelos, Chiapas, and Guerrero and mostly involved religious minorities. Government officials and leaders within the Catholic Church continued to state the killings and attacks on Catholic priests and evangelical Protestant pastors reflected high levels of generalized violence throughout the country and not attacks based on religion. According to media reports, in May, an indigenous community in the state of Chiapas expelled six evangelical Protestant families. Local community authorities arrested and jailed the families for not practicing Catholicism, according to the families. In October, media reported that local community leaders drove out 33 evangelical Protestants from a neighborhood of San Cristobal de las Casas, in the state of Chiapas, because they did not adhere to the community’s traditional faith. In July, the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN) issued a ruling guaranteeing reintegration and protection for a group of indigenous Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tuxpan de Bolanos, Jalisco. According to DGAR, it did not register any new religious associations during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because religious leaders are often involved in politics and social activism and are thus more vulnerable to generalized violence, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity. There were two reported killings of evangelical Protestant pastors, and attacks and abductions of priests and pastors continued. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported unidentified individuals killed two religious leaders and kidnapped three others. The Catholic Multimedia Center (CMC) identified the country as the most violent country for priests in Latin America for the 12th year in a row, stating more than two dozen priests were killed over the past decade and emphasizing the ranking reflected the high levels of generalized violence in the country. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to say criminal groups singled out Catholic priests and other religious leaders for their denunciation of criminal activities and because communities viewed them as moral authority figures. According to media, in March, demonstrators in several marches organized for International Women’s Day vandalized church buildings, public structures, and businesses.
Embassy and consulate representatives met regularly with government officials responsible for religious and indigenous affairs at both the federal and state levels. Embassy and consulate human rights officers regularly and repeatedly raised religious freedom and freedom of expression issues with foreign affairs and interior secretariat officials. The Ambassador and a senior embassy official met with religious and civil society leaders during travel throughout the country to highlight the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and to reinforce the U.S. government’s commitment to these issues. In January, the Ambassador visited Colegio Israelita and gave brief remarks at its Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. The Ambassador stressed the United States would continue to defend human rights as well as combat anti-Semitism or any other form of hatred. Embassy representatives met with members of religious groups and religiously affiliated NGOs, including the Central Jewish Committee, CMC, and CSW, to discuss the safety of religious workers focusing on humanitarian issues and expressed support for religious tolerance.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion; provides for freedom of belief, religion, and worship; and states no one “shall be obligated by coercive measures to declare his or her ideology or beliefs.” In June, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) approved the resolution “Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Nicaragua” in which the organization expressed concern regarding government restrictions on public spaces and repression of civil society, human rights defenders, and religious leaders, among others expressing critical views of the government. In an August report, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) wrote, “In 2020 the government’s hatred of the Catholic Church has not stopped; on the contrary, it worsens every day, having reached critical levels.” There were numerous reports that the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP), along with progovernment groups and ruling party (Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN) members routinely harassed and intimidated religious leaders and damaged religious spaces, including a July arson attack on the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Managua that destroyed a 382-year-old image of Jesus Christ. Catholic leaders reported verbal insults, death threats, and institutional harassment by the NNP and groups associated with President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo. According to clergy, the NNP and progovernment groups on several occasions harassed Catholic worshippers after they attended church services in which they prayed for political prisoners, and they blocked parishioners’ efforts to raise funds for families of political prisoners. Progovernment supporters disrupted religious services by staging motorcycle races outside of churches during Sunday services. Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders who provided shelter and medical assistance to peaceful protesters in 2018 continued to experience government retribution, including slander, arbitrary investigations by government agencies, charges they said were unfounded, withholding of tax exemptions, reduction in budget appropriations, and denying religious services for political prisoners, according to local media. The government ordered electric and water companies to cut services to Catholic churches led by priests opposed to the government, revoked the visas of at least two foreign priests after they criticized the government, and denied or revoked the permits of schools and clinics run by antigovernment Catholic bishops. Government supporters interrupted funerals and desecrated gravesites of prodemocracy protesters. In June, Italian media reported that the Russian woman arrested, sentenced, and imprisoned for throwing sulfuric acid in 2018 on a priest of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Managua was living in Italy as a refugee. CENIDH wrote in a report on attacks on Catholic churches in 2019 and 2020, “This case reflects the corrupt and fallacious way in which the Ortega Murillo regime permits impunity against those they consider ‘their political or public enemies,’ crimes that they themselves perversely orchestrate.”
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
Senior U.S. government officials repeatedly called upon the Ortega government to cease violence against and attacks on Catholic clergy, worshippers, and churches. U.S. embassy officials continued to raise concerns with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials regarding restrictions on religious freedom in the context of broader repression. Following the arson attack on the Managua cathedral, the Ambassador condemned the attack in a public statement posted on social media and said attacks on the Church and worshippers should cease immediately and the culprits punished. Embassy officials met regularly with a wide variety of religious leaders from the Catholic Church, evangelical Protestant groups, the Moravian Lutheran Church, Muslim groups, and the Jewish community to discuss restrictions on religious freedom and to foster religious tolerance.
On December 2, 2020, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State again placed Nicaragua on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.
The constitution, laws, and executive decrees provide for freedom of religion and worship and prohibit discrimination based on religion. The constitution recognizes Roman Catholicism as the religion of the majority of citizens and requires Catholic instruction in public schools. According to media sources in September, a group of Babalaos from the Yoruba (Cuban Santeria) religious group submitted a request to the Citizenship Participation Office at the National Assembly to pass a law recognizing them as a religious denomination. Public schools continued to teach Catholicism, but parents could exempt their children from religion classes. Some non-Catholic groups continued to state the government provided preferential distribution of subsidies to small Catholic private schools for salaries.
According to a Rastafarian community leader, young Rastafarians found their private and public sector employment prospects hampered by societal discrimination against the wearing of dreadlocks and traditional Rastafarian attire, and therefore, some decided to leave the religion. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, there were only three public events involving representatives of the Inter-Religious Institute during the year. In January, clergy from various denominations conducted a joint prayer during the nationally televised ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the handover of the Panama Canal. In July, members of the Jewish community organized a virtual interfaith event commemorating the 26th anniversary of the terrorist suicide bombing of an Alas Chiricanas flight in which 20 persons lost their lives, the majority of them members of the country’s Jewish community and whose community was reportedly the target of the attack. On November 3, to celebrate national Independence Day, leaders of the Inter-Religious Institute gave remarks and prayed during a nationally televised Catholic Mass held at the National Cathedral, alongside the Papal Nuncio and the Archbishop of Panama.
In October, U.S. embassy officials met virtually with the new ombudsman, Eduardo Leblanc, to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and the equal treatment of all religious groups, including religious minorities. The embassy used social media channels periodically throughout the year to commemorate major holidays of various religions and recognize International Religious Freedom Day in October.
The constitution accords individuals the right to choose, change, and freely practice their religion and prohibits religious discrimination. It specifically recognizes the right of indigenous communities to express their religions freely. The constitution states the relationship between the state and the Roman Catholic Church is based on independence, cooperation, and autonomy. The Vice Ministry of Worship (VMW) continued to implement a law requiring all religious and philosophical groups to complete a mandatory registration process, but did not impose penalties or monetary sanctions on groups that did not register by the end of 2019, extending the deadline until after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the VMW, approximately 15 percent of religious groups were registered at year’s end. In January, the VMW denied the registration of the Catholic Christian Apostolic National Church of Paraguay (ICCAN) due to its similarity in name with the Roman Catholic Church, although the VMW had approved ICCAN as a legal entity in 2019. In February, ICCAN appealed the VMW’s decision, leading to discussions with the VMW in an attempt to find a compromise that would allow for ICCAN’s registration. Discussions, however, were unsuccessful, and in November, the VMW rejected ICCAN’s appeal. The Jehovah’s Witnesses Association reported that three cases involving individual Jehovah’s Witnesses receiving a hospital blood transfusion against their will remained pending in the courts at year’s end due to COVID-19 pandemic delays.
Some religious representatives said the Roman Catholic Church exercised more influence in politics by swaying public opinion than any other religious group. Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish religious groups expressed regret that they were not able to hold any in-person interfaith dialogues during the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 15, the Roman Catholic Church hosted a religious service to honor the country’s independence. Although Roman Catholic clergy were present for the service in person, all other attendees – among them, President Mario Abdo Benitez, other members of the government, and individuals from other religious groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Jews, and evangelical Protestants – participated virtually. Evangelical Protestant leaders held two informal, in-person interdenominational dialogues with Roman Catholic and other Christian denominations in May and October. On November 20, the VMW hosted a virtual Interreligious Symposium on the Promotion of Peace Through the Practice of Values, open to all religious groups with a presence in the country.
In October, U.S. embassy officials met with VMW Director General Marco Mendez and discussed ICCAN’s registration status, government actions to facilitate the registration process, the promotion of religious freedom, interreligious dialogue, and the provision of state funding for schools run by religious groups. Embassy officials met with representatives of the Roman Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Mennonite, Church of Jesus Christ, Muslim, ICCAN, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jewish communities to discuss interfaith respect for religious diversity and hear their views on the status of religious freedom in the country and the government’s attitude towards and treatment of their communities.
The constitution bars discrimination based on religious affiliation or belief and provides for freedom of conscience and religion, either individually or in association with others. It provides for the separation of religion and state but also recognizes the historic importance of the Roman Catholic Church. During the year, the government registered 156 non-Catholic groups, an increase from 148 in 2019. Among the newly registered groups were the Religious Association of the Good Seed of Majes, House of Prayer for All Nations, and Ministry of God’s Assemblies Abreu e Lima, all evangelical Protestant. In January, the People’s Agrarian Front of Peru (FREPAP), a political party founded by and directly affiliated to the Israelites of the New Universal Pact religious group, obtained 8.4 percent of the vote and 15 seats in congress, the largest congressional representation of a non-Catholic religious party in the country’s history. The Interreligious Council of Peru continued to engage the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MOJ) for equal access to government benefits for all religious groups, including tax exemptions on income, imports, property, and sales; 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. The council continued to discuss the government’s religious freedom regulations, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Interreligious Council continued to promote respect, tolerance, and dialogue among different faith traditions, including through a virtual event on the International Day of Tolerance that highlighted respect for migrants, refugees, and displaced persons. Muslim and Jewish community members continued to state some public and private schools and employers occasionally required their members to use accumulated leave for non-Catholic religious holidays, including Eid al-Fitr and Yom Kippur, an option in accordance with the law.
U.S. embassy officials continued to engage with government officials regarding religious freedom, and they discussed how religious groups were assisting the humanitarian response to Venezuelan migrants in the country, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. While restrictions related to COVID-19 made events and in-person outreach difficult, embassy officials engaged representatives of the Interreligious Council and encouraged religious groups to work together to provide humanitarian assistance to those most affected by the COVID-19 health emergency and its subsequent economic crisis, including Venezuelan migrants in the country.
Saint Kitts and Nevis
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. On February 12, in response to a 2019 High Court ruling that the country’s prohibition of the cultivation and possession of cannabis was unconstitutional and an infringement on the freedom of conscience and religion of the Rastafarian community, legislators voted unanimously to approve a package of legislation to establish a Medicinal Cannabis Authority responsible for issuing licenses for use in private residences and in registered places of worship. On March 28, the Governor General declared a state of emergency temporarily suspending all public gatherings under a COVID-19-related curfew and shelter-in-place order. The Prime Minister consulted with the leaders of religious groups prior to the announcement. The Prime Minister encouraged worshippers to participate in virtual services. On August 29, the government lifted the curfew and shelter-in-place orders, and religious places of instruction and worship reopened. The Ministry of Health continued to require the immunization of children before enrolling in school, but it offered waivers for unvaccinated Rastafarian children.
According to media reports, Rastafarians continued to face occasional societal discrimination, particularly in employment. The St. Kitts and Nevis Christian Council, which includes the Anglican, Methodist, Moravian, and Roman Catholic Churches, the Salvation Army, and the Evangelical Association, including the Church of God and Pentecostal Assemblies, continued to promote joint activities, particularly encouraging tolerance in schools.
U.S. embassy officials engaged representatives of the government, including from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Aviation, on issues of religious freedom, including the importance of respect for religious diversity and tolerance. In January, embassy officials met with civil society representatives on religious freedom. The Ambassador visited historic religious sites in St. Kitts and Nevis during the year. Social media posts during the year highlighted religious freedom, including U.S. International religious Freedom Day in January.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and individuals’ right to change, manifest, and propagate the religion of their choosing. It grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain schools and provide religious instruction. The law requires religious groups with more than 250 members to register. In July, the Association of Saint Lucian Muslims was officially registered as a religious organization. A Jewish community representative said the government increased its communication and cooperation with the Jewish community during the year, but the country’s single Jewish organization, Chabad, continued to await formal recognition as a religious organization. According to Rastafarian representatives, continued government enforcement of marijuana laws discouraged Rastafarians from using marijuana for religious purposes. In August, a government commission submitted its recommendations for reforming the regulatory framework for cannabis; the report was not made public by year’s end. The Ministry of Education generally enforced the requirement of vaccinations for all children attending school, but granted some waivers on religious grounds. National insurance plans did not cover traditional healers used by the Rastafarian community, according to community members. Rastafarians again reported officials from the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government engaged in constructive dialogue and outreach with the Rastafarian community.
According to a local imam with the Islamic Association, some male and female members of the Muslim community experienced verbal harassment when they wore head coverings and clothing that identified them as Muslim. The Christian Council, comprised of the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodist Churches, the Salvation Army, and the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean, continued to hold interdenominational meetings to promote respect for religious diversity and tolerance.
U.S. embassy officials discussed the status of public consultations on marijuana decriminalization, the Religious Advisory Committee, and general issues related to respect for religious minorities with officials of the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government, which is responsible for issues regarding religious groups. Embassy officials also discussed issues related to religious freedom with leaders of the Rastafarian, Christian, and Jewish communities on several occasions during the year.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion. Religious organizations may register as nonprofit religious institutions with the government or register as corporations, which requires an application to parliament. Early in the year, the government formally registered the Islamic Center of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which operates three mosques, as the country’s first incorporated Islamic nonprofit organization. Parliament continued to consider a bill proposed by the government in 2019 that would decriminalize possession and use of small amounts of marijuana, including for religious purposes. Government officials continued to support Rastafarians and all other religious groups’ use of cannabis for sacramental purposes. According to government officials, during the year, the Ministry of Education, National Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information approved exemptions from the requirement of vaccinations for school enrollment, an issue that had affected Rastafarians with school-age children. Senior government officials publicly defended the right of religious freedom, including through public speeches. Government officials also said the Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information applied the constitution’s nondiscrimination clauses to include religious observance in schools, including the wearing of dreadlocks by Rastafarians and Thusia Seventh-day Adventists.
Rastafarians said they were increasingly accepted in society, and overall the country’s citizens were becoming more tolerant of their way of life. Rastafarians stated, however, they still faced discrimination in both private and public job markets and in some private schools due to their appearance.
U.S. embassy officials continued to underscore with government officials the need to respect all religious groups and protect religious freedom as a fundamental right. Embassy officials also met virtually with individuals from the Christian and Muslim communities and nongovernmental organizations to discuss governmental and societal support for religious freedom, including respect for religious minorities. The embassy used Facebook to promote messages regarding the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion; both the constitution and the penal code prohibit discrimination based on religion. Any violation may be brought before a court of justice. Religious groups seeking financial support from the government must register with the Ministry of Home Affairs. Limited government financial support for religious groups remained available through the Ministry of Home Affairs, primarily as a stipend for clergy. The government continued to pay wages for teachers and support staff of schools managed by religious organizations, as well as subsidies to cover operational costs and school supplies. Religious organizations continued to report that the government was late in its payment of subsidies to children’s and elderly homes run by religious organizations. In July, during swearing-in ceremonies for the new national assembly and the government, clergy representing different religious groups took part in the swearing-in of members of their respective congregations.
The Interreligious Council (IRIS) – an organization encompassing two Hindu and two Muslim groups, the Jewish community, and the Roman Catholic Church – continued to discuss interfaith activities and positions on government policies and their impact on society. IRIS collaborated with nonmember religious organizations, such as the Committee of Christian Churches in Suriname, which comprises the Roman Catholic Church, the Moravian Church, the Lutheran Church, as well as the Protestant Church, on efforts to promote religious freedom and tolerance.
In meetings with host government representatives, U.S. embassy officials continued to highlight U.S. government policy on the importance of protecting religious freedom and tolerance. The embassy hosted a human rights film festival in February and March that included the public viewing of a film on religious freedom and a discussion on religious tolerance and diversity.
Trinidad and Tobago
The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious belief and practice, including worship. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. Laws prohibit actions that incite religious hatred and violence. Prime Minister Keith Rowley issued public messages for major religious holidays, underscoring religious freedom, diversity, and unity. According to the Inter-Religious Organization’s (IRO) public relations officer, the National Council of Orisha Elders of Trinidad and Tobago continued to await government recognition of the Orisha religion. According to the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC), eight religious-based discrimination complaints, most involving public or private sector employment, were filed during the year, compared with nine in 2019.
The IRO, an interfaith coordinating committee representing approximately 25 religious groups and receiving both private and public funding, continued to advocate for the importance of religious tolerance. During the year, it received government funding to distribute food baskets and supplies to those in their communities affected by COVID-19, including noncitizens residing in the country. IRO members continued to ask religious communities to open their doors to support Venezuelans and all citizens affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. embassy officials engaged the government, including the EOC, on the importance of religious freedom and tolerance for religious diversity. The Ambassador and other embassy officials continued virtual outreach with religious leaders. The embassy hosted virtual meetings throughout the year to discuss COVID-19’s impact on the religious community, religious pluralism, and interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance among nonmember and member representatives of the IRO. The embassy also promoted religious freedom and tolerance through social media.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and affirms the state does not support any particular religion. Legal statutes prohibit discrimination based on religion. The government’s official commitment to secularism continued to generate controversy between religious groups and political leaders. At year’s end, the Prosecutor’s Office continued investigating the case of a public high school teacher who published several social media posts denying the existence of the Holocaust. In March, the government suspended all public gatherings, including religious ones, in compliance with strict health protocols to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Some religious leaders questioned the government’s authority to restrict their right to practice religion through decrees or protocols. According to some religious groups, the government did not consult with them on the drafting of COVID-19 measures, while it did consult with other religious groups, and that the protocols favored some religious groups over others. Religious organizations continued to underline the need for more channels of communication and opportunities for dialogue with the government to discuss issues related to religious freedom. In January, the government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.
Jewish community representatives continued to report press and social media commentary disparaging their religious beliefs and practices. A Jewish couple received anti-Semitic and threatening comments from a man who sold them a book by a Jewish author through an online platform. The couple reported the incidents to legal authorities, who charged the man with hate crimes. At year’s end, he was awaiting trial while under house arrest and with a restraining order from the couple. Members of the Muslim community continued to state it was occasionally difficult to convince private sector employers to respect prayer times during work hours and to obtain permission to leave work early to attend Friday prayers. Religious groups continued to promote interfaith dialogue, understanding, and coexistence in the country.
U.S. embassy officials discussed the government’s interpretation of secularism, the lack of a government counterpart responsible for religious issues, and the importance of tolerance towards religious minorities and interfaith collaboration with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Honorary Commission against Racism and Xenophobia (CHRXD), and the National Human Rights Institution (INDDHH). Embassy officials met with Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, other minority religious group representatives, and the Board for Interfaith Dialogue to discuss their views on government attitudes towards religion and religious groups and the impact of COVID-19 on their ability to practice religion. The embassy continued to use social media to highlight the importance of respect for religious diversity and tolerance.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion on the condition its practice does not violate public morality, decency, or public order. Representatives of the conference of Catholic bishops, officially known as the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Venezuela (CEV), and the Evangelical Council of Venezuela (ECV) said clergy and other members of their religious communities were harassed, intimidated, and retaliated against for continuing to call attention to the country’s humanitarian crisis. In April, officers of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) detained Father Geronimo Sifontes, coordinator of the Catholic NGO Caritas, in Monagas State. Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders stated the Maduro regime and its aligned groups disrupted church services, attacked churchgoers, and destroyed church property. Media reported nonstate armed groups (NSAGs), called colectivos, aligned with Nicolas Maduro continued to attack churches and their congregants during the year. On January 15, a group of Maduro-aligned colectivos led by regime-controlled security forces assaulted teachers attending Mass prior to a planned protest in Caracas, launching bottles, urine, and feces at them. Church leaders reported Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) officials continued to intimidate priests who criticized Maduro in their sermons. There were reports that regime officials continued to prevent clergy opposing Maduro from holding religious services. According to media reports and other sources, throughout the year, members of the Maduro regime attempted to discredit religious organizations for criticizing the regime. Editorials in pro-Maduro media outlets continued to accuse interim President Juan Guaido and other interim government officials as agents or lobbyists of Zionism. Representatives of the Confederation of Jewish Associations of Venezuela (CAIV) said criticism of Israel in Maduro-controlled or -affiliated media continued to carry anti-Semitic overtones, sometimes disguised as anti-Zionist messages. They said Maduro-controlled or -associated media and supporters again denied or trivialized the Holocaust and promoted conspiracy theories linking Israel and Jews to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On April 22, representatives of the CEV, ECV, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Anglican Church, Jewish community, and other religious groups and other social organizations announced the creation of the Venezuelan Interreligious Social Council. Representatives said the purpose of the council was to build consensus and dialogue based on respect for human rights, democratic institutions, and the rule of law.
During the year, the VAU continued to engage with the Guaido-led interim government. The VAU also continued to maintain close contact with a wide range of religious groups, including the Jewish, Muslim, evangelical Protestant, and Catholic communities. VAU representatives and members of these groups discussed repression and attacks on religious communities committed by the Maduro regime; harassment by the regime’s aligned and armed civilian gangs; and anti-Semitic posts in social media and in regime-controlled media.