The constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion and requires the state to contribute to its maintenance. The constitution prohibits the state from impeding the free exercise of other religions that does not undermine “universal morality or proper behavior.” Unlike other religious groups, the Catholic Church is not registered as an association and receives special legal recognition. Its assets and holdings are governed consistent with Catholic canon law.
The constitution recognizes the right to practice the religion of one’s choice. By law, a person claiming a violation of religious freedom may file suit with the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, and may also file a motion before the Constitutional Chamber to have a statute or regulation declared unconstitutional. Additionally, a person claiming a violation of religious freedom may appeal to the Administrative Court to sue the government for alleged discriminatory acts. Legal protections cover discrimination by private persons and entities.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Religion is responsible for managing the government’s relationship with the Catholic Church and other religious groups. According to the law, a group with a minimum of 10 persons may incorporate as an association with judicial status by registering with the public registry of the Ministry of Justice. The government does not require religious groups to register; however, religious groups must register if they choose to engage in any type of fundraising. Registration also entitles them to obtain legal representation and standing to own property.
The constitution forbids Catholic clergy from serving in the capacity of president, vice president, cabinet member, or Supreme Court justice. This prohibition does not apply to non-Catholic clergy.
An executive order provides the legal framework for religious organizations to establish places of worship. Religious organizations must submit applications to the local municipality to establish a place of worship and to comply with safety and noise regulations established by law.
The law establishes that public schools must provide ecumenical religious instruction by a person who is able to promote moral values and tolerance and be respectful of human rights. If a parent on behalf of a child chooses to opt out of religious courses, the parent must make a written request. The Ministry of Public Education provides assistance for religious education to private schools, both Catholic and non-Catholic, including directly hiring teachers and providing teacher salaries and other funds.
The law allows the government to provide land free of charge to the Catholic Church only. Government-to-church land transfers are typically granted through periodic legislation.
Only Catholic priests and public notaries may perform state-recognized marriages. Wedding ceremonies performed by other religious groups must be legalized through a civil union.
Immigration law requires foreign religious workers to belong to a religious group accredited for migration control purposes by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Religion and stipulates religious workers may receive permission to stay at least 90 days but not more than two years. The permission is renewable. In order to obtain accreditation, a religious group must present documentation about its organization, including its complete name, the number of followers, bank information, the number of houses of worship, and the names of and information on the group’s board of directors. Immigration regulations require religious workers to apply for temporary residency before arrival.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Constitutional Chamber received four claims against the free exercise of religious freedom at educational institutions. The court dismissed two claims due to lack of evidence proving discrimination. In the other two claims, the chamber ruled in favor of the claimants. In one case, the chamber ordered that a student’s exam planned for a Saturday be rescheduled for his observation of the Sabbath. In the other case, the chamber ruled that a Jewish student had the constitutional right to wear the kippah skullcap during classes.
The government included support for the Catholic Church in its annual budget. It earmarked approximately 8.4 million colones ($14,900) for various projects requested by the Catholic Church during the year, including funds needed to make improvements at churches and cemeteries in different parts of the country. This was the only funding for religious groups included in the national budget for 2017. A semi-autonomous government institution sold lottery tickets and used the proceeds to support social programs, including some run by non-Catholic groups.
Some non-Catholic leaders continued to state the constitution did not sufficiently address the specific concerns of non-Catholic religious groups. Members of Protestant groups registered as secular associations continued to state they preferred a separate registration that would specifically cover church construction and operation, permits to organize events, and pastoral access to hospitals and jails for members of non-Catholic religious groups. In the case of the Catholic Church, the government continued to address such concerns through the special legal recognition afforded the Church under canon law.
According to the director of the Evangelical Alliance, a movement to remove Catholicism as the state religion and define the country as an explicitly secular state lost momentum.
The director of the Evangelical Alliance and the president of the Catholic Conference of Bishops criticized proposed legislation that would revise the law permitting abortion only when the mother’s life or health is at risk. Similarly, the Evangelical Alliance director and the president of the Catholic Conference of Bishops criticized the government for supporting draft legislation allowing same-sex civil unions.