The constitution and laws provide for freedom of religion and the right to profess freely one’s faith. The constitution provides the government will grant the Roman Catholic Church preferential legal status, but there is no official state religion. By law, public schools are secular, but private schools run by registered religious institutions are eligible for government subsidies. The government continued its investigation into the 1994 terrorist bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) community center. In March the Criminal Cassation Court upheld a federal judge’s petition to arrest Senator and former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on charges of “aggravated concealment” for allegedly attempting to cover up possible Iranian involvement in the AMIA bombing by signing a memorandum of understanding with Iran. At the September UN General Assembly (UNGA) meeting, President Mauricio Macri urged international support for the country’s demands that Iran cooperate in the continuing investigation of the AMIA attack and the 1992 terrorist bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. Investigations into the murder of Alberto Nisman, the former special prosecutor in charge of the AMIA bombing investigation, continued. On April 17, a group of parents in Tucuman Province filed suit against a religious curriculum in the province’s public schools, citing a 2017 Supreme Court decision that incorporating religious education in public schools was unconstitutional and stating that educators were exclusively teaching Catholicism in schools. The government sponsored and government officials actively participated in interfaith events throughout the year.
According to media reports, there was considerable civic debate on the separation of church and state in light of a draft bill legalizing abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, which the Senate voted down on August 9. Protesters supporting and opposing the draft bill, including from many religious groups, held massive and largely peaceful overnight demonstrations in front of congress before voting occurred on June 14 and August 9. Catholic and evangelical Christian churches reported offensive graffiti throughout the country that they believed individuals protesting religious opposition to abortion had written.
Embassy officials met with senior government officials, including the secretary of worship and officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) human rights office and Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, to discuss ways to promote respect for religious minorities and counteract religious discrimination. Embassy outreach efforts included regular meetings with government officials and religious and community leaders to discuss interfaith collaboration and encourage the increased participation of religious communities in embassy-sponsored scholarship and educational programs. A Department of State official met with religious leaders and government officials, including parliamentarians, to discuss religious freedom.
The constitution stipulates the state is independent of religion and provides for “freedom of thought, spirituality, religion, and cult, expressed individually or collectively, in public and in private.” The constitution and other laws give educational institutions the right to teach religion, including indigenous spiritual belief classes. Religious leaders of various Christian and non-Christian groups stated that the country’s registration law had the potential to limit their ability to operate independently and could favor particular religious groups. Church leaders again worked with the government on a legislative proposal exempting churches from the registration requirements with a grace period of five years if the legislation passes. According to evangelical Protestant community sources, several smaller religious communities with “house churches” still preferred not to register their organizations, stating they did not want to provide the government with access to private internal information. In January the congress abrogated revisions of the penal code, including an article criminalizing recruitment into “religious organizations or cults.” In December, following a meeting with evangelical Protestant leaders, the government announced it would introduce a draft religious freedom law in February 2019. Tensions between Christian church leaders, particularly Roman Catholics, and government officials continued. Government officials continued to criticize church representatives for speaking out on presidential term limits and other political issues. Evangelical Protestant leaders again stated the government violated the constitutional separation of religion and state by employing ethnic Aymara rituals and practices during government events and ceremonies.
Evangelical Protestant leaders again cited expulsions by indigenous religious leaders of evangelical pastors from rural areas because the pastors had refused to participate in ancestral practices and rituals.
U.S. embassy access to government officials was still limited despite embassy requests for meetings. Embassy staff regularly met with religious leaders to underscore the importance of religious freedom. The Charge d’Affaires hosted interfaith meetings for religious leaders in October and November. Representatives from the evangelical Protestant, Catholic, Methodist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Jewish, and Muslim religious groups participated. Topics discussed included the government’s respect for religious freedom and practices and the importance of respect for religious freedom, diversity, and tolerance.
The constitution states freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and it guarantees free exercise of religious beliefs. The constitution prohibits federal, state, and local governments from either supporting or hindering any religion. On September 19, a court convicted three of 14 defendants of attempted homicide, which the court ruled was motivated by religious and racial discrimination related to a 2005 attack on three men wearing kippahs, Jewish head coverings. In September the Public Ministry of Sergipe State, in conjunction with the Coordination for the Promotion of Ethnic-Racial Equality (COPIER), filed suit against the municipality of Aracaju for violation of religious freedom. The Public Ministry filed the case on behalf of Yalorixa Valclides Francisca dos Anjos Silva after police officers accused her of practicing black magic and abusing animals. In February the government-associated Brasilia-based Religious Diversity and Human Rights Advisory (ASDIR) and the National Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality (SEPPIR) launched a national campaign entitled “Religious Diversity: To Know, To Respect, To Value.” The launch coincided with World Interfaith Harmony Week. In April the Rio de Janeiro State government launched a program incorporating discussions on religious intolerance into the curriculum of 1,249 public schools in the state. In May the Ministry of Culture, with the Palmares Cultural Foundation and University of Brasilia, released the results of the first ever mapping exercise of Umbanda and Candomble houses of worship, known as terreiros, documenting 330 terreiros in the Federal District. In June the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies held a public hearing on the development of public policies to combat religious discrimination and intolerance.
Media reported Guarani-Kaiowas, an indigenous group from Mato Grosso do Sul, denounced frequent acts of violence, which they said evangelical Christians committed against their shamanic rituals. According to media reports, unidentified individuals damaged religious buildings at various times throughout the year. These acts included the destruction of religious objects and spray painting of hateful statements at an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in Rio de Janeiro in May, spray painting of swastikas on a church in Rio de Janeiro in October, and spray-painting “God is Gay” on a Roman Catholic church in Sao Paulo in the same month. On May 18, unidentified individuals spray-painted messages on the walls of the Jewish Israelite Society of Pelotas building, threatening the Jewish community to “wait” for an “international intifada.” The individuals also attempted to set fire to the building, causing minor damage. Attacks on terreiros continued, two occurring in May and one in July. Religious organizations hosted interfaith community events, including on September 16, the 11th Annual Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, which drew approximately 70,000 participants from across the religious spectrum, and on August 19, the Freedom Circuit three-kilometer and five-kilometer run in Brasilia. According to the Ministry of Human Rights’ Secretariat of Human Rights (SDH), its hotline received 210 complaints of religious intolerance between January and June compared with 169 complaints during the same period in 2017. The president of the Council for the Defense and Promotion of Religious Freedom for Rio de Janeiro State attributed the reported increase in religious intolerance to three factors: “The creation of a service trusted by society, societal understanding that religious discrimination is a punishable crime, and increased aggression in religious confrontations.”
In October embassy officials engaged the Ministry of Human Rights’ coordinator for religious diversity, discussing the status of state religious diversity committees and plans for a potential conference on respect for religious diversity. In February embassy officials attended the event commemorating the Federal District’s third annual Day to Combat Religious Intolerance. In December an embassy official discussed with the public defender the increase in societal intolerance of African religions and the importance of applying the law to protect the religious freedom of these groups. Sao Paulo consulate officials met with several evangelical Protestant leaders in the months leading up to the October elections – discussing the leaders’ views on the participation of religious groups in the political process and their priorities from a religious perspective. Rio de Janeiro consulate officials visited an Afro-Brazilian terreiro in Duque de Caxias, in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, in June to speak with Conceicao D’Liss, a priest leader of a Candomble terreiro.
The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and worship. The law prohibits religious discrimination and provides civil remedies to victims of discrimination. Religion and state are officially separate. The National Office of Religious Affairs (ONAR), an executive government agency, is charged with facilitating communication between faith communities and the government and ensuring the protection of the rights of religious minorities. ONAR and media sources reported arsonists burned down 13 churches in Araucania and Santiago Regions between January and October following more than eight similar incidents in 2017. No one was hurt in the attacks. President Sebastian Pinera responded in September by announcing the Accord for Development and Peace in the Araucania, home to the country’s largest indigenous community, the Mapuche. According to the government, the plan aims to address economic, social, and political grievances that have led to violence and destruction. Media reported Mapuche opposition to the plan. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization whose mandates include documenting and memorializing the Holocaust, wrote an open letter to President Pinera denouncing his meeting in May with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. The letter stated that government reception of PA delegates over the last year “has led to increasing anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activity, especially on university campuses.” The government did not respond publicly to the letter. In March the administration disbanded a government Interfaith Advisory Council formed under the prior administration. The council’s mandate was to facilitate interreligious dialogue between religious and government leaders and to meet with indigenous groups, religious minorities, and civil society leaders. ONAR said the new administration, which took office in March, would set up a new council, but the government did not form the council by year’s end.
Jewish community leaders stated concern about a rise in religious tensions, citing a perceived increase in acrimony toward Jews, especially on the part of the country’s Palestinian population, after the U.S. government moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. According to media sources, the Organization of Palestinian Students at the University of Chile Law School denounced a student running for the school’s student council and boycotted the election campaign because of the student’s stated Zionist beliefs. The Organization of Jewish Students of Chile condemned the boycott in a public statement, saying the statements regarding Zionism were “a way to hide anti-Semitism.”
The Ambassador and other embassy representatives periodically met with government officials and religious leaders to discuss religious diversity and tolerance and to raise incidents of concern, including perceived threats to the Jewish community and church burnings in Araucania.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right to profess one’s religious beliefs. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) is responsible for formally recognizing churches, religious denominations, religious federations and confederations, and associations of religious ministers, among other responsibilities. In March the MOI introduced a new policy, titled “Comprehensive Public Policy of Religious Freedom and Worship,” establishing a Religious Freedom Directorate in the MOI and providing technical assistance to corresponding entities at the regional level. The MOI started developing protective tools for religious groups as part of its ongoing implementation of the new public policy. The Mennonite Association for Justice, Peace, and Nonviolent Action (Justapaz) expressed continued concern over a law requiring interagency commissions to evaluate requests for conscientious objector status. The minister of interior and the high commissioner for peace launched an interagency working group in April on the role of religious organizations in the peace and reconciliation process to strengthen respect for religious diversity. The Episcopal Catholic Conference of Colombia (ECC) expressed concern about new requirements for tax-exempt status implemented during the year, which the ECC said limited the ability of religious nonprofit organizations to deliver social services in their communities.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report that guerillas and organized illegal armed groups threatened leaders and members of religious organizations in many areas of the country.
The ECC stated that on March 10, unidentified individuals tortured and killed 68-year-old Father Dagoberto Noguera Avendano in Santa Marta. Justapaz reported that an unidentified illegal armed group threatened the organization via a pamphlet issued on July 14, due to its efforts to promote human rights and reconciliation. Justapaz reported the threat to the Attorney General’s Office and the MOI. The Jewish community reported continued comments promoting anti-Semitism on some social media sites, including aggressive actions by Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Colombia, an anti-Israel protest movement that used anti-Semitic slogans such as “Jews control the media.” During the year, the Catholic Church, Mennonite Church, and other religious groups continued to conduct programs focused on religious tolerance, land rights, peace, and reconciliation.
U.S. embassy officials raised issues of religious freedom, including conscientious objection to military service and the effect of illegal armed actors on religious practice, with government officials. Embassy officials met with the Human Rights Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the International Affairs Directorate of the Attorney General’s Office, and the Religious Affairs Directorate of the MOI. Embassy officials discussed with the MOI the new public policy on religious freedom and worship, including support for victims of conflict and other vulnerable populations at the national and local levels. Embassy officials also met with representatives from a wide range of religious groups, including the Jewish and Muslim communities, Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians, and Mennonites. In these meetings, embassy officials discussed issues related to the government’s new policy on religious freedom, conscientious objection, and the importance of eliminating institutionalized discrimination.
The constitution recognizes Roman Catholicism as the state religion; the law requires the state to contribute to the Catholic Church’s maintenance. The constitution prohibits the state from impeding the free exercise of religions that do not impugn “universal morality or proper behavior” and provides for redress in cases of alleged violations of religious freedom. Some civil society leaders continued to state that the constitution did not sufficiently address the specific concerns of non-Catholic religious groups, in particular regarding registration processes. The Constitutional Chamber received 12 claims of denial of the free exercise of religious freedom at educational institutions and discrimination by some government entities. The chamber dismissed 10 of them, stating there was insufficient evidence or no basis for claiming discrimination. In the other two cases, the chamber ruled in favor of the claimants: a police officer who wanted to reschedule his work shift to observe the Jewish Sabbath and evangelical pastors denied access to a prison.
Instances of anti-Catholic language on social media continued. For example, an article posted on Facebook reporting on the Catholic Church’s position on abortion received several comments with slurs against the Catholic clergy, calling them pedophiles and hypocrites in their views on social issues. There were also reports of anti-Semitism on social media, with the Jewish community reporting instances of stereotypes about Jews controlling the economy being perpetuated on social networks, as well as statements questioning Israel’s right to exist. An interreligious forum created in December 2017, with participants from Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Lutheran, Jewish, Buddhist, Baha’i, Muslim, and indigenous communities, continued to promote dialogue among the country’s faith communities. The group met periodically throughout the year.
Embassy representatives met with public officials and religious leaders throughout the year, including those representing religious minorities, to discuss their views on religious freedom. The outreach to religious groups included meetings with leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant communities; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ); and other religious groups. In November the Ambassador hosted an interfaith Thanksgiving-themed meeting at her residence to promote interreligious dialogue with public officials and religious leaders. The embassy also nominated a Christian minister who participated in a U.S. government exchange program on religious freedom. The embassy used social media to send congratulatory messages to religious groups on special religious occasions.
The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion; however, the Cuban Communist Party, through its Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) and the government’s Ministry of Justice (MOJ), continued to control most aspects of religious life. Observers said the government continued to use threats, international and domestic travel restrictions, detentions, and violence against some religious leaders and their followers, and restricted the rights of prisoners to practice religion freely. Media and religious leaders said the government continued to harass or detain members of religious groups advocating for greater religious and political freedom, including Ladies in White leader Berta Soler Fernandez, Christian rights activist Mitzael Díaz Paseiro, his wife and fellow activist Ariadna Lopez Roque, and Patmos Institute regional coordinator Leonardo Rodriguez Alonso. In March the government registered the New Apostolic Church, which does not have a connection with Apostolic churches, also known as the Apostolic Movement. The ORA and MOJ, however, continued to use the law on associations to deny official registration to certain religious groups, such as a number of Apostolic churches, or failed to respond to long-pending applications, such as those for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many religious groups said the lack of registration impeded their ability to practice their religion. A coalition of evangelical Protestant churches, Apostolic churches, and the Roman Catholic Church pressed for reforms in the draft constitution, including registration of religious groups, ownership of church property, and new church construction. On October 24, the Cuban Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement calling for the constitution to strengthen protections for religious activities. In September Protestant groups signed a petition opposing the removal of freedom of conscience in the draft constitution and sought the reinstatement of individual and collective rights to manifest one’s religion and beliefs in private and in public. Human rights advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported government harassment of religious leaders increased “significantly in parallel with” the churches’ outspokenness regarding the draft constitution. According to CSW, some religious groups said the government increased its scrutiny of foreign religious workers’ visa applications and visits. Some religious groups reported an increase in the ability of their members to conduct charitable and educational projects. According to the religious advocacy group EchoCuba and CSW, the government gave preference to some religious groups and discriminated against others. During the year, the Sacred Heart of Jesus became the first Catholic church built since the country’s 1959 revolution. It was the first of three Catholic parishes to be completed and the first Catholic church ever located in Sandino, a remote town in the country’s westernmost province.
The Community of Sant’Egidio again held an interfaith meeting – “Bridges of Peace” – in Havana on October 12-14 to promote interreligious engagement, tolerance, and joint efforts towards peace. Leaders of different religious groups in the country and participants from 25 countries attended the meeting.
U.S. embassy officials continued to meet with government officials and raise concerns about unregistered churches’ inability to achieve legal registration and gain the official status it conveys. The embassy met regularly with Catholic Church authorities, evangelical Protestants, and Jewish community representatives concerning the state of religious, economic, and political activities. Embassy officials also met with representatives from Muslim, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and various Protestant communities. Embassy officials met with the head of the Council of Cuban Churches (CCC), a government-registered organization with close ties to the government composed mostly of Protestant groups and associated with the World Council of Churches, to discuss its operations and programs. The embassy remained in close contact with religious groups, including facilitating exchanges between visiting religious delegations and religious groups in the country. In social media and other public statements, the U.S. government continued to call upon the government to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the freedom of religion.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief. A concordat with the Holy See designates Roman Catholicism as the official state religion and extends to the Catholic Church special privileges not granted to other religious groups. Privileges include funding for expenses such as administration and construction, visa exceptions, and exemptions for customs duties. Some participants in an interfaith event in November said they did not approve of the government’s preference for the Catholic Church, the lack of explicit legal protection for churches beyond what the constitution provided, and the treatment of non-Catholic churches as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). 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. Some non-Catholic groups said they still paid customs duties and had to apply for refunds even though the law allows for exemptions. Representatives of some non-Catholic groups stated that while the special privileges given to the Catholic Church through the concordat were unfair, these privileges did not hinder their ability to practice their religion in public and in private.
In February the School of Law at Santo Domingo’s Pontifical University and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) cohosted an international conference called Religious Liberty as a Fundamental Right. Participants emphasized the importance of laws and the need for the objective administration of justice by judges as a means to guarantee religious liberty.
In November an official from the Ministry of the Presidency participated in an interfaith gathering hosted by the Ambassador. Representatives from 25 religious groups and faith-based organizations also attended the event, where issues discussed included religious freedom, the concordat, government financial support of churches, and legal protections for churches. In October an embassy official met with the Interfaith Dialogue Table to discuss religious freedom and the organization’s plans for interfaith initiatives in the country.
The constitution grants individuals the right to choose, practice, and change religions; it prohibits discrimination based on religion. The constitution also states secular ethics are the basis for public service and the legal system. The law requires all religious groups to register with the government; failure to do so can result in the group’s dissolution and liquidation of physical property. On November 14, President Lenin Moreno signed an executive decree that formally dissolved the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Worship (MOJ), as part of the government’s downsizing. He stated that the government would integrate responsibilities for issues related to religion and religious groups into the Secretariat of Policy Management (SPM) within 90 days. According to a MOJ official, by year’s end, the government had not finalized the changeover but had begun transitioning functions to the SPM. The MOJ continued to manage the registration process during the transition, including the registration process for religious groups. According to the MOJ, approximately 3,638 religious groups were registered with the office and more than 1,000 additional groups were in the process of registration by the end of the year. Many religious groups stated that at times the registration process had been onerous and disruptive to their activities but said the difficulties were bureaucratic in nature. During the year, the interfaith National Council on Religious Freedom and Equality (CONALIR), which includes representatives of the Adventist, Anglican, Baha’i, Buddhist, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox, and Protestant faith communities, continued to promote a draft religious law to revise the 1937 religion law and foster greater religious freedom and equality. In August the group began conducting a series of human rights workshops on the importance of religious equality under the law. Evangelical Christian and Roman Catholic representatives expressed concern about a presidential decree issued in May requiring all schools to teach a definition of gender not in line with their religious beliefs. In response to religious groups’ stated concerns, President Moreno revised the decree on July 19. Numerous religious leaders said the Moreno government exhibited greater support for the protection of religious freedom than the previous administration.
Many religious leaders said that societal knowledge of religious traditions and practices outside of Catholicism was generally lacking. A new interfaith working group, including representatives from the Baha’i, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and Muslim communities, formed in October.
Embassy officials met with government officials in the Ministry of Interior and the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman to discuss the registration process and government promotion and protection of religious freedom and other related human rights. The Ambassador hosted a roundtable with religious leaders on September 6 to discuss challenges facing their communities and changes taking place under the current administration. Leaders from the Baha’i, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Church of Jesus Christ, and Muslim communities attended the event and met monthly on their own after the roundtable to discuss areas of common interest. On October 30, President Moreno and Foreign Minister Jose Valencia participated in a ceremony and reception commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Jewish community in the country, which the Ambassador also attended. The Consul General in Guayaquil hosted a roundtable on September 26 with Buddhist, Catholic, evangelical Christian, and Jewish leaders to discuss coastal communities’ challenges and advances in freedom of religion. Embassy officials spoke with representatives from CONALIR to encourage the continuation of interfaith and ecumenical dialogue.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states that all are equal before the law. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. The constitution grants automatic official recognition to the Roman Catholic Church and states that other religious groups may also apply for official recognition through registration. On October 23, a judge issued an arrest warrant for a former military captain suspected of killing Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo 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 killings of six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter. The court repealed a 2000 ruling that the statute of limitations had expired in the case.
According to international news reports, on March 29, an armed group stopped Father Walter Vasquez Jimenez and parishioners in San Miguel, who were traveling. The group set the parishioners free but abducted Vasquez and subsequently shot and killed him. According to media reports, criminals continued to routinely disrupt and target religious communities through extortion, killing, or beating pastors and their congregants, arbitrarily limiting freedom of movement, and stealing religious artifacts. Leaders of Catholic, evangelical Protestant, and other Christian communities continued to report that members of their churches sometimes could not reach their respective congregations in MS-13 and Barrio 18 gang-controlled territory due to fear of crime and violence. In certain sectors of the country, gang members controlled access in and around communities, and there were reports that gangs expelled or denied access to church leaders and charity groups with religious affiliations. Gangs reportedly demanded churches divert charitable items to their families. Reports continued of gang members extorting organizations with known funding streams, including religious groups, and demanding a “tax” to allow organizations to operate in some territories. According to media reports, gangs reportedly manipulated or infiltrated religious organizations.
U.S. embassy officials raised with the ombudsman for human rights the importance of government officials’ carrying out their official duties regardless of their religious affiliation or beliefs. In meetings with Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Muslim, and Baha’i groups, embassy officials discussed the difficulties religious groups experienced in attempting to reach followers in gang-controlled territories, stressing the importance of filing complaints with law enforcement agencies and the ombudsman for human rights.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of worship and the free expression of all beliefs. The constitution recognizes the distinct legal personality of the Roman Catholic Church. Non-Catholic religious groups must register with the Ministry of Government to enter into contracts or receive tax-exempt status. Mayan spiritual leaders said the government continued to limit their access to some Mayan religious sites, including some located in national parks and in other protected areas where the government charges entrance fees. The Mayan community of Chicoyoguito raised concerns in September about continued lack of access to a spiritual site on former Guatemalan Military Base 21, which became a UN peacekeeping training base known as CREOMPAZ, in Coban, Alta Verapaz. Non-Catholic groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), stated some municipal-level authorities still discriminated against them in processing permit approvals and in local tax collection. In September the congress requested that migration authorities ban a rock band from performing in the country, stating the band’s lyrics offended Christian values.
Some Catholic clergy continued to report threats and harassment against them because of their engagement in environmental protection. Some Mayan religious groups reported land owners continued to limit their access to Mayan religious sites on private property. Interfaith coordination and humanitarian efforts associated with this coordination increased during the year, including campaigns to assist survivors of the June 3 Fuego Volcano eruption, regardless of their religious affiliation.
The U.S. embassy regularly held meetings with government officials from the executive and legislative branches in addition to leaders of religious groups to discuss issues of religious freedom, including threats against Catholic clergy and the reported lack of access to Mayan spiritual sites. Embassy officials emphasized the value of tolerance and respect for religious diversity, including for religious minorities, in meetings with various civil society and religious groups.
The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions. The law establishes the conditions for recognition and practice of religious groups. The government continued to provide the Roman Catholic Church with funds and privileges other religious groups did not receive. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Religious Denominations (MFA) continued to state that it must provide such privileges to the Catholic Church in accordance with an 1860 international convention (concordat) between the government and the Holy See and not due to government preference for the Catholic Church. Although Vodou was a registered religious group, the government again did not grant Vodou clergy legal certification to perform civil marriages or baptisms. The MFA still did not approve long-standing requests from the Muslim community for religious registration. 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.
According to media reports, on January 16, police arrested four men suspected of killing well known Catholic priest Joseph Simoly in December 2017. 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 community leaders said Vodou practitioners continued to experience social stigmatization for their beliefs and practices. According to the leadership of the National Confederation of Haitian Vaudouisants, 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. Muslim leaders said their community, especially Muslim women wearing hijabs, continued to face social stigma and discrimination from the rest of society. Muslims also said they faced discrimination when seeking public- and private-sector employment.
U.S. embassy officials met with the MFA to reinforce the importance of religious freedom, in particular the need for equal protection and equal legal rights for religious minority groups. Embassy representatives also met with faith-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and Catholic, Protestant, Vodou, and Muslim religious leaders to seek their views on religious freedom and tolerance and to emphasize the importance of respecting religious diversity and the rights of members of minority religious groups.
The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions; however, the government officially recognizes only the Roman Catholic Church. It classifies all other religious groups as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or as unregistered religious organizations, according them fewer rights and privileges than the Catholic Church. On November 21, National Congress President Mauricio Oliva introduced legislation to amend the article of the constitution prohibiting religious leaders from running for elected office. Religious groups and politicians stated mixed reactions to the proposed reform. In May a National Party congressman presented a motion before congress to permit reading the Bible in primary and secondary schools. Diverse faith groups spoke out against the motion, stating that reading the Bible would violate the constitutional provisions that education should be provided to society without discrimination of any kind. Non-Catholic religious groups again said the government continued to levy income taxes on the salaries of non-Catholic clergy and to tax non-Catholic religious materials received from abroad. Some sectors of society again opposed the political activism of certain religious groups and the government’s close ties with evangelical Protestant groups and the Catholic Church, including via prayers at official events. Seventh-day Adventists still stated some public educational institutions did not respect their religious observance on Saturdays. Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to state that certain public educational institutions required them to salute the national flag and sing the national anthem, activities contrary to their faith.
In June media reported that two unknown assailants killed a pastor in Santa Barbara Department. The Evangelical Fellowship of Honduras (CEH) reported two near-fatal attacks on local church leaders. It was unclear if these were gang-related killings; police investigations continued at year’s end. Some religious organizations continued to state religious leaders were more vulnerable to societal violence, including extortion and threats, because of their prominent positions in society and their ongoing presence and work in areas with minimal state presence. The CEH reported widespread extortion of church leaders and congregation members. While stating that unlike in past years it had not recorded killings of pastors or church leaders, the CEH noted an increase in threats against pastors and church leaders located in areas known for gang or narcotics trafficking activities. The Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa did not record any killings of church officials; however, local media noted killings of Protestant pastors during the year.
In April the U.S. government launched a new program to support civil society organizations, including faith-based organizations, to operate freely and to support their right to association and freedom of expression; the program will evaluate and support transparency in the NGO registration process. Embassy officials engaged with religious leaders and other members of a wide range of religious communities regarding societal violence and their concerns regarding the government’s dealings with religious groups in the country, including religious observance at school and legal recognition for religious organizations.
The constitution guarantees all persons religious freedom, including the right to engage in religious ceremonies and acts of worship. Under the constitution, indigenous communities enjoy a protected legal structure allowing them to practice their own particular “uses and customs.” The General Directorate for Religious Associations (DGAR) within the Interior Ministry (SEGOB) continued to work with state and local officials on criminal investigations involving religious groups. During the year, DGAR investigated 11 cases related to religious freedom at the federal level, compared with six in 2017. Government officials stated a continued wave of killings and attacks on Catholic priests reflected high levels of generalized criminal violence throughout the country rather than targeting for religious beliefs. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), however, said criminal groups targeted Catholic priests because communities viewed them as moral authority figures. NGOs said criminal groups sought to remove these moral authority figures so communities would more likely overlook organized crime activities. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), in March community authorities in San Miguel Chiptic, Chiapas State, threatened three indigenous families for converting from Catholicism to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and later did significant damage to three of their properties. Members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church sought assistance from municipal and state authorities, who declined to intervene, according to CSW. On May 23, local police in San Miguel Chiptic arrested two Seventh-day Adventist men for preaching beliefs other than Catholicism. At year’s end, six families remained displaced and sheltered with other Seventh-day Adventist Church members in Chiapas. Evangelical Protestant leaders continued to state local indigenous leaders pressured some evangelical Protestants in mainly rural and/or indigenous areas in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca to support financially and/or participate in Catholic cultural and religious events, and in some cases convert or return to Catholicism. 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.
The Catholic Multimedia Center (CMC) reported criminal groups continued targeting priests and other religious leaders in some parts of the country, which included killings, kidnappings, death threats, and extortion. The CMC reported unidentified individuals killed seven priests and kidnapped another during the year, and in August asserted Mexico was the most violent country for priests in Latin America for the 10th year in a row. In March unidentified individuals detonated two homemade bombs in two Catholic churches in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. CSW reported unidentified individuals killed four non-Catholic clergy.
U.S. embassy and consulate officials met with government counterparts throughout the country to discuss concerns about violence toward religious leaders as well as reports of discrimination toward religious minorities in some communities. Embassy officials met with members of religious groups and NGOs to gather details about specific cases.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion; provides for freedom of belief, religion, and worship; and states no one “shall be obligated by coercive measures to declare his or her ideology or beliefs.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported “serious human rights violations in the context of social protests in Nicaragua” surrounding demonstrations opposing social security reforms in April, which resulted in “excessive and arbitrary use of police force,” stigmatization campaigns, and other human rights abuses. Amnesty International reported that in October the state had implemented a strategy of repression. On July 13, police killed two students and injured at least 10 others in a 15-hour attack on a Roman Catholic Church in Managua providing refuge to student protesters from a nearby university campus. Catholic leaders reported physical attacks and verbal insults, death threats, and intimidation campaigns by progovernment groups and ruling party (Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN) activists associated with President Daniel Ortega and Vice President and spouse Rosario Murillo. Media reported Deputy Chief of Police Ramon Avellan physically assaulted Father Edwin Roman in Masaya on September 9, after the priest asked government supporters to turn down ruling-party propaganda music playing outside the church during a funeral service. Observers said Bishop Silvio Baez was a frequent target of government harassment because he condemned its human rights abuses. According to religious leaders and media, there were many incidents of vandalism and the desecration of sacred items in Catholic churches throughout the country. Progovernment supporters frequently disrupted religious services by playing loud music through speakers positioned outside of churches. Many religious leaders said the government politicized religion in the context of what the IACHR and other international bodies characterized as an ongoing political crisis and social conflict in the country. Religious leaders said the government retaliated against clergy perceived as critical of the government. According to religious leaders, Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders who provided shelter and medical assistance and defended human rights of peaceful protesters were routinely victims of government retribution, including slander, arbitrary investigations by government agencies on unfounded charges, withholding tax exemptions, reducing budget appropriations, and denying religious services for political prisoners. Catholic leaders said the government continued to use religious festivities, symbolism, and language in its laws and policies to promote its political agenda, a practice that Catholic leaders said undermined the Church’s religious integrity.
According to media, on December 5, a Russian national woman threw sulfuric acid at a priest at the Managua Metropolitan Cathedral during confession. By year’s end, the priest was still at a local hospital with burns over his entire body and a serious infection. While some civil society leaders familiar with the case stated they believed the government sent her to the church, there was no evidence linking the attack to government officials. A Jewish leader said his group’s interfaith director met regularly with Christian and Muslim counterparts as part of relationship-building efforts.
The Vice President of the United States repeatedly called on the government to cease violence and attacks on the Catholic Church and expressed the U.S. government’s support for faith communities in their fight for human rights, democracy, and freedom. U.S. embassy officials met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials to raise concerns over religious freedom in light of the country’s sociopolitical crisis. Senior U.S. government leaders and the embassy used social media to express concern over attacks on the Catholic Church and other religious groups. Additionally, embassy officials engaged like-minded members of the diplomatic corps to address concerns over religious freedom in the country. Embassy representatives met regularly with a wide variety of religious groups, including Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Moravian Lutherans, Muslims, and the Jewish community, to discuss the groups’ concerns about politicization of religion and governmental retaliation against politically active religious groups.
The constitution accords individuals the right to choose, change, and freely practices their religion and prohibits religious discrimination. It specifically recognizes the right of indigenous communities to express their religion freely. The constitution states the relationship between the state and the Roman Catholic Church is based on independence, cooperation, and autonomy. The constitution does not address relations between the state and other religious groups. Representatives of the Catholic Christian Apostolic National Church of Paraguay (ICCAN) said that in October the Vice Ministry of Worship (VMW) rejected its second request during the year to register as a religious entity. ICCAN representatives said they believed the Roman Catholic Church had “blocked” ICCAN’s request because the Catholic Church claimed exclusive use of the word “catholic” in a church title. Roman Catholic Church representatives responded that they believed ICCAN leaders’ claims of apostolic succession from the historical National Catholic Church were dubious and they perceived any registration issues to be a result of issues inherent in ICCAN. Religious groups not affiliated with the Catholic Church said the government disproportionately supported and subsidized teacher salaries at Catholic schools.
Catholic, Protestant, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and Jewish representatives initiated an interreligious dialogue, including participation at a VMW-organized symposium on family in August to advocate for the creation of a new Ministry of Family.
U.S. embassy representatives met with the vice minister of culture at the VMW and discussed challenges ICCAN and some other religious groups faced with registration, the processing of claims of religious discrimination, and the unequal provision of state funding for salaries at schools run by religious groups. Embassy officials met with representatives of the Catholic, Mennonite, Catholic Christian Apostolic, and Jewish communities to discuss interfaith respect for religious diversity and hear their views on the status of religious freedom in the country.
The constitution bars discrimination based on religious affiliation or belief and provides for freedom of conscience and religion, either individually or in association with others. It provides for the separation of religion and state but also recognizes the historic importance of the Roman Catholic Church. In July the government removed the requirement that religious entities seeking to register must have at least 500 adult members, allowing any group to register voluntarily regardless of its size or categorization. According to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and interfaith groups in the country, the changes in the registration regulations encouraged more minority religious groups to register with the MOJ’s Directorate of Justice and Religious Freedom. Small non-Catholic groups said they were pleased with the removal of the registration prerequisite to receive certain tax and visa benefits and other government services. 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.
Jewish community leaders said some individuals continued to engage occasionally in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jews and Israel. They said the government and both private and government-run media did not engage in this activity. Both Jewish and Muslim leaders said some public and private schools and employers occasionally did not give their members leave for religious holidays. The Interreligious Council of Peru continued to engage the MOJ for equal access to government benefits for all religious groups, including taxation exemptions on income, imports, property, and sales; visas for religious workers; and the opportunity to serve as military chaplains. The council continued to discuss the government’s revisions of its religious freedom regulations with religious communities. Religious groups and interfaith organizations coordinated with the government, civil society, and international organizations to provide humanitarian assistance to more than 600,000 displaced Venezuelans in the country during the year, regardless of religious affiliation, with no reported efforts to proselytize, and to promote religious tolerance.
U.S. embassy officials discussed the 2011 religious freedom law and its 2016 implementing regulations with government representatives, emphasized the importance of equal treatment of all religious groups under the law, and discussed how religious groups were assisting the humanitarian response to the influx of Venezuelans regardless of their religious affiliation or nonaffiliation. Embassy officials also engaged leaders from the Catholic, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), evangelical Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim communities to promote tolerance and respect for religious diversity.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and affirms the state does not support any particular religion. Legal statutes prohibit discrimination based on religion. The government launched an interagency, computer-based system to monitor and report on issues of discrimination, including discrimination based on religion. A judge sentenced four individuals to probation for aggravated violence and hate crimes after they were convicted of physically and psychologically attacking a colleague on religious and racial grounds. Two Jewish travelers were denied entry into a hostel. The government condemned the act, referred the case to the interagency antidiscrimination committee, opened an investigation, and closed the hostel. Some government officials made public statements and wore clothing disparaging the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. In November media reported that Minister of Education Maria Julia Munoz called evangelical Protestant churches “the plague that grows” in a WhatsApp group. The government’s official commitment to secularism at times generated controversy between religious groups and political leaders. Religious organizations welcomed opportunities for dialogue with the government on religious freedom. The installation of religious monuments in public places continued to generate tensions. The government approved two cemetery sites for the Islamic community. The government supported several events commemorating the Holocaust, including one held in the parliament and through a nationally broadcast message.
On November 22-24, evangelical Protestant leaders attended the Regional South American Congress for Life and Family in Punta del Este. According to media reports, on November 23, a church in Montevideo supporting the congress was vandalized with what the church said were satanic symbols and pro-LGBTI signs as well as paintings saying “no to the fascist congress.” Media also reported that on March 8, protesters vandalized a church, stating their disagreement regarding the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and birth control. Unidentified individuals vandalized a plaza in Cerro Largo Department with painted swastikas. Civil society and the government responded quickly to condemn the acts. Jewish leaders reported acts of anti-Semitism, including verbal harassment and aggressive behavior. Representatives of some minority religious groups stated that society’s lack of knowledge and understanding of their religious beliefs sometimes led to acts of intolerance and discrimination. Religious representatives reported continued activity in the press and in social media disparaging their religious beliefs and practices. Such activity included a Catholic leader’s comments in a magazine that Afro-Umbandists characterized as disparaging their religious beliefs. Religious coalitions continued to promote interfaith dialogue, understanding, and coexistence in the country.
U.S. embassy officials maintained contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Honorary Commission against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Forms of Discrimination (CHRXD), and the National Human Rights Institute (INDDHH) to discuss issues regarding religious freedom and discrimination. Embassy officials met with religious leaders, including Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim representatives, several other minority religious groups, and members of the Board for Interfaith Dialogue to discuss areas of interfaith collaboration and hear concerns on faith-related issues, including acts of vandalism related to religion, tensions between the government and religious organizations, and challenges to religious freedom and tolerance. The embassy used social media to highlight the importance of respect for religious diversity and tolerance.