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 Roman Catholic Church is based on “independence, cooperation, and autonomy.” The Roman 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 law requires all religious and philosophical groups to register with the VMW and submit annual reports stating the organization’s key leadership and functions. Organizations must complete a form containing 14 items and provide supporting documents to the VMW to register. The form requests basic information, including entity name, mission or vision, history in the country, church or temple addresses, membership size, and types of activities. The VMW also requires the certification of a legal representative and the entity’s bylaws as supporting documentation for registration. Once registered, religious and philosophical groups must update their registration on an annual basis and pay an annual fee of 62,000 guaranies (Gs) ($10).
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. Religious groups must demonstrate legal status as a nonprofit organization and agree to annual recertification. Annual recertification requires groups resubmit the registration form with updated information. Religious leaders must submit to financial and criminal background checks.
The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools. The constitution provides private schools the right to offer religious education; staff teaching these courses are required to be of merit and possess ethical integrity. Registration for private religious schools is not mandatory, but the Ministry of Education and Culture recognizes only diplomas and degrees granted by registered institutions. Additionally, only registered schools with nonprofit status may receive subsidies for teachers’ salaries. Students of religious groups 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. A law provides for Mennonites to implement their own education programs and exempts them from military service.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses Association reported four pending cases of individual Jehovah’s Witnesses receiving a hospital blood transfusion against their will, two filed during the year and one each filed in 2018 and 2017. The Jehovah’s Witnesses Association opposed the measures and filed suits against the hospitals. During the year, the Jehovah’s Witnesses Association won one case against the Social Security Institute Hospital in the Court of Second Instance; however, the hospital appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. In August the court ruled that the right to life prevailed over the patient’s right to autonomy. An individual Jehovah’s Witness sued the Police Hospital in August. In August the Court of the Second Instance ruled in favor of the Police Hospital. The third case was filed in 2018 and was awaiting a first ruling at year’s end. In the fourth case, filed in 2017, the court of first instance ruled in favor of the Clinic Hospital, and in March the Jehovah’s Witnesses Association appealed to the Court of Second Instance.
The VMW extended until the end of the year a grace period 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 although the law required full compliance by the end of the year, it was focusing on raising public awareness of the registration law and had not set a date for enforcing compliance. The VMW stated it was implementing the registration law consistently across religious groups; once it received all required information and documents from a religious group, it would complete the process in 15 days.
According to the VMW, 530 religious groups had active registrations with the government, compared with 536 in 2018. Thirty-five new groups registered during the year, while 41 groups did not renew their registration.
According to the VMW, approximately 15 percent of religious groups were registered. VMW officials said the high cost associated with obtaining a legal representative, which requires hiring a lawyer costing between Gs 3,000,000 and Gs 15,000,000 ($470 to $2,300), likely was a major barrier to registration. Another barrier was the requirement that entities travel to Asuncion to submit their documentation. The VMW said it was working with the Ministry of Interior to regulate lawyers’ fees and planned on implementing an online registration process by mid-2020.
In August authorities granted final approval of ICCAN’s application as a legal entity, a pre-requirement for a religious group to apply for NPO status and ultimately, formal registration. According to ICCAN representatives, ICCAN applied for NPO status in September. Following government approval of its NPO status, ICCAN representatives resubmitted its registration request to the VMW as required when the government approved its legal status. ICCAN representatives said they were concerned the Roman Catholic Church in the country would obstruct its registration with the VMW because the Roman Catholic Church leadership stated it had exclusive use of the word “Catholic” in a church title. ICCAN representatives said the Roman Catholic Church’s influence also helped it secure more subsidies for Catholic schools than other religious schools received. The VMW, however, provided information stating the Ministry of Education provided subsidies to 494 schools during the year, of which 252 were Roman Catholic and 242 were of various religious beliefs; the ministry also provided subsidies to nonreligious schools. Roman Catholic Church representatives expressed concerns that ICCAN’s use of the world “Catholic” in its title would lead the public to believe the ICCAN was affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, even though the Roman Catholic Church did not recognize ICCAN as a valid Catholic church. The VMW stated ICCAN’s title could still be an issue for completing its registration process. ICCAN representatives said the government continued not to recognize their claim to land and property they said the Catholic Church had taken from them in 1840. According to religious group representatives, the Roman Catholic Church’s reservations about ICCAN’s validity was not representative of the views of the VMW or other religious communities, which said they respected ICCAN’s right to exist.
The VMW stated it did not receive cases of religious discrimination during the year.
The Ministry of Education and Culture continued to subsidize the salaries of hundreds of teachers in registered, nonprofit schools operated by predominantly Roman Catholic religious groups. According to representatives of the Mennonite community, the government had started to provide subsidies to their schools during the year; Jewish community members said they did not request government subsidies. According to a ministry representative, the ministry maintained an agreement with the Roman 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 continued an ad hoc consultation process with departmental authorities.
The VMW reported that 353 foreign missionaries registered or reregistered by year’s end, compared with 309 in 2018 – 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 in and provide the services of different religions within prisons for adults and youth; however, during the year only Christian groups made use of this option.
In May the VMW hosted the first Paraguayan-Argentine Interreligious Regional Symposium in which representatives from the Roman Catholic Church, Muslim, and evangelical Protestant communities participated. The symposium, held in the city of Encarnacion in the southern part of the country, highlighted each country’s commitment to peaceful religious coexistence and the importance of interreligious dialogue to encourage respect for religious and multicultural diversity. Through the symposium, communities committed to promote interreligious dialogue, schedule meetings, and collaborate with the government and international organizations to develop respect for diversity. The symposium also helped identify areas for collaboration as well as share statistical information on members of each faith.