The constitution provides individuals, including members of indigenous communities, the right to choose, change, and freely practice their religion. The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and specifically recognizes the right of indigenous communities to express their religion freely.
According to the constitution, the relationship between the state and the Catholic Church is based on “independence, cooperation, and autonomy.” The Catholic Church, however, must comply with all regulations the state imposes on other churches and non-Christian religious groups. The law allows political parties based on a specific faith, but the constitution prohibits active members of the clergy from any religious group from running for public office. The constitution does not address relations between the state and other religious groups.
A 2017 presidential decree requires all religious and philosophical groups to register with the VMW and submit annual reports stating the organization’s key leadership and functions. Prior to the 2017 decree, registration was mandatory only for religious organizations requesting exemption from value-added taxes and other government fees. Organizations must submit 12 documents to the VMW to register. The VMW may apply nonmonetary administrative sanctions against organizations that fail to register, including ordering the suspension of religious services. The National Anti-Money Laundering Secretariat requires that all religious organizations register as nonfinancial agents. Among other requirements, religious groups must demonstrate legal status as a nonprofit organization and agree to annual recertification. Religious leaders must submit to financial and criminal background checks. According to the VMW, 536 religious groups have active registrations with the government, including 24 new groups registered during the year.
The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools. The constitution provides private schools the right to offer religious education, with the only requirements for staff being merit and ethical integrity. Registration for private religious schools is not mandatory, but the Ministry of Education and Culture recognizes only degrees granted by registered institutions. Additionally, only registered schools with nonprofit status may receive subsidies for teachers’ salaries. Students of religions other than the one associated with a private religious school may enroll; however, all students are expected to participate in the religious activities that are a mandatory part of the schedule.
The constitution and laws provide for conscientious objection to military service based on religious beliefs.
Foreign missionaries who are members of registered religious groups are eligible for no-cost residency visas from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They must also register annually with the VMW to receive official documentation identifying their status as missionaries. Missionaries choosing not to register may enter the country on tourist visas.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The VMW instituted a grace period through the end of 2018 for all religious and philosophical groups to complete the mandatory registration process and did not impose penalties or monetary sanctions on groups that had not registered. The ministry stated, however, that it would require full compliance by 2019. The VMW stated that it was implementing the registration law consistently across religious groups and once it received all 12 documents from a religious group, it would complete the process in 15 days.
In October the VMW rejected ICCAN’s second request for registration as an official religious entity, citing a presidential decree stating religious entities with denominations that could be confused with already registered denominations could not register. ICCAN representatives stated they had attempted to register starting in 2011 but had documentation of registration requests only from the current year. ICCAN sources restated their belief that the Catholic Church had pressured the government not to register the ICCAN because the Roman Catholic Church claimed exclusive use of the word “catholic” in a church title. Roman Catholic Church representatives responded that ICCAN’s difficulties obtaining registration were due to questions regarding ICCAN’s legitimacy as a religious organization. Catholic Church representatives said other religious groups had the same position on ICCAN. ICCAN representatives also said the government continued not to recognize their claim to land and property they said the Catholic Church had taken from them in 1840.
The Ministry of Education and Culture continued to subsidize the salaries of hundreds of teachers in registered, nonprofit schools operated by predominantly Catholic religious groups. Some non-Catholic religious groups, including the Jewish and Mennonite communities, continued to state the government disproportionately supported Catholic schools and did not pay a commensurate number of teachers in registered, non-Catholic religious schools. According to a ministry representative, they maintained an agreement with the Catholic Church governing the allocation of subsidies to schools in areas not served by public schools. The representative also stated that a separate agreement set very similar regulations for subsidy allocation to other religious schools located in underserved areas, serving vulnerable student populations, and providing educational or scholarship services to vulnerable students. Mennonite schools in Boqueron Department have also established an ad hoc consultation process with departmental authorities.
The VMW reported that 550 foreign missionaries registered or reregistered during the year, most of them members of the Church of Jesus Christ.
The government continued to support chaplaincy programs open to all religious groups in the armed forces. The programs included the training of clergy to provide services to members of the armed forces deployed either in combat zones or on peacekeeping missions. The government also continued to allow religious groups to operate and provide services of different religions within prisons for adults, women, and youth; however, during the year only Christian groups made use of this option.