The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states “the State supports no religion.” The penal code prohibits discrimination based on religion.
The constitution accords the Catholic Church the right to ownership of all churches built wholly or partly with state funding, with the exception of chapels dedicated for use by asylums, hospitals, prisons, or other public establishments.
Religious groups are entitled to property tax exemptions only for their houses of worship. To receive such exemptions, a religious group must register as a nonprofit with the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) and present a dossier that includes the organization’s structure and objectives. The ministry examines the dossier and determines if the religious group is eligible to receive a tax exemption. Groups that submit the required paperwork are routinely registered. If approved, the group may request a property tax exemption from the taxing authority, usually the municipal government.
The National Institute of Human Rights, an autonomous branch of parliament, and the MEC’s Honorary Commission against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Forms of Discrimination enforce government compliance with antidiscrimination laws. Both organizations receive complaints of discrimination, conduct investigations, and issue rulings on whether discrimination occurred. The ruling recommends if the case should receive a judicial or administrative hearing. Only the courts or the Ministry of Labor, however, may sanction or fine for discrimination. The National Institute of Human Rights and the Honorary Commission against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Forms of Discrimination provide free legal services to the complainant.
Religious instruction in public schools is prohibited by the constitution. Public schools are closed on major Christian holidays, though holidays are not officially referred to by their Christian names. Students belonging to non-Christian or minority religious groups may be absent from school on their religious holidays without penalty.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The National Institute of Human Rights reported 3.8 percent of the 26 discrimination complaints it received in 2015 (the most recent figures available) were based on religion, as compared with 6 percent in 2014. Out of a total of 314 human rights complaints, one was based on religious discrimination. The Honorary Commission against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Forms of Discrimination reported it received no complaints of religious discrimination during the year; it reported nine complaints of religious discrimination since its inauguration in 2007. Representatives from religious and civil society groups were active participants in the Honorary Commission against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Forms of Discrimination. A poll by Pew Research Center reported 57 percent of people in the country believed that religious leaders should have “no influence at all” in political matters.
In November Nicolas Jose Gonella was convicted of inciting racist, religious, and xenophobic hatred online. Gonella was found responsible for racist commentary and insults in 2013 in a blog against Mae Susana Andrade, a member of the Afro-Umbandist religion. The website, titled “Alerta Irreligion” (Unreligious Alert), allegedly disseminated hatred against Umbandists, Afro-Uruguayans, indigenous, and LGBTI individuals, and it personally targeted Andrade, calling her an “assassin witch.” The Ministry of Interior’s General Unit for Information and Intelligence received the complaint and coordinated with the Honorary Commission against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Forms of Discrimination. Gonella was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
In December the Catholic Church led a campaign for followers to hang “Christmas with Jesus” flags outside their residences; approximately 28,500 did. The Uruguayan Association for Free Thinkers criticized President Tabare Vazquez for hanging a flag outside his home, saying he represented society and the state and therefore should not publicize his religion. Several public officials and constitutional law experts said the flag was hung from the president’s personal home, not the official residence, and therefore was permissible and even to be encouraged as a demonstration of the country’s respect for religious freedom.
A representative of one of the country’s minority religious groups stated the government gave greater attention to larger religious groups, particularly Christian and Jewish groups, than to minority religious groups. They said that government leaders participated in Jewish and Christian public events during the year, but did not engage in similar public gestures of support for other groups, especially those with fewer members. Religious leaders said they believed legislation should provide a special category for religious groups as part of civil society, because their activities went beyond those of civil associations.
In January President Vazquez issued a message commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was broadcast on national media networks. As in previous years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported activities to commemorate the Holocaust. The parliament during a special session honored those whose lives had been lost.
In May the government’s Technology in Education program launched an online, interactive application called the “Shoa Project” on the memory and legacy of the Holocaust. The project served as an educational tool for high school teachers to teach history related to the Holocaust.
In June the government participated in the first Global Forum for Anti-Semitism in Latin America. The country’s delegation included Minister of Education and Culture Muñoz, the president of the Chamber of Representatives, the president of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee, and a member of the National Institute of Human Rights.
In August the municipality of Montevideo presented a thematic tour that included visits to the origins of Jewish immigration to the country, including historical buildings and sites.