The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the free expression of all beliefs and the right to practice a religion or belief, in public and private. The constitution recognizes the distinct legal personality of the Catholic Church.
The constitution does not require religious groups to register for the purpose of worship, but non-Catholic religious groups must register for legal status to conduct activities such as renting or purchasing property and entering into contracts, and to receive tax-exempt status and tax exemptions for properties used for worship, religious education, and social assistance. To register, a group must file with the Ministry of Government a copy of its bylaws, which must reflect an intention to pursue religious objectives, and a list of its initial membership, with at least 25 members. The ministry may reject applications if the group does not appear to be devoted to a religious objective, appears intent on undertaking illegal activities, or engages in activities that appear likely to threaten public order. All religious groups must obtain the permission of the respective municipal authorities for construction and repair of properties and for holding public events, consistent with requirements for nonreligious endeavors.
The constitution protects the rights of indigenous groups to practice their traditions and forms of cultural expression, including religious rites. The law permits Mayan spiritual groups to conduct religious ceremonies at Mayan historical sites on government-owned property.
The criminal code penalizes with one-month to one-year sentences the interruption of religious celebrations, the offense of a religion, and the desecration of burial sites or human remains; however, charges are seldom filed under these laws. The constitution provides for freedom of expression, protecting against blasphemy.
According to the constitution, no member of the clergy of any religion may serve as president, vice president, government minister, or judge.
A Catholic priest and a nondenominational Christian pastor serve as prison chaplains.
The constitution permits, but does not require, religious instruction in public schools. There is no national framework for determining the nature or content of religious instruction. In general, public schools have no religious component in the curriculum. Private religious schools are allowed and can be found in all areas of the country.
The government requires foreign missionaries to obtain tourist visas, which authorities issue for renewable periods of three months. After renewing their tourist visas once, foreign missionaries may apply for temporary residence for up to two years.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Some Mayan leaders said the government continued to limit their access to a number of religious sites on government-owned property and to require them to pay to access the sites. The government continued to state there were no limitations to access; however, anyone seeking access to the sites located on national parks or other protected areas had to pay processing or entrance fees. In Semuc Champey, a natural monument, for example, the processing fee was approximately $4 to $5, a prohibitive price for many indigenous populations. Leaders from the Committee on the Designation of Sacred Sites continued to state practitioners of Mayan spirituality were generally able to obtain free access to sites if they were accredited and issued an identification card as spiritual guides and had received written permission from the Ministry of Culture in advance of the scheduled ceremony/religious practice. Mayan leaders said the government continued to require written permission, involving considerable paperwork, costly travel to the capital, and fluency in Spanish. The Presidential Commission against Discrimination and Racism (CODISRA) continued to provide interpreters for indigenous persons upon request. Mayan advocates continued to press for access, within reasonable parameters, to the approximately 2,000 sacred sites on both public and private land.
In September the Mayan community of Chicoyoguito expressed concerns about lack of access to a spiritual site on former Guatemalan Military Base 21, which was transformed into a UN peacekeeping training base known as CREOMPAZ in Coban, Alta Verapaz. The community stated it continued to petition for the return of land, including its sacred ceremonial center. In 1968 military forces seized the land and evicted members of the Mayan community.
On November 5, with a search warrant from the Solicitor General’s Office (PGN), National Civilian Police officers and investigators, along with a PGN attorney, conducted a partial search of the compound of an ultraorthodox Jewish group, Lev Tahor, located in Santa Rosa. Some government officials stated allegations of child abuse, including child marriage, surrounded the group.
Non-Catholic groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ, said some municipal-level authorities still discriminated against them in processing permit approvals and in local tax collection. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ said in spite of a 2013 ruling exempting the Church from paying taxes, municipal authorities continued to link the issue of tax collection to construction permits, refusing to issue new permits unless the Church paid its taxes.
Missionaries continued reporting they chose to remain on tourist visas to avoid what they considered a complicated procedure to apply for temporary residence.
On September 26, congress approved a resolution instructing migration authorities to ban a heavy metal rock band from performing a concert, stating the band was satanic and its lyrics were tantamount to an attack on Christian values. The human rights ombudsman criticized the decision, noting the constitution protects freedom of religion and thought. Some local media sources stated the decision amounted to religious censorship.