The constitution establishes 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 do 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 it stipulates religious workers may receive permission to stay at least 90 days but not more than two years. The permission is renewable. To obtain accreditation, a religious group must present documentation about its organization, including its complete name, number of followers, bank information, number of houses of worship, and names of and information on the group’s board of directors. Immigration regulations require religious workers to apply for temporary residence before arrival.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Some non-Catholic leaders continued to state the constitution did not sufficiently address the specific concerns of non-Catholic religious groups, in particular regarding registration processes. 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.
The place of religion in the political process was a subject of much public discussion during the election season. In January, one month before national legislative elections and the presidential primary, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights (IACHR) issued an advisory opinion recommending the country legalize same-sex partnerships, making this a central issue of public debate. The Catholic Church and the Evangelical Alliance stated their opposition to same-sex partnerships and urged their followers to vote in line with their moral values. In response to the groups’ public statements near the time of the election, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) issued a directive in February ordering religious groups to refrain from influencing the vote of their parishioners, in line with a constitutional prohibition on the involvement of religious groups in political activities. The Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica and Evangelical Alliance appealed the TSE’s directive on freedom of expression grounds, which the TSE denied.
After the election, same-sex partnerships continued to be a topic of public debate, as officials considered whether, and if so, how to implement the IACHR decision. In August the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the Family Code definition of marriage as between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. The chamber gave the National Assembly 18 months to take action before the law would be automatically repealed by the court. This would legalize same-sex partnerships de facto. At year’s end, two bills were pending in the National Assembly: one that would recognize same-sex civil unions and another that would give same-sex couples full marriage rights. The Catholic Church, the Evangelical Alliance, and legislators of the evangelical National Restoration Party (PRN) opposed any recognition of same-sex partnerships.
Abortion was also a frequent topic of public debate involving religious groups during the year. In the National Assembly, members of the Citizens’ Action Party sought to legalize abortion in limited cases, such as when the mother’s life is in danger. PRN legislators presented a bill penalizing abortion as homicide. The director of the Evangelical Alliance and the president of the Catholic Conference of Bishops supported PRN efforts and criticized any legislation that would permit abortion.