The constitution bars discrimination and persecution based on religious affiliation or belief and provides for freedom of religion, either individually or in association with others. It states every person has the right to privacy of religious conviction. It establishes the separation of religion and state but recognizes the Catholic Church’s role as “an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development” of the country.
An agreement with the Holy See accords the Catholic Church institutional privileges in education, taxation, and immigration of religious workers. The law exempts Catholic Church buildings, houses, and other real estate holdings from property taxes. Other religious groups often must pay property taxes on schools and clergy residences, depending on the municipal jurisdiction and whether they have sought and received tax exemptions. The law exempts Catholic religious workers from taxes on international travel. The government also exempts all work-related earnings of Catholic priests and bishops from income taxes. By law, the military may employ only Catholic clergy as chaplains.
The revised implementing regulations to the religious freedom law the government adopted in 2016 make registration with the MOJ’s Directorate of Justice and Religious Freedom optional and voluntary. The stated purpose of the registry is to promote integrity and facilitate a relationship with the government. The revised regulations do not require government registration for a religious group to obtain institutional benefits. They allow all religious groups, registered or not, to apply for tax exemptions and worker or resident visas directly with the pertinent government institutions.
For religious entities seeking to register with the government, the regulations require at least 500 adult members. The regulations exempt all “historically established” religious groups from this requirement. The explanatory statement accompanying the regulations identifies Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, evangelical and all other Protestant churches, as well as the Jewish and Muslim communities, as examples of “historically established” religious groups. Registration is free, the process usually takes one week, and the MOJ provides assistance in completing the application forms.
According to law, all prisoners, regardless of their religious affiliation, may practice their religion and seek the ministry of someone of their same faith.
The law mandates that all schools, public and private, provide religious education through the primary and secondary levels, “without violating the freedom of conscience of the student, parents, or teachers.” The law permits only the teaching of Catholicism in public schools, and the Ministry of Education requires the presiding Catholic bishop of an area to approve the public schools’ religious education teachers. Parents may request the school principal to exempt their children from mandatory religion classes. The government may grant exemptions to secular private schools and non-Catholic religious schools from the religious education requirement. Non-Catholic children attending Catholic schools are also exempt from classes on Catholicism. The law states that schools may not academically disadvantage students seeking exemptions from Catholic education classes.
The law requires all employers to accommodate the religious days and holidays of all employees; this accommodation can include allowing an employee to use annual vacation leave for this purpose.
Foreign religious workers must apply for a visa through the Ministry of Interior’s Office of Immigration. If the religious group is registered with MOJ, the immigration office accepts this as proof the applicant group is a religious organization. If the group is unregistered with MOJ, the immigration office makes its decision on a case-by-case basis.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Some Catholic Church members and members of religious minorities continued to criticize the 2011 religious freedom law, stating it maintained institutional preferences for the Catholic Church and did not address the government’s unequal provision of benefits, specifically the stipends paid to certain Catholic clergy. Non-Catholic groups, however, said they were generally pleased with the revised registration regulations because they reduced the government registry standards for non-Catholic entities. By the end of the year, the government had registered 115 non-Catholic groups that had voluntarily requested registration; only Catholic groups registered in 2016. Most of the new registered groups were Protestant; however, Jewish, Muslim, Bahai, Orthodox Christian, and Jehovah’s Witnesses entities also registered. The government accepted and approved the applications from all interested religious groups. According to a Mormon community representative, the Mormon Church did not believe it was necessary to register. The representative said the Mormon Church received tax benefits and visas for its religious workers even though it had never registered.
The executive branch, through the MOJ, formally interacted with religious communities on matters of religious freedom, including the new registration process, taxation exemptions, religious worker visas, and budgetary support for religious groups. The MOJ continued to implement laws and interact regularly with the public through its Office of Catholic Affairs and Office of Interfaith Affairs for non-Catholic Religious Groups. Government engagement with religious groups included conferences and other meetings to discuss the new registration process, joint charity campaigns, and cultural events.
According to the MOJ’s Office of Catholic Affairs, the government paid stipends to the Catholic cardinal, six archbishops, and other Catholic Church officials, totaling approximately 2.6 million soles ($803,000) annually. Some Catholic clergy and laypersons employed by the Church received remuneration from the government in addition to Church stipends, including 44 active bishops, four auxiliary bishops, and some priests. These individuals represented approximately one-eighth of the Catholic clergy and pastoral agents. In addition, the government provided each Catholic diocese with a monthly institutional subsidy, based on a historic agreement with the Holy See. The Catholic Church used the funds to provide services to the poor, regardless of their religious affiliation, according to Catholic Church representatives. Similar stipends were not available to other religious groups.
Some Protestant soldiers continued to report some difficulty finding and attending non-Catholic religious services because of the absence of non-Catholic chaplains in the military.
Congress passed a resolution declaring October 31 the National Day of Evangelical Christian Churches. Members of the evangelical Christian community said they appreciated the government’s gesture.