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Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the free exercise of worship. It states that these practices must not be “opposed to morals, to good customs or to the public order.” Religious groups may establish and maintain places of worship, as long as the locations are in compliance with public hygiene (health standards) and security regulations established by laws and municipal orders.

According to the constitution, religion and state are officially separate. The law prohibits religious discrimination and provides civil legal remedies to victims of discrimination based on religion or belief and increases criminal penalties for acts of discriminatory violence.

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

Applicants for religious nonprofit status must present the MOJ with an authorized copy of their charter, corresponding bylaws with signatures, and the national identification numbers of charter signatories. The bylaws must include the organization’s mission, creed, and structure. The charter must specify the signatories, the name of the organization, its physical address, and must include confirmation that bylaws have been approved by the religious institutions’ charter signatories. In the event the MOJ raises objections to the group, the group may petition; the petitioning group has 60 days to address the MOJ’s objections or can challenge them in court. Once registered, the state may not dissolve a religious entity by decree. If concerns are raised about a religious group’s activities after registration, the semi-autonomous Council for the Defense of the State may initiate a judicial review of the matter. The government has never deregistered a legally registered group. One registration per religious group is sufficient to extend nonprofit status to affiliates, such as additional places of worship or schools, clubs, and sports organizations, without registering them as separate entities. According to ONAR, the MOJ receives approximately 30 petitions monthly; the MOJ has not objected to any petition and has registered every group that completed the required paperwork.

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

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

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

Government Practices

Catholic and Episcopalian leaders condemned the Constitutional Court’s August decision to partially lift the country’s total ban on abortions, stating that permitting abortions was unconstitutional and violated their religious beliefs.

Both central and regional authorities continued to support the provision of non-Catholic religious education in public schools when parents requested it. Authorities supported schools through municipal offices of religious affairs, encouraged the development of community-supported religious curricula, and provided religious diversity training to public servants.

While prison and military chaplains remained predominately Catholic, the numbers of evangelical Protestant chaplains and other non-Catholic chaplains increased, due in part to the diverse religious affiliations of the prison population and the increase in evangelical Protestant followers in the country. ONAR continued to work to counter perceptions of bias and support diversity in the chaplaincy by encouraging other faith communities to prepare and present candidates for those positions. The National Institute of Human Rights, an independent government agency, continued to report that Protestant faith communities operated without impediments in the prison system.

According to CSW, from January to October, arsonists set fire to four Catholic and four Baptist churches in the primarily indigenous Mapuche communities in the rural Araucania Region. No one was hurt in the attacks. In October the National Prosecutors’ Office found the alleged arsonists did not meet the threshold for trial under the anti-terrorism law. The alleged perpetrators were charged with arson; the trial was still pending at the end of the year. CORMA pledged to develop a work plan to help provide peaceful solutions to the region’s societal conflict by bringing together churches, parishioners, community organizations, neighbors, workers, investors, and business owners. CORMA also donated in-kind goods to rebuild the churches. The regional government announced in April it would help to reconstruct the destroyed churches and initiated programs to train Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches in preventative security measures.

ONAR representatives regularly met with religious leaders with the stated aim of ensuring state institutions respected minority religious practices. In June ONAR published the first edition of an ethics code to facilitate a dialogue of mutual understanding among the country’s religious communities, public and private entities, labor leaders, and civil society. The ethics code asserts Chile’s identity as a secular state and outlines best practices through which civil society, the private sector, and religious institutions might demonstrate religious diversity and tolerance. The ethics code discusses suggestions for education, media outlets, and the environment, among other topics.

ONAR continued to work through the Interfaith Advisory Council, a roundtable organization comprising religious leaders representing the country’s religious communities, including Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and Bahais, among others. Their efforts were designed to facilitate and enhance interreligious dialogue within the country by establishing standing meetings among religious leaders and offering government space to host those conversations.

In June President Michelle Bachelet and ONAR hosted an interfaith iftar at the La Moneda presidential palace to support dialogue and promote interfaith understanding.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

While the Assemblies of God and the Interdenominational Regional Council of Pastors of Araucania publicly called on the authorities to improve their investigation into the eight church burnings, other churches and organizations did not make public statements. According to political sources, the church attacks appeared to fit into the pattern of protest and sabotage directed against a wide range of institutions and business interests in the Araucania Region, which also included trucks, farm equipment, and farm structures.

A soccer match in Santiago on June 8 between Club Israeliti, a Chilean-Jewish team, and Club Palestino, a Chilean-Palestinian team, ended in physical violence as xenophobic chants erupted and fans of the Chilean-Palestinian club rushed the field. Jewish community leaders filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, accusing the Club Palestino fans of anti-Semitic chants. Chilean-Palestinian leaders complained to authorities that the entrance to their community’s soccer field was marked with graffiti of the Star of David and the words “Palestine doesn’t exist, Arabs are terrorists.” Club Palestino denounced the graffiti, describing it as “cowardly aggression.” The president of the Jewish Community of Chile filed a complaint with the police against Club Palestino’s fans, condemned the vandalizing of Club Palestino’s stadium, and expressed the Jewish community’s solidarity with Chile’s Palestinian community.

Jewish community leaders expressed concern about other incidents of graffiti, including some marking Jewish homes as businesses, which they perceived as anti-Semitic, and graffiti that pledged support for Hitler. They also expressed concern about anti-Semitic flyers found in June at Universidad Concepcion and Universidad Catolica promoting white racial purity and denouncing immigration, interreligious marriage, and “racial degeneration.”


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

On October 23, President Moreno repealed past executive decrees regarding civil society, issued by former President Correa, and issued a new decree explaining how civil society organizations, including religious organizations, must register to obtain and maintain legal status. The new decree relaxes or eliminates some aspects of the registration process, including certain requirements for religious organizations to collect, organize, and retain information. Additionally, the new decree removes some subjective justifications for dissolving organizations and eliminates the authority of public officials, at their sole discretion, to impose changes to the bylaws of civil society organizations. Under the new decree, civil society organizations are no longer required to extend membership to any person, even against the will of the other members.

Under the new registration decree, the government requires individual religious congregations and organizations to conduct this registration process through the MOJ. The NSPM’s Office of Planning maintains a national database of legally recognized civil society organizations. Registration provides religious groups with legal and nonprofit status. An officially registered organization is eligible to receive government funding and exemptions from certain taxes. To register, a religious group must present to the government a charter signed by all of its founding members and provide information on its leadership and physical location. Three experts in religious matters appointed by the ministry evaluate the application, in consultation with religious organizations already legally established within the country; the evaluation process may be revised under the new registration decree. The decree does not specify the criteria for selection of religious experts. The registration process is free. Failure to obtain legal status through registration can result in the dissolution of the group and liquidation of its physical property by the government.

The law prohibits public schools from providing religious instruction, but private schools may provide religious instruction. There are no legal restrictions specifying which religious groups may establish schools.

Foreign religious missionaries and volunteers must apply for a temporary residence visa to work in the country and present a letter of invitation from the sponsoring organization to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The letter must include a commitment to cover the applicant’s living expenses and details the activities to be conducted by the applicant. Applicants also must provide a certified copy of the bylaws of the sponsoring organization and the name of its legal representative as approved by the government.

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

Government Practices

While Mormon and Muslim groups said they did not have difficulties with the registration process before President Moreno issued the new registration decree on October 23, some other religious groups stated the registration process had been onerous and disruptive to their activities at times. Evangelical Christian leaders noted their legal representatives often had to travel to Quito to complete processing because satellite registration offices could not handle the final processing of the registration forms, resulting in significant administrative costs and delays. For example, Guayaquil’s registration office had to send documents to Quito for processing, which frequently resulted in a lengthy back and forth to correct simple administrative errors. An evangelical Christian leader said the delays led many groups not to apply for registration. Without a legal representative, groups were unable to open bank accounts or engage in formal land transactions. According to evangelical Christian representatives, unregistered groups often met in private homes or ad hoc structures on the private land of a group member.

Some religious leaders said the government’s enforcement of its decrees under former President Correa was unequal and arbitrary. A Catholic representative said the government requested a complete membership list for his congregation, even though the governing presidential decree required groups to provide only a list of the organization’s founding members. The representative stated it was difficult to comply with the request given the size of the congregation and the fact that its members did not necessarily participate in regular gatherings.

Evangelical Christian leaders said that the Correa government disqualified many of their pastors from serving as the recognized legal representative for their congregations, citing a requirement that legal representatives be citizens with permanent residence in the country and extensive legal knowledge. They said dividing a community’s moral and legal authority complicated decision making and weakened their pastors’ standing within their communities. They stated the MOJ’s Office of Policies for the Regulation and Promotion of the Freedom of Religion prohibited them from naming religious leaders to serve as legal representatives in the city of Ambato.

The NSPM provided training on the old registration process to civil society organizations, including religious groups, throughout the country. The MOJ also provided training to religious groups to help them navigate the registration process. According to the ministry, roughly 4,000 religious groups operated in the country, but only half actually registered with the government. The MOJ provided no public information on specific groups that were denied registration. No religious organizations were dissolved during the year for failure to register.

In January the Constitutional Court found a Jehovah’s Witnesses case filed in June 2016 requesting “special action of protection” to be inadmissible. Jehovah’s Witness representatives stated they were analyzing the case to determine if they could present it to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had filed their initial complaint before a lower court after a gated community near Guayaquil banned proselytization by Jehovah’s Witnesses following complaints from community residents. The court ruled against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, citing the community’s right to prevent trespassing on private property. In May 2016 the judicial court of Guayas Province rejected the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ appeal of the decision.

As of the end of the year, another case filed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and accepted for review in September 2014 remained pending before the Constitutional Court. The case involved a conflict in the northern town of Iluman between Jehovah’s Witnesses who wanted to build a new assembly hall and indigenous residents who opposed it. Two lower courts had previously ruled in favor of the residents, concluding that their right to self-determination was a valid rationale for preventing the practice of religion. Representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said they hoped to set a legal precedent with the case, which they said would establish that an indigenous community’s constitutional right to self-determination could not violate individuals’ right to practice freely the religion they chose. The Jehovah’s Witnesses said they regularly requested information from the MOJ but did not receive an explanation for why the case remained pending more than three years after the Constitutional Court had accepted it for review.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Jewish, Muslim, and Mormon representatives reported they engaged with other religious groups through social work projects and occasional discussions through interfaith groups to enhance understanding and respect among different faiths. A local representative from the interfaith group Religions for Peace said that religious groups did not face societal discrimination or persecution in the country. Many religious leaders said that society exhibited a general lack of knowledge about religious traditions and practices outside of Catholicism. For example, Muslim leaders said members of society asked them about traditional Muslim dress and names. Some religious leaders expressed concerns about what they considered an erosion of traditional religious values and a rise in secularism.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

An agreement with the Holy See accords the Catholic Church institutional privileges in education, taxation, and immigration of religious workers. The law exempts Catholic Church buildings, houses, and other real estate holdings from property taxes. Other religious groups often must pay property taxes on schools and clergy residences, depending on the municipal jurisdiction and whether they have sought and received tax exemptions. The law exempts Catholic religious workers from taxes on international travel. The government also exempts all work-related earnings of Catholic priests and bishops from income taxes. By law, the military may employ only Catholic clergy as chaplains.

The revised implementing regulations to the religious freedom law the government adopted in 2016 make registration with the MOJ’s Directorate of Justice and Religious Freedom optional and voluntary. The stated purpose of the registry is to promote integrity and facilitate a relationship with the government. The revised regulations do not require government registration for a religious group to obtain institutional benefits. They allow all religious groups, registered or not, to apply for tax exemptions and worker or resident visas directly with the pertinent government institutions.

For religious entities seeking to register with the government, the regulations require at least 500 adult members. The regulations exempt all “historically established” religious groups from this requirement. The explanatory statement accompanying the regulations identifies Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, evangelical and all other Protestant churches, as well as the Jewish and Muslim communities, as examples of “historically established” religious groups. Registration is free, the process usually takes one week, and the MOJ provides assistance in completing the application forms.

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

The law mandates that all schools, public and private, provide religious education through the primary and secondary levels, “without violating the freedom of conscience of the student, parents, or teachers.” The law permits only the teaching of Catholicism in public schools, and the Ministry of Education requires the presiding Catholic bishop of an area to approve the public schools’ religious education teachers. Parents may request the school principal to exempt their children from mandatory religion classes. The government may grant exemptions to secular private schools and non-Catholic religious schools from the religious education requirement. Non-Catholic children attending Catholic schools are also exempt from classes on Catholicism. The law states that schools may not academically disadvantage students seeking exemptions from Catholic education classes.

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

Foreign religious workers must apply for a visa through the Ministry of Interior’s Office of Immigration. If the religious group is registered with MOJ, the immigration office accepts this as proof the applicant group is a religious organization. If the group is unregistered with MOJ, the immigration office makes its decision on a case-by-case basis.

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

Government Practices

Some Catholic Church members and members of religious minorities continued to criticize the 2011 religious freedom law, stating it maintained institutional preferences for the Catholic Church and did not address the government’s unequal provision of benefits, specifically the stipends paid to certain Catholic clergy. Non-Catholic groups, however, said they were generally pleased with the revised registration regulations because they reduced the government registry standards for non-Catholic entities. By the end of the year, the government had registered 115 non-Catholic groups that had voluntarily requested registration; only Catholic groups registered in 2016. Most of the new registered groups were Protestant; however, Jewish, Muslim, Bahai, Orthodox Christian, and Jehovah’s Witnesses entities also registered. The government accepted and approved the applications from all interested religious groups. According to a Mormon community representative, the Mormon Church did not believe it was necessary to register. The representative said the Mormon Church received tax benefits and visas for its religious workers even though it had never registered.

The executive branch, through the MOJ, formally interacted with religious communities on matters of religious freedom, including the new registration process, taxation exemptions, religious worker visas, and budgetary support for religious groups. The MOJ continued to implement laws and interact regularly with the public through its Office of Catholic Affairs and Office of Interfaith Affairs for non-Catholic Religious Groups. Government engagement with religious groups included conferences and other meetings to discuss the new registration process, joint charity campaigns, and cultural events.

According to the MOJ’s Office of Catholic Affairs, the government paid stipends to the Catholic cardinal, six archbishops, and other Catholic Church officials, totaling approximately 2.6 million soles ($803,000) annually. Some Catholic clergy and laypersons employed by the Church received remuneration from the government in addition to Church stipends, including 44 active bishops, four auxiliary bishops, and some priests. These individuals represented approximately one-eighth of the Catholic clergy and pastoral agents. In addition, the government provided each Catholic diocese with a monthly institutional subsidy, based on a historic agreement with the Holy See. The Catholic Church used the funds to provide services to the poor, regardless of their religious affiliation, according to Catholic Church representatives. Similar stipends were not available to other religious groups.

Some Protestant soldiers continued to report some difficulty finding and attending non-Catholic religious services because of the absence of non-Catholic chaplains in the military.

Congress passed a resolution declaring October 31 the National Day of Evangelical Christian Churches. Members of the evangelical Christian community said they appreciated the government’s gesture.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Inter-Religious Council of Peru, an umbrella organization open to all religious groups and representing a broad spectrum of religious groups, including evangelical and other Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, and Mormon communities, maintained a steady dialogue among religious entities, including engaging religious communities about the impact of the government’s revised religious freedom regulations. In its regular meetings with the MOJ, the council continued to press for equal access to government benefits for all religious groups, including taxation exemptions (income, import duties, property, and sales), visas for religious workers, and the opportunity to serve as military chaplains.

Jewish community leaders said that some individuals engaged in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on social media. Muslim leaders said that when the media reported terrorist attacks in Europe and the Middle East, some non-Muslim members of the public posted negative social media comments about Islam. Muslim and Jewish community members stated that public and private schools in addition to employers occasionally required their members to use accumulated leave for non-Catholic religious holidays such as Eid al-Fitr and Yom Kippur, an option in accordance with the law.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future