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 privileges include the special protection of the state in the exercise of 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, provide a membership list, and train clergy on how to perform marriages. Churches are responsible for determining the legal qualification of couples, and they must record all marriages performed in the civil registry within three working days of the marriage. Failure to comply with these regulations may result in misdemeanor sanctions or fines, including 100 pesos ($2) for each day over the recording deadline, marriage license suspension, or up to five years in prison.
The concordat grants the Catholic Church free access to prisons. The government states it allows access to all faiths in prisons. Prisoners of all faiths have the right to perform religious acts in prisons, in community or alone.
The biblical studies law also mandates the Bible be read in public schools at the beginning of each day after the national anthem. This aspect of the law is currently not enforced.
Foreign missionaries may obtain a one-year multi-entry business visa through the Ministry of Foreign Relations after submitting a document offering proof of 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 unavailable to them, including properties transferred to the Catholic Church and subsidies to the salaries of Catholic Church officials. They expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s preference for the Catholic Church, lack of explicit legal protection for religious groups beyond what the constitution provides, and treatment under the law of non-Catholic churches as NGOs rather than as religious organizations. In March a draft law to register and regulate religious entities was reintroduced and considered in the lower house of congress. By year’s end, it was not brought to a vote. Some non-Catholic leaders said the law would address unequal access to government resources by religious groups that they believed result from the concordat with the Catholic Church. Some political observers said that since it was a pre-election year, legislators and others were focused on other issues.
A non-Catholic religious organization continued to state the government required it to pay customs duties on imported food and other items and then apply for a refund instead of receiving an exemption as allowed by law. Several religious groups continued to report difficulties when applying for and receiving customs duty refunds from the Ministry of Finance.
Debate about reading the Bible in public schools continued. In June the lower house of congress passed a resolution calling attention to the lack of enforcement of the law requiring the reading of the Bible in public schools. In response, the Ministry of Education issued a statement saying it would not enforce the law because it violated the constitution and the rights of families to decide what faith their children practice.