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 these practices must not be “opposed to morals, to good customs, or to the public order.”  Religious groups may establish and maintain places of worship if the locations comply with public hygiene and security regulations established by laws and municipal orders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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