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 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. 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.
The constitution allows religious groups to apply for official recognition by registering with the government. The Catholic Church, which is recognized in the constitution, is exempted 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) within 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, function of its ruling bodies, and assessments or dues. DGFASFL analyzes the group’s constitution and bylaws to ensure both are in compliance with the law. Upon approval, the group’s constitution and bylaws are published in the official gazette. DGFASFL does not maintain records on religious groups once it approves their status.
By law, the Ministry of Governance has authority to register, regulate, and oversee the finances of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), non-Catholic churches, and other religious groups. Foreign religious groups must obtain special residence visas for religious activities and may not proselytize while on visitor or tourist visas.
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. Public schools may not deny admittance to any student based on religion. All private schools, whether religious or not, must meet the same standards to obtain Ministry of Education approval.
The Penal Code imposes criminal sentences of six months to two years on individuals who publicly offend or insult the religious beliefs of others, or damage or destroy religious objects. If such acts are carried out for the purpose of gaining media attention, sentences increase to one to three years. Repeat offenders face prison sentences of three to eight years. There have been no prosecutions under this law.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In January the government agreed to cooperate with INTERPOL to arrest 17 former soldiers accused of shooting six Jesuit priests (five of whom were Spanish) in 1989 to silence criticism of civil rights abuses during the country’s civil war. When a Spanish judge renewed his country’s request with INTERPOL to arrest those implicated in the killings, the government agreed to cooperate. In February the National Police arrested four former Salvadoran soldiers accused of the killings. The United States government approved the extradition of former Colonel Montano Morales, accused of having orchestrated the killings.
There were 151 new requests for registration of religious groups from January through September, of which 49 were approved, 102 were pending, one was withdrawn, and none were denied.
The Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights reported it had not received notice of any cases of alleged violations of religious freedom since 2006.