The constitution provides for freedom of “conscience and worship, subject to public order and respect for social norms.” A 1954 concordat with the Holy See designates Catholicism as the official state religion and extends special privileges to the Catholic Church not granted to other religious groups. These include the special protection of the state in the exercise of the Catholic ministry, exemption of Catholic clergy from military service, permission to provide Catholic instruction in public orphanages, public funding to underwrite some Catholic Church expenses, and exemption from customs duties.
To request exemption from customs duties, non-Catholic religious groups must first register as NGOs with the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Finance. Registration with the Attorney General’s Office, which applies to nonprofit organizations generally and is not specifically for religious groups, is a two-step process. First, the organization must provide documentation of a fixed address and the names of seven elected officers, have a minimum of 25 members, and pay a nominal fee. Second, the organization must draft and submit statutes and provide copies of government-issued identification documents for the board of directors. After registering, religious groups may request customs duty exemption status from the Ministry of Finance.
The law provides for government recognition of marriages performed by religious groups registered with the Central Electoral Board. The law requires churches to have legal status and presence in the country for at least five years, to provide a membership list, and to train pastors on how to perform marriages. Churches are responsible for determining the legal qualification of couples, and they must record all marriages performed and make those lists available for government inspection. Failure to comply with the regulations governing marriage can result in misdemeanor sanctions or fines.
The concordat grants the Catholic Church free access to prisons. The government states it allows access to all faiths in prisons. All faiths have the right to perform religious acts, in community or alone, in prisons.
As part of the concordat with the Vatican, the law requires religious studies based on Catholic Church teachings in all public schools. The concordat accords the Catholic Church the right to revise and approve textbooks used in public schools throughout the country. The concordat also provides parents with the option of exempting their children from religious studies in public schools at both the elementary and secondary levels. Private schools are exempt from the religious studies requirement; however, private schools run by religious groups may teach religious studies according to their beliefs.
The government imposes no immigration restrictions or quotas on religious workers. Foreign missionaries may obtain a one-year multi-entry business visa through the Ministry of Foreign Relations after submitting a completed application form, original passport, two passport-sized photographs, and a document offering proof as to the business activity from the institution or person in the country with whom the missionary is affiliated. Foreign missionaries may renew the visa before the original one-year visa has expired.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Non-Catholic religious groups continued to state that the government provided the Catholic Church significant financial support that was unavailable to them, including properties transferred to the Catholic Church, as well as subsidies to the salaries of Catholic Church officials.
In June the Catholic Church transferred 127 parochial schools to the Ministry of Education. The government agreed to finance the schools while allowing the schools to continue to provide Catholic instruction. In October the Ministry of Education also agreed to assume responsibility for 134 private evangelical Protestant schools, while also allowing those schools to continue to offer the same religious instruction in accordance with evangelical Protestant teachings. The transfer of the schools, which was voluntary, resulted from a 2014 presidential promise to spend 4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product on education.
A non-Catholic organization said the government required them to pay customs duties on imported food and other items and then apply for a refund instead of receiving an exemption as allowed by the law. Religious groups reported difficulties when applying for and receiving customs duty refunds from the Ministry of Finance.
At the opening of the Caribbean Symposium on Religious Liberty in November, Vice President Cedeno stressed the centrality of legal systems to recognize and guarantee religious freedom. She also emphasized the need for societies to develop cultures of mutual respect and to foster interfaith collaboration between the public and private sectors, so that the shared value of religious freedom can confront the looming challenge of social inequality.