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Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the free exercise of worship. These practices must not be “opposed to morals, to good customs or to the public order.” Religious groups may establish places of worship, as long as the locations are in compliance with hygiene and security regulations.

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

The law does not require religious groups to register with the government; however, there are tax benefits available to those that register. Once registered, a religious group is recognized as a religious nonprofit organization. This differs from the nonprofit status for other nongovernmental organizations in that religious organizations have the option of adopting a charter and bylaws suited to a religious entity rather than a private corporation or a secular nonprofit. Additionally, under the law, religious nonprofit organizations may create affiliates such as charitable foundations, schools, or additional houses of worship, which retain the tax benefits of the religious parent organization. There are currently more than 3,000 religious entities registered, the majority of which are small Pentecostal faith communities. By law, the Ministry of Justice may not refuse to accept the registration petition of a religious entity, although it may object to petitions within 90 days if legal prerequisites for registration are not satisfied.

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

Publicly subsidized schools must offer religious education for two teaching hours per week through high school. Local school administrators decide how religious education classes are structured. The majority of religious instruction in public schools is Catholic, although the Ministry of Education has approved instruction curricula designed by 14 other religious groups. Schools must provide religious instruction for students in the curriculum requested by their parents, and parents may have their children excused from religious education. Parents also have the right to homeschool their children for religious reasons or may enroll them in private, religiously oriented schools.

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

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

Government Practices

The Catholic Church continued to have a presence in public and some private schools, private hospitals, prisons, and the military as it founded and managed many social services and institutions beginning in colonial times. The Church, however, did not hold any rights or privileges additional to other religious groups. Representatives from ONAR regularly met with religious leaders with the stated aim of ensuring minority religious practices were respected in state institutions. Authorities continued to support the implementation of the requirement to provide non-Catholic religious education in public schools when requested by parents. Authorities engaged and supported schools through municipal offices of religious affairs, encouraged the development of community-supported religious curricula, and provided religious diversity training to public servants. While prisons and military chaplains were predominately Catholic, ONAR made an effort to counter perceptions of bias and support diversity in the chaplaincy by encouraging other faith communities to prepare and present candidates for these positions. The independent government agency, the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH) reported observing flourishing Protestant faith communities within the prison system.

The ONAR continued to work through the Interfaith Advisory Council – a roundtable organization comprising religious leaders representing the country’s religious communities, including Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and Bahais, and designed to further facilitate and enhance interreligious dialogue within the country by establishing standing meetings among religious leaders and offering government space to host those conversations. At the suggestion of the Advisory Council, President Michelle Bachelet hosted an inaugural iftar to bring together the country’s diverse interfaith community. From October 13-16 the Bahai community dedicated its South American Bahai temple in Santiago, with both government and interfaith participation.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During the year arsonists set on fire and burned down more than 10 rural churches and a Catholic seminary in the Araucania Region. In some cases, a group claiming to be linked to the indigenous Mapuche community took credit for the destruction. Investigations of these arson attacks by law enforcement remained pending at the end of the year; the attacks appeared to fit into a pattern of sabotage directed against a wide range of institutions and business interests in the Araucania region, with the churches representing one of many targets.

Jewish community leaders reported concern about the tone of several social media postings they perceived as threatening. The commentary primarily referenced frustration with Israeli policies and did not specifically mention either the local Jewish community or Jewish people as a whole. For example on August 18, the Palestinian Federation of Chile published on its Facebook site a cartoon depicting a figure smoking a missile cigar and sitting on a Star of David, the bottom point of which is sticking into the back of a dead Palestinian baby, as part of an article protesting Israeli policies.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution grants all individuals the right to practice and profess publicly and freely the religion of their choice, and prohibits discrimination based on religion. It states the government has a responsibility to “protect voluntary religious practice, as well as the expression of those who do not profess any religion, and will favor an atmosphere of plurality and tolerance.” Individuals have the right to change their religion.

The law requires religious groups to register with the MOJ. Registration in the Register of Religious Entities provides the religious group with legal and nonprofit status. An officially registered organization is eligible to receive government funding, exemptions from certain taxes, and legal recognition as an organization with permission to operate in the country. To register, a religious group must possess a charter, include in its application all names used by the group to ensure that names of previously registered groups are not used without their permission, and provide signatures of at least 15 members, typically leaders of the organization. The application is evaluated by three experts in religious matters appointed by the ministry, in consultation with religious organizations that are already legally established within the country. The registration process is free. All nonprofit organizations, including the more than 2,200 registered religious groups, must report on the expenditure of any government funding received. Groups that do not register are not penalized but are ineligible to receive the aforementioned benefits.

The law prohibits public schools from providing religious instruction, but private schools may provide religious instruction. There are no legal restrictions or regulations on which religious groups may establish a school.

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

Government Practices

Evangelical Christian representatives said religious organizations often encountered barriers to registration. They noted legal representatives were required to travel to the capital, Quito, to register rather than being able to register in their local communities. An evangelical Christian leader said administrative costs, delays in processing, and demands by some officials for the payment of bribes created additional obstacles to registration of several of the churches. He said the slow process and delays led many groups not to apply for registration. Without a legal representative, groups were unable to open bank accounts or engage in formal land transactions. According to evangelical Christian representatives, unregistered groups often met in private homes or ad hoc structures on the private land of a group member.

The MOJ provided training to religious groups to help them navigate the registration process. According to the ministry, roughly 4,000 religious groups operated in the country, although only half were actually registered with the government. The MOJ provided no public information on specific groups that were denied registration or the reasons for their denial.

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

Catholic, Jewish, and Seventh-day Adventist representatives stated the government’s standard academic calendar, which applied to private and public schools, made it difficult for some schools to observe their religious holidays. Catholic representatives said religious schools received scrutiny from the government. Whereas public schools and nonreligious private schools were under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education only, both the Ministry of Education and the MOJ conducted visits to religiously affiliated schools and reviewed their curricula. Some religious leaders stated regulatory burdens made it extremely difficult to run a private religious school. An evangelical Christian leader said that in the past five years the government increased technology requirements for schools to maintain accreditation. He stated private schools, including religiously affiliated schools, were held to a higher standard than public schools. For example, he said public schools either were given the resources to comply with regulations or were given relaxed treatment on inspections regardless of compliance. Some private and religious schools were shut down for not complying with the technology standard.

In September the MOJ sanctioned the director and chief of security of the Quito Provisional Detention Center for allowing the use of an official stamp with a Nazi swastika for visitors entering the facility. The MOJ condemned the use of any offensive symbol that could compromise human rights. According to media reports, the Office of the Public Defender reported the use of the stamp in July 2015. In September the media reported on criticism by Public Defender Ernesto Pazmino about the delay in the government’s response and questioned why the stamp was permitted for so long.

Representatives of the Catholic Church stated they collaborated with government institutions on social assistance projects, particularly in coastal regions devastated by an earthquake on April 16. They said the government imposed restrictions on religious groups’ social welfare activities in which the government was active. Leaders of other religious groups said they did not seek government funding for social welfare projects either because of internal policies averse to government involvement or to avoid conditions the government might place on them. After the earthquake, some religious groups stated the government required all disaster relief assistance to be channeled through the military. Despite this policy, many religious groups distributed disaster assistance through their own networks.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

A gated community near Guayaquil banned proselytization by Jehovah’s Witnesses following complaints from community residents. In January the Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a complaint against the community before a lower court. The court ruled against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, citing the community’s right to prevent trespassing on private property. In February the Jehovah’s Witnesses were notified of the court’s decision and appealed to the judicial court of Guayas Province. The appeal was rejected in May. On June 1, the Jehovah’s Witnesses filed for a “special action of protection” before the constitutional court. The law required the constitutional court to decide whether to accept the case within 20 days; however, at year’s end the constitutional court had not accepted the case for review.

Religious leaders said societal respect for religious diversity was generally good, but some expressed concerns about what they perceived to be an erosion of traditional religious values and an increase in secularism. Religious leaders also expressed concerns about promoting religious values among youth, burdensome government regulations that they said made it difficult to operate religious schools, and the lack of mechanisms for interfaith dialogue.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution bars discrimination 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. The constitution bars persecution on the basis of ideas or beliefs. It establishes the separation of church and state, but recognizes the Catholic Church’s role as “an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development” of the country. The government is permitted to work with non-Catholic religious groups.

An agreement with the Holy See gives the Catholic Church preferential treatment in education, taxation, immigration of religious workers, and other areas. The law exempts Catholic Church buildings, houses, and other real estate holdings from property taxes. Other religious groups, depending on the municipal jurisdiction, must pay property taxes on schools and clergy residences. Non-Catholic religious groups may only buy land in commercially zoned areas while the Catholic Church may establish locations in either residential or commercially zoned areas. The law exempts Catholic religious workers from taxes on international travel. All work-related earnings of Catholic priests and bishops are exempt from income taxes. By law, the military may only employ Catholic clergy as chaplains.

Following consultations with religious communities, the government in July adopted revised implementing regulations to the religious freedom law. The regulations continue to provide for optional registration with the Ministry of Justice for religious groups. The government stated that the aim of voluntarily registering was to prevent fraud and facilitate a relationship with the government. New regulations allow all religious groups to apply directly to the National Customs and Tax Administration for tax exemptions and to the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate of Immigration and Naturalization for worker or resident visas for foreign religious workers without first having to register with the Ministry of Justice.

If a religious group wishes to register with the Ministry of Justice, the revised implementing regulations require groups to have 500 adult members, replacing the former requirement of 10,000 adult members. The new regulations exempt all “historically established” religious groups from the requirement to submit a membership list. An explanatory statement accompanying the revised regulations contains a list of such groups now considered “historically established,” naming the Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, evangelical, and all other Protestant churches, as well as the Jewish and Muslim communities.

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 only permits the teaching of Catholicism in public schools and the Ministry of Education requires the presiding Catholic bishop of an area to approve the public schools’ religious education teachers. Parents may request the school principal to exempt their children from mandatory religion classes. The government may grant exemptions to secular private schools and non-Catholic religious schools from the religious education requirement. The law states students who seek exemptions from Catholic education classes are not to be disadvantaged academically in both private and public schools.

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

Government Practices

Religious minority groups and some Catholic Church members continued to criticize the religious freedom law, stating it maintained a preferential status for the Catholic Church and did not address the government’s unequal provision of benefits, specifically the stipends paid to Catholic clergy. They stated, however, that the revised implementing regulations, including the removal of the registration requirements, represented an improvement. As of the end of the year, no religious minority groups had registered with the Ministry of Justice under the revised regulations, as groups continued to weigh whether registering with the government was necessary since registering became voluntary and the majority of religious groups were considered “historically established.”

The executive branch formally interacted with religious communities on matters of religious freedom through the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Justice implemented laws and interacted with the public through the Office of Catholic Affairs and through the Office of Interfaith Affairs for non-Catholic religious groups.

Some religious leaders stated that larger religious groups were better equipped to maneuver through the country’s bureaucracy to obtain tax benefits. Many smaller religious groups by comparison often lacked the resources to navigate through the requirements and paperwork, and thus did not obtain tax benefits. According to religious leaders, some smaller churches operated informally in unregistered houses, for example, and did not pay any taxes. A religious leader reported some evangelical Protestant churches registered with the government as NGOs to receive tax benefits.

According to the Ministry of Justice’s Office of Catholic Affairs, the government paid stipends to the Catholic cardinal, six archbishops, and other Catholic Church officials, totaling approximately 2.6 million soles ($774,500) 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. Similar stipends were not available to other religious groups.

Religious minority group members reported no problems receiving exemptions from attending Catholic religious courses at schools and no academic disadvantage stemming from the exemptions.

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

Some religious leaders said larger Protestant groups were previously more successful in receiving visas for foreign religious workers because of their greater experience in working with the government. Since the release of the new regulations, however, no religious minority groups reported seeking religious worker visas.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Movimiento Nacional Socialista Andino del Peru (Andean National Socialist Movement of Peru), a group of fewer than 50 members, continued to engage in Holocaust denial, sell anti-Semitic books and DVDs, and call for the expulsion of the Jewish community. Ministry of Justice officials closely monitored this group and reported no increase in anti-Semitic activity.

Muslim leaders said that when the media reported concerns about terrorism, the public commented negatively about Islam. Muslim and Jewish community members stated public and private schools and employers did not allow their members time off for non-Catholic religious holidays such as Eid al-Fitr and Yom Kippur. Jewish leaders and community members reported some instances of conspiracy theories regarding Jews.

The Inter-Religious Council of Peru, an umbrella group of representatives from a broad spectrum of religious groups, maintained an ongoing dialogue among religious entities. It lobbied for changes to the religious freedom law, changes to its implementing regulations, and equal access to government benefits for all religious groups, and it initiated discussions with religious communities about the effect of the revised religious freedom regulations.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future