The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the free exercise of worship. It states that these practices must not be “opposed to morals, to good customs or to the public order.” Religious groups may establish and maintain places of worship, as long as the locations are in compliance with public hygiene (health standards) and security regulations established by laws and municipal orders.
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 for those that do. Once registered, a religious group is recognized as a religious nonprofit organization; 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. 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. According to ONAR, public law recognizes more than 3,200 religious entities as legal entities. By law, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) may not refuse 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 MOJ with an authorized copy of their charter, corresponding bylaws with signatures, and the national identification numbers of charter signatories. The bylaws must include the organization’s mission, creed, and structure. The charter must specify the signatories, the name of the organization, its physical address, and must include confirmation that bylaws have been approved by the religious institutions’ charter signatories. In the event the MOJ raises objections to the group, the group may petition; the petitioning group has 60 days to address the MOJ’s objections or can challenge them in court. Once registered, the state may not dissolve a religious entity by decree. If concerns are raised about a religious group’s activities after registration, the semi-autonomous 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, such as additional places of worship or schools, clubs, and sports organizations, without registering them as separate entities. According to ONAR, the MOJ receives approximately 30 petitions monthly; the MOJ has not objected to any petition and has registered every group that completed the required paperwork.
By law, all schools must offer religious education for two teaching hours per week through pre-elementary, elementary, middle, and 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, such as orthodox and reformed Jews, evangelicals, Seventh-day Adventists, and other groups. Schools must provide religious instruction for students according to students’ religious affiliations. Parents may have their children excused from religious education. Parents also have the right to homeschool their children for religious reasons or 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 accommodations. 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.
Catholic and Episcopalian leaders condemned the Constitutional Court’s August decision to partially lift the country’s total ban on abortions, stating that permitting abortions was unconstitutional and violated their religious beliefs.
Both central and regional authorities continued to support the provision of non-Catholic religious education in public schools when parents requested it. Authorities 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 prison and military chaplains remained predominately Catholic, the numbers of evangelical Protestant chaplains and other non-Catholic chaplains increased, due in part to the diverse religious affiliations of the prison population and the increase in evangelical Protestant followers in the country. ONAR continued to work to counter perceptions of bias and support diversity in the chaplaincy by encouraging other faith communities to prepare and present candidates for those positions. The National Institute of Human Rights, an independent government agency, continued to report that Protestant faith communities operated without impediments in the prison system.
According to CSW, from January to October, arsonists set fire to four Catholic and four Baptist churches in the primarily indigenous Mapuche communities in the rural Araucania Region. No one was hurt in the attacks. In October the National Prosecutors’ Office found the alleged arsonists did not meet the threshold for trial under the anti-terrorism law. The alleged perpetrators were charged with arson; the trial was still pending at the end of the year. CORMA pledged to develop a work plan to help provide peaceful solutions to the region’s societal conflict by bringing together churches, parishioners, community organizations, neighbors, workers, investors, and business owners. CORMA also donated in-kind goods to rebuild the churches. The regional government announced in April it would help to reconstruct the destroyed churches and initiated programs to train Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches in preventative security measures.
ONAR representatives regularly met with religious leaders with the stated aim of ensuring state institutions respected minority religious practices. In June ONAR published the first edition of an ethics code to facilitate a dialogue of mutual understanding among the country’s religious communities, public and private entities, labor leaders, and civil society. The ethics code asserts Chile’s identity as a secular state and outlines best practices through which civil society, the private sector, and religious institutions might demonstrate religious diversity and tolerance. The ethics code discusses suggestions for education, media outlets, and the environment, among other topics.
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, among others. Their efforts were designed to facilitate and enhance interreligious dialogue within the country by establishing standing meetings among religious leaders and offering government space to host those conversations.
In June President Michelle Bachelet and ONAR hosted an interfaith iftar at the La Moneda presidential palace to support dialogue and promote interfaith understanding.