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 guarantees freedom of religion and its public expression and prohibits compelling participation in religious ceremonies. Roman Catholicism is the state religion, and state ceremonies often include Catholic rituals. Religious groups must apply to the government to build a public place of worship and to receive recognition, which provides certain legal rights and privileges. Optional Catholic religious instruction is available in public schools. Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the group did not apply again for recognition as a religious group, after three government rejections in prior years. Without recognition, the government and Jehovah’s Witnesses said the group could not open a place of worship in the country.
The only private religious schools were Catholic. According to the government, while the law permits private, non-Catholic religious schools, there was insufficient demand for them. Muslim, Protestant, and Jewish representatives again said there was no need for them to open a religious school but believed the government would likely agree, if asked, to a request to open one.
In December, the U.S. Consul General in Marseille discussed the state of religious freedom in the country with a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In September, a representative from the Consulate General in Marseille discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom with members of the Jehovah’s Witness, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim communities. These issues included whether there had been any religiously motivated incidents or limits restricting religious practices, the establishment of places of worship, and government attitudes towards religious schools.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. It states that while no religion shall have a “state character,” the government shall form cooperative relations with the Roman Catholic Church and other religious faiths. The government has a bilateral agreement with the Holy See that grants the Catholic Church additional benefits not available to three other groups with which the government has agreements: Protestants, Muslims, and Jews. Groups without agreements may register with the government and receive some benefits. In January, the government moved responsibility for religious issues from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of the Presidency, Relations with Parliament, and Democratic Memory (Ministry of the Presidency). Several religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed satisfaction with the move, stating the reorganization gave religious issues increased prominence. In July, Amnesty International called on the government to decriminalize “offending religious sentiments,” which it said unduly restricted freedom of expression. Some religious groups and NGOs voiced concerns about government restrictions on places of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several minority religious groups objected to unequal legal treatment, compared with the Catholic Church, on issues including tax allocations, access to cemeteries, public financing, and pensions for clergy. There were instances of members of parliament or local government officials using derogatory language against religious minorities. The governmental Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation continued outreach to various religious groups and organized events promoting religious freedom. The Ministry of the Interior’s Office on Hate Crimes offered assistance to victims of religiously motivated hate crimes and provided training to law enforcement.
The NGO Observatory for Religious Freedom and Conscience (OLRC) reported 181 religiously motivated incidents – including two assaults – in the first nine months of the year, six more than in the same period in 2019. Of the 181 cases, 75 percent were against Christians. The Ministry of the Interior documented 66 hate crimes with religious motivations in 2019, compared with 69 in 2018. The General Prosecutor’s 2019 annual report reported seven judicial processes opened during 2019 for hate crimes involving religion and two court rulings for crimes against religious sentiments. Some Christians, Muslims, and Jews reported increased hostility against them on social media and increased instances of vandalism.
U.S. embassy and consulate officials maintained communication with the Ministry of the Presidency’s Office of Religious Affairs, as well as with regional governments’ offices for religious affairs; topics discussed included access to permits for places of worship, religious education, cemeteries and burial, pensions, religiously motivated hate crimes, and hate speech. Embassy and consulate officials met with a wide range of religious groups and civil society members and discussed discrimination and the free exercise of their religious rights. The embassy and consulate posted social media messages commemorating various religious holidays and observances and highlighting the importance of religious freedom and the inclusion and respect for religious minority communities. In January, embassy officials cosponsored a series of events commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Month.