The constitution provides individuals 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, relations between the state and the Catholic Church are based on “independence, cooperation, and autonomy.” The Catholic Church, however, must comply with all regulations the state imposes on other churches. The law allows political parties based on a specific faith, but the constitution prohibits members of the clergy from running for public office.
The government requires all religious groups to register with the VMW. Among other requirements, religious groups must demonstrate legal status as a nonprofit organization and agree to annual recertification, and religious leaders must submit to financial and criminal background checks. According to the VMW, 487 religious groups are currently registered. There are no penalties or monetary sanctions if religious groups do not register, but registration offers exemption from value added taxes and other government fees.
Religious instruction in public schools is prohibited. 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 MEC recognizes only degrees granted by registered institutions and only registered schools with nonprofit status may receive subsidies for teachers’ salaries.
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 with the VMW. Missionaries who choose not to register may enter the country on tourist visas.
The government supports chaplaincy programs in the armed forces, which are open to all religious groups. These programs train clergy to provide services to members of the armed forces deployed either in combat zones or on peacekeeping missions. The government also allows religious groups to operate and provide different types of religious services within prisons for adults, women, and youth; only Christian churches participate in this program, although there are no reports suggesting that the government has limited other groups from participating.
The Anti-Money Laundering National Secretariat (SEPRELAD) requires that all churches register as nonfinancial agents.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On June 28, media outlets reported the VMW refused to register the Catholic Christian Apostolic National Church of Paraguay (ICCAN). Founded in 1815, the church served as the country’s Catholic Church when diplomatic relations with the Vatican were severed after independence in 1811. The church ceased to operate in 1840, but was reestablished in 1992. ICCAN leaders said that even though the church had been legally registered with the Ministry of Interior, it was unable to secure registration from the VMW. ICCAN said that the VMW refused to recognize ICCAN because of pressure from Catholic Church authorities. The VMW said the ICCAN had not obtained certification as a legal entity from the Ministry of Interior.
The VMW reported no complaints of violations of religious freedom during the year.
The MEC continued to pay the salaries of hundreds of teachers in registered private schools operated by religious groups, most of them Catholic. Some non-Catholic religious groups stated the government disproportionately supported Catholic schools and did not pay a commensurate number of teachers in registered, non-Catholic religious schools. The VMW stated the government lacked sufficient funding to pay teacher salaries for all registered, non-Catholic religious schools, and expressed concerns that some registered religious schools were not conforming to the nonprofit nature of their mandates. Some non-Catholic religious groups said the MEC should review its methodology for awarding teacher subsidies.
Observers stated that the Catholic Church maintained an influential role within society and government, often issuing political statements. In the lead-up to the Virgin of Caacupe celebrations on December 8, for example, church leaders gave several sermons that touched on political topics. Bishop of San Juan Bautista de las Misiones Mario Melanio Medina called upon the youth of the country to fight against public corruption and other abuses of government in a highly publicized public sermon on December 3. The Catholic Church also continued to seek to influence public policy, including government positions on human rights in the United Nations and other international forums, and domestic antidiscrimination legislation. Some Protestant groups said there was government favoritism towards the Catholic Church. Many government offices continued to have Catholic shrines or prayer rooms, though there were no reports that the government rejected requests for shrines from other religious groups. The Catholic Virgin of Caacupe holiday was also a government holiday.
The head of the VMW, Vice Minister (VM) of Worship Dr. Herminio Lobos, underscored the importance of a “values‑based” educational agenda not specifically associated with one specific religious group, stating this contributed to freedom of religion. The Inter-Religious Forum, run by religious leaders from various faiths, worked with the VMW on implementing a values-based educational curriculum within the Ministry of Education. VM Lobos stated that the government must enforce constitutional protections and registration of religious groups and missionaries.
Evangelical Protestant groups stated the paperwork required by SEPRELAD to register as a nonfinancial agent was cumbersome for smaller churches lacking the administrative capacity to respond to lengthy data requests.
The VMW reported that 365 missionaries registered during the year, most of them Mormons. Of the total, 208 were foreign nationals.