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Barbados

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion, and prohibition of discrimination based on creed.  A law criminalizing “blasphemous libel” is not enforced.

The government does not require religious groups to register.  To obtain duty-free import privileges and tax benefits, however, the government requires religious groups to register with the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office.  A religious group must file the relevant customs and tax forms, along with a resolution passed by the majority of its board of trustees expressly authorizing the application, plus the group’s related statutory declaration.

The constitution grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and provide religious instruction.  The government provides subsidies or financial assistance to some of these schools to help cover the cost of students who could not find space in a public school.  The public school curriculum includes religious “values education” as part of the historic association of schools with Christian missionaries who founded many of the schools.  At the primary school level, the focus is on Christianity from several denominations.  At the secondary school level, all major religions are included.  The constitution protects students from mandatory religious instruction, ceremony, or observance without personal consent or, if under the age of 21, consent of the guardian.

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

Government Practices

Rastafarians again stated their objection to the government’s enforcement of the marijuana prohibition for any use, including for religious rituals.

Representatives from the Barbados Muslim Association said they objected to a government policy requiring women to remove all head coverings for identification and passport photographs.  The association met with all political parties to discuss the issue, and the new administration stated that it would review this practice.  Some Rastafarians again stated that police and immigration officials often asked them to remove head coverings and gave extra scrutiny to Rastafarian women at checkpoints as pretexts to search for marijuana.

Rastafarians stated that the requirement for vaccinations for all children to enroll in public schools violated Rastafarian religious beliefs.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some Rastafarians again reported societal discrimination.  Rastafarian sources, however, also said they believed public opinion of their community was gradually improving.

Bolivia

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

The law requires religious groups to register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) Office of Religion and Nongovernmental Organizations as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in order to operate legally.  Pursuant to a concordat with the Holy See, the Catholic Church is exempt from the registration law.

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

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

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

A 2017 regulation requires religious and spiritual groups to reregister their operating licenses to ensure all documents list the official name of the country as “Estado Plurinacional.”  Prior to this new requirement, organizations could carry an older version of licenses that listed the name of the state as “Republica de Bolivia.”  Reregistration also requires any amendments to organizations’ bylaws to conform to all new national laws.  Organizations must comply with the new registration requirements by 2019.  Registered religious groups receive tax, customs, and other legal benefits.

The fees to obtain an operating license differ between “Religious Organizations” and “Spiritual Organizations,” with costs of 6,780 bolivianos ($990) and 4,068 bolivianos ($590), respectively.

The government reserves the right to revoke an organization’s operating permit for noncompliance with the registration requirements.  The government may not deny legal recognition to any organization based on its articles of faith.

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

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

Government Practices

Members of the evangelical Protestant community again said several smaller religious communities forming congregations that observe prayer at unofficial worship locations continued to refuse to register their organizations because they preferred not to provide the government with access to internal personal information.  Sources stated that these unregistered groups still could neither own property nor have bank accounts in their name; however, the sources said the government did not interfere with these organizations for their refusal to comply with the law.

According to the MFA’s Office of Religion and Nongovernmental Organizations, there were approximately 440 registered religious groups, an increase from 434 in 2017.  Many religious groups continued to state that the complexity of the registration procedure, including registering the legal name of the organization, required them to seek legal assistance in order to comply.  This process generally took four to six months to complete.

Leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ and evangelical Protestant churches continued to work with the government on a legislative proposal exempting churches from the registration requirements for the next five years.

The Bolivian National Association of Evangelicals sent a letter to the foreign minister on September 27, raising what it said was governmental preferential treatment of indigenous groups and citing the fee structure difference to obtain operating licenses for spiritual and religious groups as an example.  The government did not respond to the letter during the year.

On December 24, after a meeting between evangelical Protestant leaders and President Evo Morales, Foreign Minister Diego Pary, and the previous president of congress, Jose Gonzalez, the government announced the congress would introduce a draft Religious Freedom law in February 2019.  In January the congress abrogated the revised penal code, which had included an article criminalizing recruitment into “religious organizations or cults.”  The action was reportedly in response to civil society protests of the revision, including from members of the evangelical Protestant community.

According to media reports and religious leaders, government leaders continued to criticize religious leaders who publicly commented on political issues.  Catholic representatives said the longstanding and public tensions between the Catholic community and the government continued.  According to media reports, in June the Bolivian Episcopal Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CEB) deputy general secretary, Father Jose Fuentes, stated that President Evo Morales’ politics excluded portions of the country’s population.  In response to these comments, President Morales accused the CEB of racism.  In November Archbishop of Sucre Jesus Juarez stated that the CEB backed the outcome of the 2016 referendum reaffirming term limits for the president and vice president.  On November 5, the CEB officially invited President Morales to the Assembly of Bishops.  The minister of the Presidency, Alfredo Rada, publicly released a letter rejecting the CEB’s invitation.  The letter, signed by Rada, stated that the Office of the President was surprised to receive the invitation because some bishops “attack” the current administration and “persist in using hard and false concepts” such as the accusation that the country’s democracy was at risk.

On December 2, the CEB commented on the November 2017 Plurinational Constitutional Court of Bolivia (TCP) ruling, which invalidated the referendum’s outcome by removing term limits for elected officials, thus allowing President Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term.  The CEB stated that the TCP decision “constitutes a serious damage to democracy, and ignores the popular will expressed in the referendum of February 21, 2016.”  Father Fuentes of the CEB further stated, “This precedent may undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the authorities and institutions called to preserve the democratic health of our country.  It could put us in a situation of violation of the constitutional order of unforeseeable consequences.”  President Morales responded to the CEB’s comments by stating that some bishops and other members of the Catholic Church were “inclined to support the powerful” and were “betraying Jesus” by supporting the opposition.

A representative from the Jewish community stated the Jewish community still had no contact with the president or any other kind of relationship with the Morales administration.

Evangelical Protestant leaders again said the government violated the constitution’s separation of religion and state by favoring an Andean spiritual philosophy, especially the philosophy of the ethnic Aymara community, over other religious beliefs, in public statements and ceremonies.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Evangelical Protestant leaders again stated that members of indigenous communities continued to expel missionaries and pastors from rural communities for practicing a religion that did not defer to traditional Andean spiritual beliefs.  According to leaders in the evangelical Protestant community, indigenous leaders expelled pastors from rural villages for not observing indigenous customs such as making offerings to mother earth.

Dominican Republic

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of “conscience and worship, subject to public order and respect for social norms.”  A 1954 concordat with the Holy See designates Catholicism as the official state religion and extends special privileges to the Catholic Church not granted to other religious groups.  These privileges include the special protection of the state in the exercise of Catholic ministry, exemption of Catholic clergy from military service, permission to provide Catholic instruction in public orphanages, public funding to underwrite some Catholic Church expenses, and exemption from customs duties.

To request exemption from customs duties, non-Catholic religious groups must first register as NGOs with the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Finance.  Registration with the Attorney General’s Office, which applies to nonprofit organizations generally and is not specifically for religious groups, is a two-step process.  First, the organization must provide documentation of a fixed address and the names of seven elected officers, have a minimum of 25 members, and pay a nominal fee.  Second, the organization must draft and submit statutes and provide copies of government-issued identification documents for the board of directors.  After registering, religious groups may request customs duty exemption status from the Ministry of Finance.

The law provides for government recognition of marriages performed by religious groups registered with the Central Electoral Board.  The law requires churches to have legal status and presence in the country for at least five years, provide a membership list, and train clergy on how to perform marriages.  Churches are responsible for determining the legal qualification of couples, and they must record all marriages performed and make those lists available for government inspection.  Failure to comply with the regulations governing marriage can result in misdemeanor sanctions or fines.

The concordat grants the Catholic Church free access to prisons.  The government states it allows access to all faiths in prisons.  All faiths have the right to perform religious acts in prisons, in community or alone.

As part of the concordat with the Holy See, the law requires religious studies based on Catholic Church teachings in all public schools.  The concordat accords the Catholic Church the right to revise and approve textbooks used in public schools throughout the country.  The concordat also provides parents with the option of exempting their children from religious studies in public schools at both the elementary and secondary levels.  Private schools are exempt from the religious studies requirement; however, private schools run by religious groups may teach religious studies according to their beliefs.  A law mandating reading the Bible in public schools is not enforced.

The government imposes no immigration restrictions or quotas on religious workers.  Foreign missionaries may obtain a one-year multi-entry business visa through the Ministry of Foreign Relations after submitting a completed application form, original passport, two passport-size photographs, and a document offering proof as to the business activity from the institution or person in the country with whom the missionary is affiliated.  Foreign missionaries may renew the visa before the original one-year visa has expired.

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

Government Practices

Non-Catholic religious groups continued to report the government provided the Catholic Church significant financial support unavailable to them, including properties transferred to the Catholic Church and subsidies to the salaries of Catholic Church officials.

At the interfaith event in November, some of the 26 participants expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s preference for the Catholic Church, the lack of explicit legal protection for churches beyond what the constitution provides, and the treatment of non-Catholic churches as NGOs rather than as religious organizations under the law.

A non-Catholic religious organization said the government still required it to pay customs duties on imported food and other items and then apply for a refund instead of receiving an exemption as allowed by law.  Religious groups continued to report difficulties when applying for and receiving customs duty refunds from the Ministry of Finance.

In June the Ministry of Education signed agreements to incorporate 15 Christian schools, including non-Catholic Christian schools, into the national education system and provide them with teaching, administrative, and other support staff.  The agreements allowed these schools to continue offering the same religious instruction as before the agreements.  The voluntary transfer of the schools to state administration was the result of a 2014 presidential promise to spend 4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product on education.

In October a legislator introduced a resolution in the Congress of Deputies to enforce the law requiring the reading of the Bible in public schools, which would occur after raising the national flag and singing the national anthem.  One prominent legislator declared the resolution violated the constitution and the country’s status as a secular state, but many others declared strong support for it.  Legislative leaders sent the resolution to the education committee for further deliberation.

In December the minister of education told Catholic and Protestant religious leaders that he sought a “strategic alliance” between churches, schools, and the family as a means to reform the country’s education system.  He also invited church participation in improving the quality of education based on Christian values and principals.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In February the Pontifical University in Santo Domingo and the Church of Jesus Christ cohosted an international conference, Religious Liberty as a Fundamental Right.  Participants emphasized the importance of laws and judges in ensuring religious liberty.

El Salvador

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

The penal code imposes criminal sentences of one to three years on individuals who publicly offend or insult the religious beliefs of others, or damage or destroy religious objects.  The law defines an offense as an action that prevents or disrupts the free exercise of religion, publicly disavows religious traditions, or publicly insults an individual’s beliefs or religious dogma.  Sentences increase to four to eight years when individuals commit such acts to gain media attention.  Repeat offenders may face prison sentences of three to five years.  There were no prosecutions under this law during the year.

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

A 2016 law defines gangs as terrorist groups.  A 2014 law restricts support of, and interaction with, gangs, including by members of clergy; however, rehabilitation and ministry activities are legal.

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

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

Public education is secular.  The constitution grants the right to establish private schools, including schools run by religious groups, which operate without government support.  Parents choose whether their children receive religious education in private schools.  Public schools may not deny admittance to any student based on religion.  All private schools, religiously affiliated or not, must meet the same academic standards to obtain Ministry of Education approval.

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

Government Practices

On October 23, soon after the Catholic Church declared Salvadoran Archbishop Romero a saint, Judge Rigoberto Chicas issued an arrest warrant for Alvaro Rafael Saravia, a former military captain suspected of killing Romero in 1980 as he celebrated Mass.

On April 17, a court ordered the attorney general to bring new charges against former President Alfredo Cristiani and six senior military commanders for their alleged roles in the 1989 killing of six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter at the Central American University in San Salvador.  The court overturned a 2000 ruling that the statute of limitations expired in the case.

Clergy and faith-based NGO workers said the government sometimes arbitrarily detained, questioned, or searched their person because of their ministry work with active and former gang members.  Some religious leaders stated they avoided violence prevention and rehabilitation efforts, fearing prosecution or being perceived as sympathetic to gangs, even though courts had ruled that rehabilitation efforts were not illegal per the constitution.  Clergy said police sometimes mistakenly detained young congregants and youth leaders from several Christian denominations as suspected gang members.

The Legislative Assembly passed a reform bill on August 16 making permanent the penitentiary reforms commonly known as “extraordinary measures” temporarily in effect since 2016.  The bill allows restricting nongovernmental access to prisons, including access of clergy in certain cases, such as when a prisoner loses visitation privileges because of misconduct.  This legislation followed increasing reports of gang members who were also evangelical Protestant pastors gaining entrance to prisons and functioning as couriers between incarcerated gang leaders and gang members outside the prisons.  In some prisons, the government encouraged religious organizations to work with prisoners to persuade them to renounce gang life.  The government also consulted with and jointly implemented rehabilitation and reinsertion programs with faith-based organizations.

The Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights again reported it had not received notice of any cases of alleged violations of religious freedom.

According to the Ministry of Governance, there were 141 new requests for registration of religious groups from January through August 29.  Of these, the Ministry of Governance approved 55, and 84 were pending.  According to government officials, two religious entities did not complete the registration process.  The ministry reported it had denied one application due to the group’s lack of required documents.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to international news reports, on March 29, unidentified armed individuals stopped Father Walter Vasquez Jimenez and parishioners in San Miguel while traveling to Mass.  The group released the parishioners but abducted and later shot and killed Vasquez.  By year’s end, authorities had not detained anyone for the crime.

On July 15, according to local news reports, MS-13 gang members killed Protestant pastor Jose Isaac Garcia Zaldana after he reportedly convinced approximately six gang members to leave the gang and join his congregation.  According to media, days before his killing, gang members beat him in the street, and a police officer threatened to kill him after he witnessed the officer smoking marijuana with known gang members.

According to media reports, on July 25, members of the Barrio 18 gang (also called the 18th Street gang) attempted to enter an evangelical Protestant church in Santa Cruz Michapa and remove a congregant during a church service.  The pastor resisted, barring the door before shooting and killing one of the assailants.

Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders, leaders of other Christian denominations, and statisticians and criminology researchers continued to state that clergy sometimes could not reach their respective congregations in MS-13 and Barrio 18 gang-controlled territory throughout the country due to fear of crime and violence.  According to media reports, MS-13 and Barrio 18 gang members beat and killed pastors who actively encouraged gang members to leave their gangs.  In the departments of Ahuachapan, Cabanas, Cuscatlan, La Libertad, La Paz, La Union, Santa Ana, San Miguel, San Salvador, San Vicente, Sonsonate, and Usulutan, gang members controlled access in and around communities, and there were reports that they displaced church leaders and charity groups with religious affiliations.  Pastors said congregants could not attend religious services if they had to cross ever-shifting boundaries that gangs had arbitrarily established that used addresses on national identification cards to identify outsiders.

According to media, criminals continued to target congregants in violent muggings outside of churches.  On May 6, an unidentified individual stabbed a congregant who refused to turn over his cell phone as he and his family were leaving the El Calvario Church in San Salvador.  There were also continuing reports of gang members extorting organizations with known funding streams, including religious groups, demanding payments in exchange for allowing them to operate in some territories.  According to media reports, gangs demanded churches divert charitable items to their families.  Reports of criminals targeting churches, stealing religious relics and other valuable cultural items, and violently assaulting parishioners continued.  Media reported that in September unidentified individuals stole from El Calvario Church in San Salvador one of the oldest religious figurines in the country.

Religious leaders continued to participate in the government-led National Security Plan, including in the monitoring and implementation of the plan, which the government enacted in 2015.  This effort linked community leaders, law enforcement personnel, and government officials in 50 municipalities with the highest levels of violence throughout the country to prevent and reduce that violence through joint efforts to improve education, social assistance, economic development, and security.  Religious leaders participated alongside local leaders of media, unions, academics, and others in the municipal and national councils to help with efforts to improve security in their communities.

According to representatives of the Lutheran Church, interfaith groups continued to meet throughout the year and helped reinforce what they said was commonly held societal respect for the contributions of the country’s religious communities.  The Religions for Peace collective, comprising Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Muslim, Baha’i, Jewish, and indigenous representatives, worked together on the Pastoral Initiative for Life and Peace, focusing on reintegration programs for all prisoners, regardless of religious affiliation, after release from incarceration.

Members of the LGBTI community said they faced rejection and discrimination within their own congregations.  The Anglican Church stated it would accept LGBTI members without preconditions such as celibacy promises that some other churches reportedly demanded of some LGBTI congregants.

Guatemala

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the free expression of all beliefs and the right to practice a religion or belief, in public and private.  The constitution recognizes the distinct legal personality of the Catholic Church.

The constitution does not require religious groups to register for the purpose of worship, but non-Catholic religious groups must register for legal status to conduct activities such as renting or purchasing property and entering into contracts, and to receive tax-exempt status and tax exemptions for properties used for worship, religious education, and social assistance.  To register, a group must file with the Ministry of Government a copy of its bylaws, which must reflect an intention to pursue religious objectives, and a list of its initial membership, with at least 25 members.  The ministry may reject applications if the group does not appear to be devoted to a religious objective, appears intent on undertaking illegal activities, or engages in activities that appear likely to threaten public order.  All religious groups must obtain the permission of the respective municipal authorities for construction and repair of properties and for holding public events, consistent with requirements for nonreligious endeavors.

The constitution protects the rights of indigenous groups to practice their traditions and forms of cultural expression, including religious rites.  The law permits Mayan spiritual groups to conduct religious ceremonies at Mayan historical sites on government-owned property.

The criminal code penalizes with one-month to one-year sentences the interruption of religious celebrations, the offense of a religion, and the desecration of burial sites or human remains; however, charges are seldom filed under these laws.  The constitution provides for freedom of expression, protecting against blasphemy.

According to the constitution, no member of the clergy of any religion may serve as president, vice president, government minister, or judge.

A Catholic priest and a nondenominational Christian pastor serve as prison chaplains.

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

The government requires foreign missionaries to obtain tourist visas, which authorities issue for renewable periods of three months.  After renewing their tourist visas once, foreign missionaries may apply for temporary residence for up to two years.

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

Government Practices

Some Mayan leaders said the government continued to limit their access to a number of religious sites on government-owned property and to require them to pay to access the sites.  The government continued to state there were no limitations to access; however, anyone seeking access to the sites located on national parks or other protected areas had to pay processing or entrance fees.  In Semuc Champey, a natural monument, for example, the processing fee was approximately $4 to $5, a prohibitive price for many indigenous populations.  Leaders from the Committee on the Designation of Sacred Sites continued to state practitioners of Mayan spirituality were generally able to obtain free access to sites if they were accredited and issued an identification card as spiritual guides and had received written permission from the Ministry of Culture in advance of the scheduled ceremony/religious practice.  Mayan leaders said the government continued to require written permission, involving considerable paperwork, costly travel to the capital, and fluency in Spanish.  The Presidential Commission against Discrimination and Racism (CODISRA) continued to provide interpreters for indigenous persons upon request.  Mayan advocates continued to press for access, within reasonable parameters, to the approximately 2,000 sacred sites on both public and private land.

In September the Mayan community of Chicoyoguito expressed concerns about lack of access to a spiritual site on former Guatemalan Military Base 21, which was transformed into a UN peacekeeping training base known as CREOMPAZ in Coban, Alta Verapaz.  The community stated it continued to petition for the return of land, including its sacred ceremonial center.  In 1968 military forces seized the land and evicted members of the Mayan community.

On November 5, with a search warrant from the Solicitor General’s Office (PGN), National Civilian Police officers and investigators, along with a PGN attorney, conducted a partial search of the compound of an ultraorthodox Jewish group, Lev Tahor, located in Santa Rosa.  Some government officials stated allegations of child abuse, including child marriage, surrounded the group.

Non-Catholic groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ, said some municipal-level authorities still discriminated against them in processing permit approvals and in local tax collection.  Members of the Church of Jesus Christ said in spite of a 2013 ruling exempting the Church from paying taxes, municipal authorities continued to link the issue of tax collection to construction permits, refusing to issue new permits unless the Church paid its taxes.

Missionaries continued reporting they chose to remain on tourist visas to avoid what they considered a complicated procedure to apply for temporary residence.

On September 26, congress approved a resolution instructing migration authorities to ban a heavy metal rock band from performing a concert, stating the band was satanic and its lyrics were tantamount to an attack on Christian values.  The human rights ombudsman criticized the decision, noting the constitution protects freedom of religion and thought.  Some local media sources stated the decision amounted to religious censorship.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some Catholic clergy continued to report threats and harassment against them because of their association with environmental protection work.  Some private owners of land in locations considered sacred by Mayan religious groups denied access to Mayans, including caves, lagoons, mountains, and forests, according to Mayan spiritual groups.

Members of the Catholic Episcopal Conference said they were offended by a March 8 protest for women’s rights they believed mocked Christian religious traditions and imagery.  Other religious leaders said they were not offended because the march was in honor of human rights and equality.

Christian communities, including the Church of Jesus Christ, as well as the Jewish and Muslim communities, reported increased interfaith collaboration during the year, including providing humanitarian assistance following the June 3 Fuego volcanic eruption; creating an Interreligious Humanitarian Commission, which during the year provided eye examinations and glasses to more than 9,000 persons; and combating high rates of malnutrition among the country’s youth.  These groups provided health and humanitarian assistance to individuals irrespective of their religious beliefs.

Guyana

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, including the right to choose and change one’s religion.  An unenforced law prescribes a prison term of one year for a blasphemous libel conviction; however, the law exempts religious expression made in “good faith and decent language.”

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

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

There are both public and private religiously-affiliated schools.  Private schools are operated entirely by private groups and are not funded by the state.  Students of private schools must pay fees to attend, and the state does not control those fees.  Religious education is compulsory in all private schools with a religious affiliation.  All students attending a private school of religious affiliation must participate in religious education, regardless of a student’s religious beliefs.  There is no religious education in public schools, regardless of whether the school is religiously affiliated.  Most public schools’ religious affiliations are Anglican or Methodist.

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

Government Practices

Representatives of the Rastafarian community continued to state that a law criminalizing the possession of 15 grams or more of marijuana infringed on their religious practices.  The Guyana Rastafari Council continued to petition the government to legalize the use of small amounts of marijuana for religious purposes, but authorities reportedly again did not consider the proposal, stating that reviewing drug legislation remained a low priority for the government.

The government continued to maintain regulations limiting the number of visas for foreign representatives of religious groups based on historical trends, the relative size of the group, and the president’s discretion; however, the government and religious groups with foreign missionaries continued to report that the visa limitation rule was not applied.  Religious groups also reported that the visa quotas the government allotted to them were sufficient and did not adversely affect their activities.

The Guyana Defense Force (GDF) continued to coordinate with civilian religious groups to provide military personnel with access to religious services.  Leaders of the country’s three major religious groups – Christian, Hindu, and Muslim – conducted prayer services and counseling on GDF bases.

The Ministry of Social Cohesion continued to promote interfaith harmony and respect for diversity.  In March the ministry held a “harmony village” in the capital city of Georgetown to promote tolerance of various ethnic and religious identities.  Various stakeholders and religious groups participated.

Government representatives met with leaders of various religious groups to promote social cohesion and discuss tolerance of diversity.  Government officials also participated regularly in the observance of Christian, Hindu, and Muslim religious holidays throughout the year.

In February members of parliament and government ministers participated in an interfaith ceremony whose stated purpose was to celebrate the country’s religious freedom and diversity.  The ceremony included the participation of representatives of Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Faithist, and Baha’i groups, as well as the Arreuya indigenous community.

The government continued to declare some holy days of the country’s three major religious groups as national holidays.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Continued interfaith efforts conducted by the Inter-Religious Organization of Guyana – comprising various Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Rastafarian groups – again led to individual and organizational oral pledges to promote social cohesion and respect for ethnic and religious diversity.

Haiti

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions and establishes laws to regulate the registration and operation of religious groups.  The constitution protects against being compelled to belong to a religious group contrary to one’s beliefs.  The MFA is responsible for monitoring and administering laws relating to religious groups; within the MFA, the Bureau of Worship is responsible for registering churches and other religious buildings, clergy, and missionaries of various religious denominations.  By law, the licensing of pastors, priests, and other religious leaders is a government prerogative.  To obtain a license, the prospective religious leader must submit a dossier of 14 documents to the MFA, including a diploma of theology/religious studies, a certificate of good moral conduct, and a recommendation letter signed by a registered religious institution.  Once the MFA confirms the applicant’s eligibility for a license, the individual must take an oath before an official of the Ministry of Justice.

Although Catholicism has not been the official state religion since the enactment of the 1987 constitution, an 1860 concordat between the Holy See and the state according some preferential treatment to the Catholic Church remains in effect.  The concordat gives the Vatican power to approve and select a specific number of bishops in the country with government consent.  Under the concordat, the government provides a monthly stipend to Catholic priests.  The government does not provide stipends to Episcopalian or other clergy, although both Catholic and Episcopalian bishops have official license plates and carry diplomatic passports.  The government also allows the head of the Protestant Federation to use official license plates and carry a diplomatic passport.

By law, religious institutions must register with the MFA to operate in the country and receive government benefits; however, there is no penalty for operating without registration, and many religious groups continue to do so.  Registration affords religious groups standing in legal disputes, provides tax-exempt status, and extends civil recognition to documents such as marriage certificates and baptismal certificates issued by the group.  The government recognizes these certificates as legal documents only when prepared by government-licensed clergy.  Baptismal certificates are identifying documents with legal authority similar to birth certificates.  The government does not tax registered religious groups, and it exempts their imports from customs duties.  Requirements for registration include information on the qualifications of the group’s leader, a membership directory, and a list of the group’s social projects.  Registered religious groups must submit annual updates of their membership, projects, and leadership to the MFA.  Foreign missionaries must submit registration paperwork to operate privately funded clinics, schools, and orphanages.  Foreign religious groups do not have special visa requirements.

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

Government Practices

The MFA stated the 2003 government directive establishing Vodou as an official religion gives the right to the Vodou community to issue official documents, but the National Confederation of Haitian Vodou (KNVA) had not taken the necessary administrative steps to begin issuing such documents.  The MFA stated it was working with the Vodou community to develop a certification process for houngans (male Vodou leaders) and mambos (female Vodou leaders) in accordance with the Vodou belief system.  Certification permits Vodou leaders to validate marriages, baptisms, and other sacraments performed in accordance with Vodou traditions.  As of September there were 9,317 certified pastors, 718 certified priests, but only two certified houngans/mambos.  The KNVA said the MFA authorized 12 additional Vodou leaders to be officially certified; however, as of December their certification remained pending with the Port au Prince Prosecutor’s Office, which was responsible for swearing in the individuals, the final step for official certification.

The MFA again did not act on a request dating from the 1980s to register Muslims as a religious group.  The MFA stated the government did not recognize Islam as an official religion because Islamic practices such as polygamy, belief in the death penalty, and the practice of adopting Islamic names after conversion were incompatible with the law.  The government issued a specific registration number to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community that did not include the rest of the country’s Muslim population; however, it reiterated the registration number was not equivalent to official recognition.  Muslims said they continued to obtain civil marriage licenses as their only legal option.

The government continued to provide financial support for the maintenance of Catholic churches and some Catholic schools.  The MFA stated it was required to provide such privileges to the Catholic Church in accordance with a concordat signed between the government and the Holy See in 1860 and not due to a government preference for the Catholic Church.  The Protestant Federation said that while it was eligible, in accordance with a 2016 agreement, it did not regularly receive government financial support.  As of September the Protestant Federation said it had not received any government support.  The Protestant Federation said Protestant groups operated approximately 40 percent of the country’s universities and 60 percent of its hospitals.

In August the Office of Civilian Protection (OPC), the country’s human rights ombudsman, wrote to the Senate and Chamber of Deputies education commissions to express disagreement with the State University of Haiti’s practice of holding admissions exams for the 2018-19 academic year on weekends.  The OPC stated that several religious leaders said holding exams on Saturdays and Sundays was an infringement on religious liberty.  The OPC replied the university was a public institution and should adhere to the Monday-to-Friday schedule that all other public institutions maintained.

Officials within the Department of Corrections stated that limited institutional capacity and budgetary limitations continued to restrict their ability to provide meals in compliance with Islamic dietary restrictions.  Prisoners could request to see an imam; however, not all prisons were close enough to an Islamic institution that could provide such services.  Volunteers provided religious services in some prisons.

Although by law the government has exclusive authority to license pastors, the Protestant Federation advocated for shared authority to license pastors, stating it would create a more stringent licensing process and reduce the cases of unlicensed pastors and churches that can spread “dangerous messages” to their congregations.  The Protestant Federation cited the case of Makenson Dorillas, who instructed HIV-positive members of his congregation to consume a homemade remedy made from insects as an example of government laxity in licensing churches and pastors.  The MFA stated in September that Dorillas was not a licensed pastor.

Protestant and Catholic clergy continued to report largely positive working relationships with the government, citing good access to government officials.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to media reports, on January 16, police arrested four men suspected of killing well known Catholic priest Joseph Simoly in December 2017 in Port-Au-Prince.  While some individuals alleged Simoly was killed because of his political activism, others said there was no strong evidence that his death was anything but the result of a violent armed robbery.

Vodou leaders said Vodou practitioners continued to experience social stigmatization for their beliefs and practices.  They said members of the public often accused Vodou practitioners of using “occult powers” to commit violent crimes.  The KNVA cited as an example the frequent use by sick individuals of a combination of modern and traditional medicine, usually administered by a houngan or mambo.  If the person seeking treatment died, however, prosecutors often accused and arrested houngans or mambos for causing the death.  The KNVA said houngans and mambos were also subject to violent attacks and sometimes killed by community members who did not practice Vodou due to its associated social stigmas.  In December media reported a case in which a young LGBTI Vodou practitioner, Wilbens Maxime, provided treatment to a young woman who sought his assistance after she fell ill.  After the woman died, unidentified individuals accused the Vodou practitioner of causing the death with “mystical powers” and killed him.

According to KNVA leadership, as in previous years, teachers and administrators in Catholic and Protestant schools at times openly rejected and condemned Vodou culture and customs as contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

According to some Muslim leaders, members of the Muslim community experienced societal stigmatization and alienation, especially Muslim women wearing hijabs.  For example, Muslim women wearing the hijab had difficulty obtaining identification documents such as passports and identity cards because local authorities applied strict standards for face visibility in official documents.  Muslims also reportedly faced discrimination when seeking public and private sector employment.

The local chapter of Religions for Peace, an international interfaith organization whose members include representatives from the Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant Churches as well as the Vodou community, continued to meet, focusing on promoting human rights, including religious freedom.  In October the chapter organized a roundtable to discuss religion and women’s rights in the country.

Honduras

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions as long as that exercise does not contravene other laws or public order.  An article of the constitution prohibits religious leaders from holding public office or making political statements.  The law distinguishes among legally recognized religious organizations, religious organizations registered as NGOs, and nonregistered religious organizations.  The government does not require religious groups to register.  By law, only the legislature has the authority to confer status as a legally recognized group; only the Roman Catholic Church has received such recognition.  Those recognized by law receive benefits such as tax-exempt status for staff salaries and church materials.

Religious organizations not individually recognized by law may register as NGOs.  The government does not significantly distinguish between religious and nonreligious NGOs.  To register as an NGO, organizations must have a board of directors and juridical personality (standing as a legal entity).  Associations seeking juridical personality must submit an application to the Secretariat of Government, Justice, and Decentralization describing their internal organization, bylaws, and goals.  The Office of the Solicitor General reviews applications for juridical personality and renders a constitutional opinion.  Approved organizations must submit annual financial and activity reports to the government to remain registered.  They may apply to the Ministry of Finance to receive benefits such as tax exemptions and customs duty waivers.  Unregistered religious organizations are unable to obtain tax-exempt status or other benefits.

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

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

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

Foreign religious workers may request residency for up to five years.  To renew their residence permits, religious workers must submit proof of continued employment with the sponsoring religious group at least 30 days before their residency expires.  The law prohibits the immigration of foreign missionaries who practice religions that use witchcraft or satanic rituals, and it allows the deportation of foreigners who practice witchcraft or “religious fraud.”  According to the immigration law, individuals who “fraudulently exercise their [religious] profession or office, or commit fraud against the health or religious beliefs of citizens of the country, or the national patrimony,” may be fined or face other legal consequences.

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

The official regulations for the penal system state that penitentiaries guarantee the free exercise of religion without preference for one specific religion, as long as that worship is not against the law or public order.

Religious officials face fines of 50,000-100,000 lempiras ($2,000-$4,000) and legal bans on performing religious duties for four to six years if they perform a marriage without a civil marriage license.

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

Government Practices

On November 21, National Congress President Oliva introduced legislation to amend the article of the constitution that prohibits religious leaders from running for elected office.  Religious groups and politicians stated mixed reactions to the proposed reform; one congressional representative said the country was a secular state and should not commingle religion with politics, while several evangelical Protestant pastors supported the reform.  Discussion of the law continued through the end of the year.

On May 10, National Party Congressman Tomas Zambrano presented a motion before congress to permit the reading of the Bible in primary and secondary schools.  Representatives from several religious groups, including the Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum, Muslim, Church of Jesus Christ, and Seventh-day Adventist communities, expressed concern about the motion, noting the motion would violate constitutional precepts guaranteeing secular education.  Protests outside the congressional building and in schools against the motion occurred in May.  On May 16, the Association of Freedom of Thought filed a constitutional challenge against the motion; however, the court ruled on June 18 it would not admit the challenge because the motion had not advanced through congress by that time.  Congress had not considered the motion as of year’s end.

Some religious organizations, including the Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum, an interfaith NGO representing more than 90 religious and civil society groups, again criticized what they said was government preference for the Catholic Church and for religious groups belonging to the evangelical Protestant umbrella organization CEH.  The forum, which included neither Catholic nor evangelical Protestant churches affiliated with the CEH, criticized the legal recognition of non-Catholic religious groups as NGOs or as unregistered religious organizations – which they said accorded them fewer rights and privileges than to the Catholic Church.  The groups also continued to object to the existing application of one uniform set of registration rules for all nonprofit organizations, including all non-Catholic religious groups.  Non-Catholic groups again said the government should recognize them as religious groups rather than NGOs.  The Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum again stated the government routinely invited Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders, but not representatives of other religious groups, to lead prayers at government events and to participate in official functions, committees, and other joint government-civil society activities.  Additionally, non-Catholic religious groups continued to criticize the government for not recognizing them as churches and for their inability to receive benefits, including tax exemptions for clergy salaries and imported religious materials.  The Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum said the current legal and policy framework discriminated against all non-Catholic religious groups, and they highlighted that the government provided exclusive benefits to the CEH, including continual tax exemptions and waivers on imports.

The official NGO registry office – the Unit to Register and Monitor Civil Society Organizations (Unidad de Registro y Seguimento de Asociaciones Civiles, or URSAC) – in the Ministry of Governance, Justice, and Decentralization received 186 applications during the year from religious associations (235 in 2017).  During the year, the URSAC registered 133 religious associations in its registration system, while the remaining applications were pending, awaiting additional information.  The URSAC noted that it did not deny any registration requests by religious associations during the year.

Religious leaders continued to report some teachers in public schools pressured students to participate in the religious rituals of the teachers’ faith.  According to the Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum, a teacher and community leader led prayers in a specific way in a public school in Tegucigalpa.  When one student objected, noting he prayed in a different way, the community leader insisted that the student pray in the manner in which the teacher conducted prayers – standing up, instead of kneeling down.

Representatives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church continued to express concerns regarding religious freedom at both private and public schools, from the elementary through the university level.  Seventh-day Adventist representatives said their students faced continued problems obtaining permission to be absent from class or excused from taking exams on Saturdays for religious reasons from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, the National Teachers University.  Religious leaders also cited violations in public schools in the cities of Santa Rita, Yoro Department; San Pedro Sula, Cortes Department; Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Department; Santa Rosa de Copan, Copan Department; and Lepaera, Lempira Department.  Representatives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church noted the Supreme Court still had not addressed a constitutional challenge that Adventist students filed in 2015 seeking recognition of their right to religious freedom.  Specifically, the students were seeking alternatives to taking classes or exams on Saturdays.

A rule drafted in 2010 requiring Jehovah’s Witnesses to sing the national anthem, salute the national flag, and participate in other patriotic events still remained in the Secretariat of Education’s school guidelines, despite a 2014 ruling by the secretariat’s legal director that the rule was not enforceable.  Representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to state their concern about public school officials pressuring Jehovah’s Witnesses to participate in public celebrations and other school events running counter to their beliefs, including singing the national anthem at graduation.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The CEH reported that most violence against its members originated from criminal organizations, noting that many of its member churches were present in areas of high violence with minimal state presence.  Media reported two unknown assailants beat an evangelical pastor to death in Santa Barbara Department in June.  The CEH cited two near-fatal attacks during the year, including one case in which gang members shot a church leader on her doorstep in Tegucigalpa as a warning to her church to pay extortion money.  In July an unknown individual shot a pastor in his church in Ocotepeque Department.  It was unclear if these killings were tied to gang activity; police investigations continued at year’s end.  CEH reported instances where gangs gave entire families 24 hours’ notice to vacate their homes.  The CEH also reported widespread extortion of Protestant church leaders and congregation members.  While stating that unlike in past years it had not recorded killings of pastors or church leaders, the CEH flagged an increase in threats against pastors and church leaders located in areas known for gang or narcotics trafficking activities.  Despite the attacks, the CEH praised government efforts to dismantle gangs, noting an overall decline in the level of violence and the incarceration of many gang leaders.  The Catholic Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa commented that its priests and laypersons operated effectively throughout the country and did not record any killings of church officials.

Jesuit priest Ismael “Padre Melo” Moreno Coto continued to report publicly that he had received threats on multiple occasions.  He said the threats were due to his management of Radio Progress, a Jesuit radio station and NGO, and because he opposed President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Some Muslim women continued to report some banks asked them to remove their hijabs when passing through bank security.  They said they were usually able to resolve the issue after explaining the attire was part of their religious practice.  Some Muslims said private sector offices continued to prohibit women from wearing the hijab.  Representatives of the Islamic community said they received a few derogatory messages on social media but emphasized they received far more positive and supportive comments than negative messages.  Seventh-day Adventists reported the continued refusal of certain private institutions, including places of employment and schools, to permit them to observe Saturday as a day of rest.

The Inter-Ecclesiastical Forum continued its efforts to counter intolerance, discrimination, and the imposition of one religion over others.  The organization held three international congresses and more than 20 workshops during the year.  It also reported that it engaged regularly with traditional media and over social media.  Religious groups reported working together to develop better relations and cooperate on projects, including their joint collaboration against the congressional motion to read the Bible in public schools.

Antioquia Orthodox Apostolic Catholic Church religious leaders reported widespread mischaracterization of their religion, noting that societal groups often referred to the church as the “the Church of the Turks” due to the Orthodox Church’s historic roots in Turkey.

Jamaica

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion or belief either alone or in community with others, both in public and in private, and to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship.  It prohibits discrimination based on belief.  The constitution provides that rights and freedoms are protected to the extent they do not “prejudice the rights and freedoms of others.”

A law criminalizing Obeah and Myalism, religious practices with West African influences, remains in effect.  Potential punishment for practicing Obeah and Myalism includes imprisonment of up to 12 months.  Authorities have rarely enforced the law since the country became independent in 1962.

Registration with the government is not mandatory for religious groups, but registered groups obtain incorporated group status and gain benefits, including the ability to hold land, to enter into legal disputes as an organization, and for clergy to visit members in prison.  Groups may seek incorporated status by applying to the Companies Office, an executive agency.  The Companies Office application comprises a standard form and a fee of 2,500 Jamaican dollars ($20).  NGOs register via the same form and fee structure to gain incorporated status.  Groups incorporated through this process must subsequently submit annual reports and financial statements to the Companies Office.

Alternatively groups may petition the parliament to be incorporated by parliamentary act.  Such groups receive similar benefits to those incorporating through the Companies Office, but parliament does not require annual reports or regulate the organizations it incorporates.

Regardless of incorporation status, religious groups seeking tax-exempt transactions must register as charities.  To be considered a charity, an organization must apply to the Cooperatives and Friendly Societies Department in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries.  Once registered, groups must submit their registration to the customs agency in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service or apply to the tax administration to be considered for tax-free status.

The constitution states religious groups have the right to provide religious instruction to members of their communities.  Immunizations are mandatory for all children attending both public and private schools.  The law requires school administrators to adhere to several practices regarding the teaching of religion.  No individual may be required to receive religious instruction or participate in religious observances contrary to his or her beliefs.  The public school curriculum includes nondenominational religious education, which focuses on the historical role of religion in society and philosophical thought and includes group visits to Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu houses of worship.  Students may not opt out of religious education; however, religious devotion or practice during school hours is optional.

Churches operate a number of private schools.  Churches also run some public schools; they receive funding from the government and must abide by Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information rules.  Regulations mandate that religious schools receiving public funding must admit students of all faiths.  Religious schools are not subject to any special restrictions; they do not receive special treatment from the government based on their religious or denominational affiliation.  Most religious schools are affiliated with Catholic or Protestant churches; the Islamic Council of Jamaica runs two schools.

Foreign religious workers traveling to the country to perform religious work, as is the case with all foreign visitors, require an entry visa.  The entry visa may be obtained upon arrival or in advance, depending on the nationality of the traveler and the length of stay.  Religious workers, regardless of affiliation, who visit the country to work with a religious organization, require a work permit from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

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

Government Practices

On August 28, the Supreme Court ordered that a five-year-old-child with dreadlocks be allowed to attend school until the court could hear the full constitutional challenge.  The girl was accepted to Kensington Primary, a public school in a suburb of Kingston, but administrators told her parents that she would have to cut her dreadlocks or find another school.  The case garnered much attention from various advocacy groups, all of which supported the girl.  Religious leaders said the case symbolically represented Rastafarianism because wearing dreadlocks was Rastafarian custom, and prohibiting dreadlocks was violating Rastafarians’ right to practice their religion.  Although the girl did not self-identify as Rastafarian, media outlets noted the case for its wider context of cultural identity and religious expression.  Legal practitioners stated that the court’s decision on this matter could have ramifications for Rastafarians seeking employment or government services as well.

Rastafarians continued to state their religious opposition to immunization, a requirement for children to register and attend school and part of the government’s stated campaign to reduce the resurgence of many communicable diseases in the country.  According to Rastafarian sources, however, most Rastafarian students could obtain a doctor’s note excusing them from the required immunizations.  Rastafarians also stated discrimination against Rastafarian children at schools was very rare and generally occurred only in rural areas.

The government undertook an analysis of potential discrimination in faith-affiliated private schools, attended by approximately 10 percent of students at the secondary and primary levels.  The overwhelming majority of these schools are Christian-based, and 35 percent received some form of public funding through direct subsidies, stipends for food, or discounted textbooks.

A member of the Jamaica Council for Interfaith Fellowship said conflicts of interest arose when public policy and religious preferences did not align.  In one report a Christian-affiliated secondary school asked a student to withdraw after becoming pregnant.  The council member said civil society and senior educational officials then intervened on the stated grounds that the act was illegal.  The student was subsequently reinstated.

From October 8 through October 15, the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission held its annual National Heritage Week, coordinating with the Committee for the Promotion of National Religious Services on a national interfaith thanksgiving service.  Similar events occurred throughout the country at the parish (sub-county) level during the year.

The government routinely conducted outreach to religious minorities, including Muslims, Jews, and Rastafarians, as well as Baha’i, Buddhist, and Hindu groups, with the stated goal of fostering tolerance and acceptance.  Outreach included participating in the annual National Heritage Week to celebrate the country’s religious tolerance and diversity.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Rastafarians continued to report wider societal acceptance.  Many religious leaders stated that this was due to a different public perception of Rastafari; they said the country’s youth and middle-aged populations believed the Rastafarian religion had become more closely associated with the country’s development.  Religious leaders said there was more societal respect and appreciation for what they said was the historic role Rastafarians played in support of equal rights, removing discrimination from public spheres, anti-colonialism, and holistic living.  They also stated that while entrenched prejudices regarding Rastafarians’ preferred manner of dress and appearance continued to dissuade some employers from hiring them, Rastafarians continued to achieve higher positions in both the private and public sectors.  For example, at the Mona School of Business & Management in Kingston, Rastafarian and senior lecturer K’adamawe A.H. K’nife had supervised all curriculum development for the subject of entrepreneurship since 2010.  On October 15, National Heroes Day, the government honored Rastafarian author, producer, and filmmaker Barbara Blake-Hannah with the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer.  Rastafarians also led an increasing number of NGOs focused on environmental sustainability, civil society groups, and state agencies.

In April the PSOJ announced it would take action against those member companies that denied employment to Seventh-day Adventists on the basis of their observance of a Saturday Sabbath.  In announcing the policy, the PSOJ president said that the constitution did not permit discrimination based on religion, religious practices, or a day of rest.

Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups continued to state that society was tolerant of religious diversity, pointing to their continued involvement, along with other faiths, in the Jamaica Council for Interfaith Fellowship.  The interfaith council included representatives from the Rastafari Innity Council Sanatan Dharma Mandir United Church, Unification Church, and National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is, United Congregation of Israelites, Islamic Council, and Soka Gakkai International.  Other organizations sometimes participated in council events.  The council continued to coordinate public educational events, including annual interfaith awareness days.  The Islamic Council of Jamaica said large groups of secondary school students continued to regularly visit the council’s 13 mosques as part of the government’s religious education syllabus.

Local media outlets continued to provide a forum for extensive coverage and open dialogue on religious matters through radio and television shows, as well as on opinion pages and letters to the editor in newspapers such as The Gleaner and The Jamaica Observer.  Discussion focused on the intersection of gay rights with Christianity, and religions’ role in the government.

In January the government refused the entry of a U.S. clergyman who had engaged in Holocaust denial and who had called for the killing of gay individuals and the removal of women from the workplace.  The denial came after a bishop from the Jamaica Evangelical Alliance stated that church groups had disavowed the clergyman and a petition with 36,500 signatures protesting the visit was sent to the Office the Prime Minister.  The official reason cited by the government for denying the visa was the clergyman’s statement that he did not intend to register and obtain a permit before beginning his public evangelizing.

Mexico

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states all persons have the right to have or adopt the religion of their choosing, or not to have a religion.  This freedom includes the right to participate individually or collectively, both in public and in private, in ceremonies, devotions, and acts of worship, if they do not constitute an offense otherwise prohibited by law.  Philosophical freedoms of conscience and religion have equal treatment by the state.  Congress may not dictate laws that establish or prohibit any religion.  Religious acts of public worship should be held in places of worship.  Individuals who conduct religious ceremonies outside of places of worship will be subject to regulatory law, which requires a permit to do so.

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

To operate, religious groups are not required to register with the government.  Registration is only required with DGAR to negotiate contracts, purchase or rent land, apply for official building permits, receive tax exemptions, or hold religious meetings outside of customary places of worship.  Religious associations must notify the government of their intention to hold a religious meeting outside their licensed place or places of worship.  Religious associations may not hold political meetings of any kind.

The federal government coordinates religious affairs through SEGOB.  Within SEGOB, DGAR promotes religious tolerance, conducts conflict mediation, and investigates cases of religious intolerance.  If a party presents a dispute based on allegations of religious intolerance, DGAR may mediate a solution.  If mediation fails, the parties may submit the issue to DGAR for binding arbitration or seek judicial redress.  Each of the 32 states has offices with responsibility for religious affairs.  The National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) is an autonomous federal agency responsible for ensuring nondiscrimination and equal opportunity, including for minority religious groups.

As of September 28, there were 9,146 religious associations registered by DGAR, an increase from the 8,908 groups registered in 2017.  Registered groups included 9,106 Christian (an increase of 237 from 2017), 13 Buddhist, 10 Jewish, two Hindu, three Islamic, and two International Society for Krishna Consciousness groups.  Baha’is and Ahmadi Muslims remain unregistered.

The constitution states acts of public worship are to be performed inside places of worship.  Active clergy may not hold public office, advocate partisan political views, support political candidates, or publicly oppose the laws or institutions of the state.

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

Religious groups must apply for permits to construct new buildings or convert existing buildings into houses of worship.  Any religious building constructed after January 27, 1992, is the property of the religious group that built it and is subject to the relevant taxes.  All religious buildings erected before then are considered part of the national patrimony and owned by the state.

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

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

The law states religious groups may not own or operate radio or television stations.  Government permission is required for commercial radio or television to transmit religious programming.

The constitution grants indigenous communities the right to autonomy to “decide their internal forms of coexistence” and permits them to maintain separate legal systems for the resolution of conflicts within their communities.  The constitution also protects the right of indigenous leaders to practice their own particular uses and customs.  This right of self-governance for indigenous communities sometimes conflicts with other rights provided by the constitution, including freedom of religion, for members of those communities.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The country claims the following constitutional limitations to the covenant:  a limitation (to Article 18) that religious acts must be performed in places of worship unless granted prior permission and a reservation (to Article 25) that religious ministers have neither a passive vote nor the right to form political associations.

Government Practices

According to CSW, community authorities in the indigenous community of San Miguel Chiptic, Chiapas, threatened three families on March 4 for converting from Catholicism to the Seventh-day Adventist faith, telling them if they did not renounce their faith, authorities would destroy their houses and expel them from the community.  On March 15, indigenous community members destroyed three buildings, toppling cement blocks that damaged all of the furniture and appliances inside the residences.  Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church sought assistance from municipal and state authorities, who, according to CSW, declined to intervene because of the constitution’s legal authorities granted to the indigenous community leadership.  On May 23, local indigenous authorities arrested two Seventh-day Adventist men for preaching beliefs differing from the community’s traditional Catholicism.  At year’s end, six families remained displaced and sheltered with other Church members in the municipality of Ocosingo, Chiapas.  Some Protestant groups continued to request the government amend the constitution or laws to permit a more vigorous governmental response to reports of abuse and discrimination in indigenous communities.

DGAR continued to work with state and local officials on criminal investigations involving religious groups, primarily evangelical Protestants.  DGAR investigated 11 cases related to religious freedom at the federal level during the year, compared with six in 2017.  Four of these cases occurred in the state of Oaxaca, three in Hidalgo, and one each in Puebla and Chiapas.  According to DGAR, most incidents of religious discrimination should have been filed with the state government, as the federal government lacked jurisdiction.  Municipal and state officials commonly mediated disputes among religious groups.  Some groups said officials rarely pursued legal punishments against offending local leaders, preferring instead to reach informal mediated solutions.  The groups said there were insufficient resources devoted to federal and state agencies that work on religious freedom.

According to CSW, local indigenous authorities in the indigenous community of Rancho Nuevo, Hidalgo, illegally detained five members of the Christ Is Coming Protestant Church.  Unidentified individuals reportedly removed four men from a church service on March 3, tied them up, and held them until just after noon on the following day.  A fifth victim was taken from his home on the following day and held with the others.  The unidentified individuals reportedly beat them and forced them to pay a fine for their “religious beliefs.”

NGOs and some religious organizations continued to state that a number of rural and indigenous communities expected inhabitants, regardless of their faith, to participate in and fund traditional community religious gatherings, and in some cases adhere to the majority religion.

According to media reports, in March local authorities expelled three evangelical Protestant families from their indigenous community in Altamirano, Chiapas, for practicing a religion other than Catholicism.  According to the reports, the children in these families were not allowed to return to school, the adults could not return to work, and the community leaders destroyed their homes with all their belongings still inside.  The municipal government had not responded to complaints from the families by year’s end.

According to the NGO Impulso 18, the indigenous community authority in Coamila, Hidalgo, closed a small school of 16 students in August because the students’ parents were evangelical Protestants who refused to let their children participate in local festivities that violated their religious beliefs.  The families filed a complaint with DGAR.  The Hidalgo State Commission of Human Rights opened a complaint on behalf of the students.  On September 25, state education authorities stated the students were welcome to attend and reopen the school and said many parents decided to keep their children out of school because of social tensions arising from their refusal to contribute to community festivals associated with Catholic holidays.

Evangelical Protestants again cited cases in which those refusing to participate in Catholic festivities, or in some cases to convert to Catholicism, faced forcible displacement from their communities, experienced arbitrary detention by local authorities, or had property destroyed by community leaders.  In September CSW reported representatives from Rancheria Yocnajab, located in the Comitan de Dominguez municipality of Chiapas, did not allow the burial of an evangelical Protestant in the community public cemetery because she had not participated in Catholic religious festivals and the local indigenous community restricted the cemetery’s use to Catholic burials.

On August 15, the Supreme Court ruled a child in Chihuahua with leukemia must be given blood transfusions despite the parents’ religious objections due to their religious beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses.  After receiving input from doctors and the parents, state officials took custody of the girl to provide proper medical attention, including transfusions.  The Supreme Court later ruled in favor of the state’s actions to protect the life of the child.

According to DGAR, the federal government continued to promote dialogue with religious actors with the stated goal to ensure the exercise of religious freedom and help resolve conflicts involving religious intolerance.  Between 2011 and 2017, CONAPRED reported 67 complaints of alleged acts of religious discrimination, and another five filed in 2018.  In July a Tijuana hospital refused to perform surgery on a Jehovah’s Witness because of his religious objection to receiving blood transfusions if required, a hospital requirement for the procedure he requested.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the CMC, on February 4, unidentified individuals killed two Catholic priests, Germain Muniz Garcia and Ivan Anorve Jimenez, on a highway between Iguala and Taxco in the state of Guerrero.  Investigators initially stated the motive of the assassination was Muniz Garcia’s alleged ties with organized crime.  Investigators said they made this assumption because Muniz Garcia was pictured holding an assault rifle with alleged gang members.  The investigation of the killings continued at year’s end.  According to the CMC, four nuns fled Chilpancingo Chilapa, Guerrero, where Muniz Garcia and Anorve Jimenez worked, following the killings and after one nun’s sibling was the subject of targeted violence on January 30.

According to the CMC, on April 3, unidentified individuals kidnapped Catholic priest Jose Moises Fabila Reyes in Cuernavaca, Morelos.  Despite the family paying a ransom of two million pesos ($106,000), the family discovered his body on April 25, dead of an apparent heart attack during his captivity.  The investigation of the case continued at year’s end.

According to the CMC, on April 9, unidentified individuals shot and killed evangelical Protestant pastor Eduardo “Lalo” Garcia in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.  According to the CMC, Garcia’s family had long been a target of criminal groups.  In 2009 his son was killed for not paying a protection extortion, and his daughter was kidnapped in 2011.  The investigation continued at year’s end.

According to the CMC, on April 18, unidentified individuals stabbed and killed Catholic priest Ruben Alcantara Diaz inside his church in Cuatitlan Izacalli, Mexico State.  State officials described the attack as a personal dispute.  The investigation of the case continued at year’s end.

According to the CMC, on April 20, two individuals shot and killed Catholic priest Juan Miguel Contreras Garcia in Tlajomulco de Zuniga, Jalisco.  The investigation of the case continued at year’s end.

According to CSW, on July 23, two men shot and killed evangelical Protestant pastor Noe Plaza Rico in a tire repair shop in Cortazar, Guanajuato.  The armed men fled.  The investigation of the case continued at year’s end.

According to the CMC, on August 25, the body of Catholic priest Miguel Gerardo Flores Hernandez was found in Mugica, Michoacan.  Authorities stated that the motive for his killing was unknown.  The Michoacan Attorney General’s Office detained the alleged killer on August 29.

According to media reports, on October 14, the body of Catholic priest Icmar Arturo Orta was found three days after he disappeared.  The investigation of the case continued at year’s end.

According to the CMC, on January 14, a knife attack at a Catholic church in Ecatepec de Morelos, Mexico State, left one dead and four injured.  The CMC reported police captured the alleged aggressor and said the case was in the hands of State of Mexico prosecutors.

According to NGOs and media reports, Catholic priests and other religious leaders continued to be targeted and were the victims of killings, extortion attempts, death threats, kidnappings, and intimidation by organized-crime groups.  Federal government officials and Catholic Church authorities stated these incidents were not a result of targeting for religious beliefs but rather incidents related to overall crime.  NGOs believed some criminals targeted Catholic priests because communities viewed them as moral authority figures.

The CMC reported the most dangerous states for priests were Mexico City, Guerrero, Veracruz, and Michoacan.  The CMC reported unidentified individuals killed seven priests and kidnapped another during the year.  The CMC identified Mexico as the most violent country for priests in Latin America for the 10th year in a row.

According to the CMC, unidentified individuals detonated homemade explosives at Catholic churches in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on March 1 and March 4.  The first bomb exploded in the Diocese Cathedral of Matamoros.  The second bomb exploded in San Antonio de Padua Church.  No one was hurt in the attacks.  The investigation of the case continued at year’s end.

Jewish community representatives stated no anti-Semitic acts occurred during the year, compared with very rare occurrences in 2017.

In Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, civil society and private-sector organizers of local nativity procession events (posadas) during the Christmas holiday emphasized that all were welcome, regardless of religious affiliation.

Religions for Peace, an interreligious working group, continued to be active in the country.  Member groups included the Jewish Communities of Mexico, Buddhist Community of Mexico, Sufi Yerrahi Community of Mexico, Sikh Dharma Community of Mexico, Anglican Church, Lutheran Church, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Nicaragua

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

Ministry of Education regulations for primary school education establish that the basis for the methodology and curriculum for elementary grade levels are the “Christian, Socialist, Solidarity” principals and “Human Development” policy.  The government’s 2018-21 Human Development policy establishes the promotion of religious and faith-based festivities as a key component of all government policy.

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

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

Government Practices

The IACHR reported “serious human rights violations in the context of social protests in Nicaragua” surrounding social security reform protests that broke out in April, resulting in “excessive and arbitrary use of police force,” stigmatization campaigns, and other human rights violations.  Many religious leaders said the government politicized religion in the context of what the IACHR, the United Nations, and other international organizations called the country’s ongoing political crisis and social conflict.  On July 13, police led a 15-hour attack, using high-caliber ammunition, against the Divine Mercy Church in Managua, which had provided refuge to approximately 200 students trapped in the siege and medical assistance to injured students who had protested at a nearby public university campus.  Media reported informal armed groups, also known as “parapolice,” allied with the FSLN and working in coordination with police, killed two students and injured at least 10 others in the attack.  The Catholic Church spoke out against the violence through clergy homilies and pastoral letters, calling for respect of human rights, investigation, and prosecution of crimes, reparation for victims, the end of excessive use of police force, and the disarmament of parapolice.  By year’s end, the government had not investigated the deaths but prosecuted students for the incident and verbally accused the Catholic Church of a “terrorist and criminal mind.”

In June progovernment armed groups shot live ammunition at clergy and student protesters during the rite of confession conducted in a partially open space during active protests and violent suppression in Managua, according to Catholic clergy.  In July government supporters and FSLN activists physically assaulted senior Catholic Church leadership, including the papal nuncio, while they were attempting to assist persons sheltered in St. Sebastian Basilica in Diriamba.

On September 9, media reported Deputy Chief of Police Ramon Avellan grabbed and insulted Father Edwin Roman in Masaya after the priest asked government supporters to turn down ruling-party propaganda music playing outside the church during a funeral service.

In July media reported government supporters attacked the vehicle of Catholic Church spokesperson Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata, breaking the windows and slashing its tires.  FSLN supporters surrounded the bishop and prevented him from leaving until civic leaders negotiated a truce with the National Police to facilitate his release.

Bishop Silvio Baez, who observers said was one of the most outspoken of members of Catholic Church leadership on human rights abuses and in calling for a secular state, was a frequent target of government harassment.  On October 23, the San Pablo Apostol community, a Catholic-based denomination that does not recognize the Nicaragua Bishops’ Conference or Vatican leadership and publicly pledged its support for the government, called a press conference for official media and announced it had an audio recording of Baez conspiring with opposition activists to overthrow the government.  The religious community and FSLN followers demanded Baez leave the country and return to the Vatican, “where he never should have left.”  Laureano Ortega, son of President Ortega, called the bishop a “murderer and coup monger” on social media.  Online sources said sound technicians investigated the audio recording and found someone had edited it and concluded it was not an original recording.  Following the accusations, media reported a heavy presence of parapolice and armed FSLN supporters around Baez’s home.  According to media reports, in an apparent reference to the Baez case, government officials, including a Supreme Court justice, stated bishops did not have immunity and could be prosecuted and convicted for their political activism and alleged attempts to overthrow the government.

Catholic leaders reported attacks on clergy, provoked by what they said was the government’s stigmatization and slander, which they said had led to a reduction in ecclesiastical travel by approximately 90 percent.  The leaders reported three priests had to go into exile due to threats from government supporters; death threats and assaults by government supporters and FSLN activists against the Catholic Church internally displaced two others.  According to media sources, some government officials forced workers to sign petitions denouncing Catholic Church leadership.

Government officials stated there was nothing governmental or societal preventing freedom of religion or expression in the country.  They stated violence against religious leaders was isolated, not systematic, and stated some religious leaders had encouraged violent actions among their followers.

Religious groups said the government politicized religious beliefs, language, and traditions, including by coopting religion for its own political purposes.  Religious groups also said that, as a form of retaliation stemming from the country’s sociopolitical crisis that began in April, the government infringed on religious leaders’ rights to practice faith-based activities, including providing safe spaces in churches to students and others fleeing violence.  Catholic clergy and media reported cases of government officials, including President Ortega, slandering, stigmatizing, and urging supporters to retaliate against houses of worship and clergy for providing shelter, medical assistance, and mediation attempts to stop violent action by government security forces against peaceful protesters.  Government leadership, including the president and vice president, referred to Catholic Church leadership as “terrorists,” “coup mongers,” and “diabolic.”  In some speeches, government officials differentiated between the “good” Catholics and the “bad” bishops, the latter who they said were more outspoken and active in the political crisis.  The government specifically targeted clergy that called on President Ortega to cease repression, said the president lacked political will to resolve the crisis, and placed responsibility with President Ortega for the repression that resulted in hundreds killed or injured and thousands detained.

The IACHR reported several “aggressions and acts of harassment committed against members of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua” due to the Church’s role in the country’s sociopolitical crisis.  The IACHR stated members of the Catholic Church were victims of a government stigmatization campaign due to their efforts to protect the human rights and integrity of peaceful protesters, as part of their faith-based beliefs.  Amnesty International documented and reported “serious human rights violations committed or permitted” by the government, including attacks on bishops of the Catholic Church throughout the sociopolitical crisis.

Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders reported financial retaliation against groups deemed critical of the FSLN.  Religious leaders said the government provided or withheld tax exemptions for individual churches based on the political affiliation of a church’s leadership.  The government also cut national budget appropriations for individual Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches that amounted to a 42-percent reduction from $1.3 million to $740,000, following antigovernment demonstrations.  Government officials said the cuts were part of an overall budget decrease, while media investigations reported the reduction in appropriations specifically targeted churches that provided support to wounded and endangered protesters.  Religious leaders said the appropriation cuts particularly affected those groups active in the sociopolitical crisis and favored churches perceived to be friendly to the government.

Both Catholic and Protestant leaders said there were investigations of their organizations by the government anti-money-laundering body, the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF), primarily for financial transactions the government said were tied to the protests.  Human rights organizations reported government authorities used the UAF to prosecute opposition members on questionable and unfounded terrorism charges.  Evangelical Protestants also said the government’s use of the UAF and other government retaliation mechanisms against NGOs might result in a church losing its legal registration as a form of government retaliation over the pastor’s political preference or his faith-based work.  Evangelical Protestant leaders said the legal registration requirements categorizing churches as NGOs put evangelical Protestant churches at a disadvantage, leaving them particularly vulnerable to government actions against them.

Clergy and media reported government supporters and FSLN party activists committed acts of vandalism, including desecration of sacred items such as the holy sacrament, altars, tombs, and statues; thefts; and attacks on churches in Carazo, Masaya, Managua, Granada, Matagalpa, Esteli, and Jinotega, in some cases with police support.  Prominent churches had FSLN slogans painted on their walls, along with such labels as “coup mongers,” “terrorist,” and “murderer,” terms which local human rights organizations said the government regularly used against those it perceived as enemies.

Similar to media reporting, religious leaders said government supporters and FSLN activists routinely interrupted Catholic services in Managua, Masaya, and Granada by loudly playing partisan music in front of churches, and in some cases, interrupting services with political propaganda and verbally harassing clergy and the congregation members.  During a September 8 progovernment march in Granada, government supporters entered a Catholic church during Mass, waving red and black FSLN party flags and chanting “terrorists,” “murderers,” and “coup mongers,” among other epithets.  After clergy in Catarina, located in Masaya Department, announced the church would hold a somber Mass to commemorate its patron saint instead of its usual festivities, on December 26, progovernment militants entered the church and shouted ruling party chants, verbally assaulted clergy and congregation, and attempted to extract the church’s patron saint.  At demonstrations of government supporters, participants mocked Catholic Church leadership.  Clergy reported authorities expelled one student from a public university after they questioned him about a picture posted on social media in which the student appeared with a priest whom police and parapolice had attacked on several occasions.

Catholic and evangelical Protestant officials reported the government celebrated religious festivities for political and partisan purposes, saying these actions greatly diminished the ability of the churches to conduct their own celebrations.  They said that, while these government actions had occurred for years, they had become more prevalent and carried stronger messaging in the context of the country’s sociopolitical crisis.  One example, cited by religious authorities and reported by media, was the Catholic celebration of Saint Geronimo in Masaya, a traditional weeklong event.  Clergy cancelled the traditional patron saint festivities to respect the mourning of families who lost loved ones during protests and announced they would instead mark the occasion with a Mass.  FSLN municipal government officials, in tandem with local police, disregarded the local clergy’s decision and held a parade with a replica of the original patron saint statue.  They played at high volume a mix of religious and partisan music outside the church during the Mass in commemoration of the patron saint.  Referring to another event, an evangelical leader said he had requested the government not to participate in a religious celebration; however, in spite of the request, a government official came to the event, and state media insisted the religious leader give an interview.

Catholic clergy and congregation volunteers reported barriers to their faith-based volunteer work in prisons, primarily restricting Catholic clergy critical of the government access to political prisoners.  Evangelical Protestant volunteers did not report barriers to carry out their faith-based activities in prisons.  Official media, however, reported prisoners were attending Catholic and evangelical Protestant celebrations.  Several Catholic leaders said that, starting in July, prison wardens also denied Catholic clergy perceived as critical of the government access to male political prisoners, preventing them from offering religious sacraments such as communion and confession to the detainees.

Ministry of Education policy for public school curricula continued to require “Christian-based” education through civics classes and participation in state-sponsored religious events.  Religious leaders called on the government to respect the constitution’s mandate for a secular state; however, schools required students to participate in processions to commemorate Catholic religious events and festivals.  Municipal governments and the central government continued to hold celebrations of Purisima, in which Catholics commemorate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, conflicting with the Church’s official celebrations and despite the Church’s call to respect the sacredness of its festivities.  Government employees reported participation in these religious celebrations was mandatory; they risked losing their jobs if they did not attend.  National budget appropriations continued to fund state-led religious celebrations, with funding assigned to the different government agencies responsible for aspects of the events.  Catholic leadership said government manipulation of religious festivities for partisan purposes undermined their religious integrity.  Government officials also stated that, while there was no state religion, government officials sometimes spoke about religious issues and participated in religious events based on their personal beliefs.  The officials said the state performed only administrative functions for religious events and festivities and was involved with these events for cultural, economic, and security reasons.

Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders said the government continued to restrict travel selectively for some visa applicants intending to travel to the country for religious purposes based on the perceived political affiliation of the applicant’s local sponsor.  Representatives of both groups stated visiting religious leaders received additional scrutiny and faced selective application of laws if the government believed they or their local sponsor posed a political threat or had not pledged their support to the FSLN.

Muslim community leaders reported no limitations in government approval of entry visas and temporary residence permits for Muslim leaders.  They said a spiritual leader sponsored by the Egyptian government and a teacher sponsored by the Saudi Arabian government both obtained legal status according to national law.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On December 5, media reported a Russian national woman attacked a priest at the Managua Metropolitan Cathedral by throwing sulfuric acid at him during confession.  At year’s end, the priest was still at a local hospital with burns over his entire body and a serious infection.  Official media portrayed the woman as a feminist; however, local feminist organizations denounced the attack and clarified they had no affiliation with her.  The Church refrained from making assumptions.  Some civil society leaders familiar with the case stated they believed the government sent her; however, there was no evidence linking the attack to government officials.

A Jewish leader reported that his group’s interfaith director met regularly with Christian and Muslim counterparts as part of relationship-building efforts.

Paraguay

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

According to the constitution, the relationship between the state and the Catholic Church is based on “independence, cooperation, and autonomy.”  The Catholic Church, however, must comply with all regulations the state imposes on other churches and non-Christian religious groups.  The law allows political parties based on a specific faith, but the constitution prohibits active members of the clergy from any religious group from running for public office.  The constitution does not address relations between the state and other religious groups.

A 2017 presidential decree requires all religious and philosophical groups to register with the VMW and submit annual reports stating the organization’s key leadership and functions.  Prior to the 2017 decree, registration was mandatory only for religious organizations requesting exemption from value-added taxes and other government fees.  Organizations must submit 12 documents to the VMW to register.  The VMW may apply nonmonetary administrative sanctions against organizations that fail to register, including ordering the suspension of religious services.  The National Anti-Money Laundering Secretariat requires that all religious organizations register as nonfinancial agents.  Among other requirements, religious groups must demonstrate legal status as a nonprofit organization and agree to annual recertification.  Religious leaders must submit to financial and criminal background checks.  According to the VMW, 536 religious groups have active registrations with the government, including 24 new groups registered during the year.

The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools.  The constitution provides private schools the right to offer religious education, with the only requirements for staff being merit and ethical integrity.  Registration for private religious schools is not mandatory, but the Ministry of Education and Culture recognizes only degrees granted by registered institutions.  Additionally, only registered schools with nonprofit status may receive subsidies for teachers’ salaries.  Students of religions other than the one associated with a private religious school may enroll; however, all students are expected to participate in the religious activities that are a mandatory part of the schedule.

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

Foreign missionaries who are members of registered religious groups are eligible for no-cost residency visas from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  They must also register annually with the VMW to receive official documentation identifying their status as missionaries.  Missionaries choosing not to register may enter the country on tourist visas.

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

Government Practices

The VMW instituted a grace period through the end of 2018 for all religious and philosophical groups to complete the mandatory registration process and did not impose penalties or monetary sanctions on groups that had not registered.  The ministry stated, however, that it would require full compliance by 2019.  The VMW stated that it was implementing the registration law consistently across religious groups and once it received all 12 documents from a religious group, it would complete the process in 15 days.

In October the VMW rejected ICCAN’s second request for registration as an official religious entity, citing a presidential decree stating religious entities with denominations that could be confused with already registered denominations could not register.  ICCAN representatives stated they had attempted to register starting in 2011 but had documentation of registration requests only from the current year.  ICCAN sources restated their belief that the Catholic Church had pressured the government not to register the ICCAN because the Roman Catholic Church claimed exclusive use of the word “catholic” in a church title.  Roman Catholic Church representatives responded that ICCAN’s difficulties obtaining registration were due to questions regarding ICCAN’s legitimacy as a religious organization.  Catholic Church representatives said other religious groups had the same position on ICCAN.  ICCAN representatives also said the government continued not to recognize their claim to land and property they said the Catholic Church had taken from them in 1840.

The Ministry of Education and Culture continued to subsidize the salaries of hundreds of teachers in registered, nonprofit schools operated by predominantly Catholic religious groups.  Some non-Catholic religious groups, including the Jewish and Mennonite communities, continued to state the government disproportionately supported Catholic schools and did not pay a commensurate number of teachers in registered, non-Catholic religious schools.  According to a ministry representative, they maintained an agreement with the Catholic Church governing the allocation of subsidies to schools in areas not served by public schools.  The representative also stated that a separate agreement set very similar regulations for subsidy allocation to other religious schools located in underserved areas, serving vulnerable student populations, and providing educational or scholarship services to vulnerable students.  Mennonite schools in Boqueron Department have also established an ad hoc consultation process with departmental authorities.

The VMW reported that 550 foreign missionaries registered or reregistered during the year, most of them members of the Church of Jesus Christ.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On September 17, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office based on a video posted online showing an evangelical Christian pastor “exorcising” an elderly indigenous religious leader in the Mbya indigenous community of Caaguazu Department.  According to media reports, the pastor belonged to the Pentecostal Church Prince of Peace, an unregistered church.  The Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation of the incident in September, which continued at year’s end.

Observers, including from NGOs, political pundits, and the press, stated the Catholic Church continued to maintain an influential role within society and government that gave it advantage over other religious groups in the country.  ICCAN representatives said this influence enabled the Catholic Church to block ICCAN registration requests and to secure more subsidies for Catholic schools than other religious schools received.

Human rights organizations continued to state that Mennonite employers did not respect indigenous religious holidays.

Representatives of the local Jewish community said there was a new group espousing Nazi ideology forming in the country; however, they said security forces had responded to the concerns of the Jewish community.

Catholic, Church of Jesus Christ, and Protestant groups started collaborating on issues of family and social justice, participating in a VMW-organized symposium on family in August to advocate for the creation of a new Ministry of Family.  Christian and Jewish groups began an interreligious dialogue among religious group representatives.  According to Catholic representatives, the dialogue did not include Muslim participation because they said Muslim leaders and the small Muslim community were not very active, although they stated dialogue participants had no objection to Muslim participation.

Peru

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.

A 1980 concordat between the government and the Holy See accords the Catholic Church certain institutional privileges in education, taxation, and immigration of religious workers.  The subsequent 2011 religious freedom law exempts Catholic Church buildings, houses, and other real estate holdings from property taxes.  Other religious groups often must pay property taxes on their schools and clerical residences, depending on the municipal jurisdiction and whether the group seeks and/or receives tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization.  The law exempts Catholic religious workers from taxes on international travel.  The government also exempts all work-related earnings of Catholic priests and bishops from income taxes.  By law, the military may employ only Catholic clergy as chaplains.

The MOJ is responsible for engaging with religious groups.

The 2016 revised implementing regulations to the religious freedom law 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, but doing so allows religious groups to engage with the government.  They allow all religious groups, registered or not, to apply for tax exemptions and worker or resident visas directly with the pertinent government institutions.  Registration is free, the process usually takes one week, and the MOJ provides assistance in completing the application forms.

According to the 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 from the religious education requirement to secular private schools and non-Catholic religious schools.  Non-Catholic children attending Catholic schools are also exempt from classes on Catholicism.  The law states 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 includes allowing an employee to use annual vacation leave for this purpose.

Foreign religious workers must apply for a visa through the Office of Immigration of the Ministry of Interior.  If the religious group registers with the MOJ, the immigration office accepts this as proof the applicant group is a religious organization.  If the group does not register with the 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

In July the government removed a 2016 requirement that religious entities seeking to register must have at least 500 adult members, changing it to allow any group to register voluntarily regardless of its size or categorization.  At year’s end, the government had registered 133 non-Catholic groups that had voluntarily requested registration, an increase from 115 in 2017, including the Church of Jesus Christ and a number of small evangelical Protestant groups.  According to the MOJ and local interfaith groups, the government accepted and approved the applications from all interested religious groups, and there were no reported denials.

Some Catholic Church members and members of religious minorities continued to criticize aspects of the 2011 religious freedom law, stating it maintained institutional preferences for the Catholic Church, particularly regarding tax exemptions.  In its regular meetings with the MOJ, the Interreligious Council continued to press for equal access to government benefits for all religious groups, including tax exemptions on income, import duties, property, and sales; visas for religious workers; and opportunities to serve as military chaplains.  Members of the council said they were pleased with the new regulations and the government’s response to requests for tax benefits from non-Catholic religious groups.

The executive branch, through the MOJ, continued to engage religious communities on matters affecting the communities, including the registration process, taxation exemptions, religious worker visas, budgetary support for religious groups, and prisoners’ rights to religious practice.  The MOJ continued to 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 regular conferences, workshops, and other interfaith meetings to discuss the registration process, joint charity campaigns, public outreach, and cultural events.  The government and religious groups, including the Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ, and various Protestant churches, hosted these engagements for the entire community.

According to the MOJ’s Office of Catholic Affairs, the government continued to pay stipends to the Catholic cardinal, six archbishops, and approximately 1,000 other Catholic Church officials, totaling approximately 2.6 million soles ($770,000) 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 the 1980 concordat with the Holy See.  According to Catholic Church representatives, the Church used these and other Church funds to provide humanitarian services to the poor, regardless of their religious affiliation or nonaffiliation.  Similar stipends were not available to other religious groups.

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

MOJ representatives organized an interfaith meeting in March to coordinate religious community humanitarian support for approximately 600,000 Venezuelans in the country during the year and to ensure all religious groups provided services to them regardless of their religious affiliation.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Interreligious Council continued its dialogue among religious entities including evangelical and other Protestant groups, as well as Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, and Church of Jesus Christ representatives.  The council engaged religious communities on the government’s revised religious freedom regulations, the protection of religious freedom, and assistance to displaced Venezuelans regardless of their religious affiliation or no affiliation.

Jewish community leaders said some individuals continued to engage occasionally in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on social media, usually focused on Israel, but they did not provide specific examples.  They said the government and both private and government-run media did not engage in this activity.  Muslim and Jewish community members again stated some public and private schools and 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.

At one well-attended interfaith event in October, the Church of Jesus Christ hosted an expert panel to discuss the importance of religious freedom, stressing this freedom includes the right to have no particular religion.  Several government officials and former officials participated in the event.

Religious groups and interfaith organizations coordinated with the government, civil society, and international organizations to provide humanitarian assistance, regardless of their religious affiliation, to the hundreds of thousands of displaced Venezuelans entering the country since 2015.  There were no reported attempts to proselytize.  Various evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches in Tumbes worked with the government, International Organization for Migration, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide temporary housing to Venezuelans entering the northern border.

Venezuela

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

The law neither prohibits nor promotes religious education in public schools.  An unenforced 18-year-old agreement between the CEV and the state allows catechists to teach Christian and sacramental values (in preparation for First Communion) in public schools.

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

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

Government Practices

CEV and other Catholic Church leaders and ECV representatives said the government continued to retaliate against church leaders and clergy members who made statements critical of the government, including by imposing arbitrary registration requirements, threatening and detaining clergy, and denying religious visas to foreign visiting clergy.

CEV representatives reported a woman, characterized by media as a government sympathizer, had attacked Father Miguel Acevedo during a Mass on February 2 at Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria parish in Caracas.  According to witnesses, the woman interrupted Acevedo’s homily, shouted insults at Acevedo, and then rushed toward him in an attempt to hit him.  Church personnel disrupted her attack.

Catholic Church leaders said President Maduro ordered criminal investigations of two bishops for violating the 2017 antihate law after they delivered homilies highlighting hunger and government corruption.  Bishop Victor Hugo Basabe of San Felipe, Yaracuy State, which is associated with the Barquisimeto Archdiocese in Lara State, asked during his January 14 homily that the “Divine shepherdess free Venezuela of the curse of political corruption that has led to moral, economic, and social ruin.”  During the homily, Basabe referred to the country’s crisis, stating, “Thousands of Venezuelans rummage through garbage searching for scraps to satisfy their hunger.”  In a separate homily the same day, Archbishop of Barquisimeto Antonio Lopez Castillo urged the “Divine shepherdess to free us from hunger; free us from corruption.”  In his State of the Union speech the following day, President Maduro called for the attorney general to investigate Bishop Basabe and Archbishop Lopez Castillo for instigating “hate with the intent to generate confrontation, violence, death, exclusion, and persecution.”

Lopez Castillo reported to news media that on January 19, Bolivarian National Intelligence Service officials detained him after Mass, then released him after an interview and threatened that if he persisted in speaking against the Maduro government, they would charge him with violating the antihate law.  On January 16, the CEV issued a statement denouncing the investigation order against Lopez Castillo and Basabe.  The CEV said the antihate law, promulgated by the ANC, was “conceived to criminalize all that upsets the government and its views.”  Neither Basabe nor Lopez Castillo was charged.  While CEV leaders reported Lopez Castillo had received no further threats, on October 9, progovernment Lara State legislators declared Basabe “persona non grata,” which then Governor Carmen Melendez endorsed.  Legislators and Governor Melendez cited Basabe’s January 14 homily as the reason.  CEV leaders said Basabe remained in his position as apostolic administrator and no new threats occurred after he was declared persona non grata.

On February 19, the MOI summoned Father Acevedo and Bishop Tulio Luis Ramirez Padilla, Auxiliary Bishop of Caracas, to appear before the court for “inciting hate” during their Mass in Caracas on February 2.  Media reported that according to some of the parishioners, who had interceded on behalf of Acevedo and Ramirez, both were “treated” well and released with a warning.

Catholic leaders said Maria Albarran, a Zulia State government official, brought charges against Father Santiago Dominguez for “instigating hate” during a February 2 Mass over which he presided at the Church of La Consolacion in Maracaibo State.  Albarran stated in media interviews she was offended by Dominguez’ comparison of Venezuelans who left the country to lepers.  CEV leaders reported the government took no further action against Dominguez.

A CEV representative stated the government still had not fulfilled an 18-year-old agreement between the CEV and the state allowing catechists to teach Christian and sacramental values (in preparation for First Communion) in public schools.  The same CEV representative said the government had removed catechism from the classroom and at times threatened to sanction principals of schools that attempted to teach it.  The CEV representative said government representatives denied his petition to establish catechism courses in a local public school, violating the CEV agreement permitting schools to teach catechism upon a parent’s request.  He stated the government’s decision violated freedom of religion for parents whose children could not receive catechism locally when there was no available transportation to distant schools where catechism was available.

The ECV said the DJR imposed arbitrary registration requirements on religious groups.  According to the ECV, after several years delay, the MOI approved the ECV’s new registration in March; however, the MOI restricted the number of ECV board members to five, despite previously permitting 15.  ECV leaders said this restriction violated its “freedom to associate,” because the ECV, a network of approximately 1,300 evangelical Protestant churches, needed to assign 15 board members to oversee its 1,300 churches and 650 pastors.  ECV leaders said the limit on board members would leave it vulnerable should the government nullify church statutes made by its nonregistered board members.

According to the ECV, the government retaliated against its organization because it opposed some government policies, including the antihate law, which the ECV leader said repressed religious expression and led to self-censorship.  ECV leaders stated the government denied religious visas to visiting clergy after it held a July 24 church assembly in the city of Valencia.  They said that during the event, a progovernment individual monitoring the assembly approached the pastor of the church in Valencia and said he would report him to government security officials for instigating hate and violating the antihate law.  An ECV representative later stated the government had denied the ECV a religious visa for a pastor planning to travel to the country to lead a national conference.  Regarding the ECV’s distribution of food to needy parishioners, an ECV representative said National Police agents regularly confiscated a portion of food boxes, stating the food was “contraband” and the ECV was selling it for profit.  The ECV representative said a private NGO had donated the food boxes, which ECV personnel would then distribute to needy parishioners.  Clergy said they felt intimidated and frequently were required to give the police agents a portion of the food boxes as a “commission” in exchange for allowing clergy to distribute the remainder.

Jewish leaders stated that to avoid accusations of anti-Semitism, government and some progovernment media continued to replace the word “Jewish” with “Zionist.”  During his September 9 television broadcast, ANC President Diosdado Cabello stated that former Mayor of El Hatillo David Smolansky was leading a political project to impose a “Zionist Venezuela” in response to Smolansky’s designation to lead an OAS working group on the migratory crisis in Venezuela.  Cabello categorized Smolansky as a “violent Zionist.”

In September President Maduro compared the situation of migrant Venezuelans to that of “Hitler’s persecution of Jews, resulting in the death of six million Jews.”  Media widely reported that during a September 18 press conference in China, Maduro stated there was an “inquisition campaign” against Venezuelans by “oligarchic media” from Colombia, Panama, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru, which he likened to Hitler’s persecution of Jews.  He went on to say, “The oligarch media in those countries launched an inquisition campaign that I compare to, excuse me if someone is bothered by my comparison, I compare it to the persecution campaign against the Jewish people that Hitler initiated that ended with six million dead Jews.”  Maduro continued, stating, “Many of the things said against Venezuela and Venezuelans in those countries are similar to what was said of the Jews, the Venezuelans are guilty of this, this, this and Venezuelans are guilty of everything.”

CAIV representatives stated the government supported anti-Semitic media.  In February progovernment television outlet Venezolana de Television (VTV) broadcast an interview with Walter Martinez, a political analyst.  During the interview, Martinez said media companies, including Warner Music, CNN, and HBO Ole, whose artists call to “Free Venezuela,” are manipulated by Zionism.  Martinez said, “Judaism has been hijacked by Zionism.”  CAIV representatives said this incident was typical of the government’s anti-Semitic leanings.

On February 2, Roberto Hernandez Montoya, moderator of government-owned VTV television and the Radio Nacional de Venezuela radio program, retweeted, “Capriles is a Zionist agent menial slave of the Empire, who is nothing more than a political corpse who belongs in the [expletive]-hole of history and never shall a repulsive idiot like him (that did military service in Israel) be elected as president of the Bolivarian people.”  A prominent Venezuelan opposition politician and practicing Catholic of Jewish ancestry, Henrique Capriles was a presidential candidate in 2012 and 2013.

CAIV’s president stated that CAIV leadership made a concerted effort to maintain communication with the government to avoid escalating tensions.  He said Delcy Rodriguez, the country’s vice president, had cooperated with requests to import kosher products essential to Jewish religious practices.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

CAIV representatives said many citizens and government officials continued to believe members of the Jewish community maintained direct lines of communication with the White House and placed U.S. interests above those of Venezuela, which made them concerned their community could become targets of anti-Semitic acts.  On June 6, after the United States announced it would to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, pro-Palestinian groups accompanied by progovernment representatives protested the decision.  Media interviewed protesters in Caracas who proclaimed they repudiated Zionism and supported the Palestinian cause.  Some members of the Jewish community stated this protest was an example of the use of anti-Zionism to mask anti-Semitism.  The CEV, CAIV, and Muslim League continued to meet informally, holding periodic interreligious panels, including a discussion on differences and similarities among Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future