The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the right to profess one’s religious beliefs. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. There is no official state church or religion, but the law says the state “is not atheist or agnostic, nor indifferent to Colombians’ religious sentiment.” The constitution states all religions and churches are equal before the law. A 1998 Constitutional Court ruling upheld the right of traditional authorities to enforce the observation of, and participation in, traditional religious beliefs and practices on Indigenous reserves. Subsequent rulings cite the 1998 decision to reaffirm the right of Indigenous governors to prohibit the practice of non-Indigenous religions on Indigenous reserves. A concordat between the Holy See and the government, recognized and enforced by law, recognizes marriages performed by the Catholic Church, allows the church to provide chaplaincy services, and exempts Catholic clergy from compulsory public service, including military service. According to a court ruling, these provisions are constitutional as long as they apply to all religious groups, but the legal framework otherwise is not in place to extend them to all religious groups. The law prohibits any official government reference to a religious affiliation for the country.
The MOI is responsible for formally recognizing churches, religious denominations, religious federations and confederations, and associations of religious ministers, as well as keeping a public registry of religious organizations. Organizations formally recognized by the MOI may then confer this recognition, called “extended public recognition,” to affiliated groups sharing the same beliefs. The application process requires submission of a formal request and basic organizational information, including copies of the organization’s constitution and an estimate of the number of members. The government considers a religious group’s total membership, its “degree of acceptance within society,” and other factors, such as the organization’s statutes and its required behavioral norms, when deciding whether to grant formal recognition. The MOI provides a free, internet-based registration process for religious and faith-based organizations seeking recognition. Formally recognized religious organizations may collect funds and receive donations, establish religious education institutions, and perform religious services, excluding marriages. Unregistered ones may perform religious activities without penalty but may not collect funds or receive nonfinancial private donations.
The government recognizes as legally binding marriages performed by the Catholic Church, the Jewish community, and 13 non-Catholic Christian denominations that are signatories to a 1997 public law agreement. These denominations include the Council of the Assemblies of God, Christian Community Spring of Eternal Life, Christian Crusade Church, Quadrangular Christian Church, Church of God in Colombia, House on the Rock Integral Christian Church, United Pentecostal Church of Colombia, Denomination of the Pan-American Mission of Colombia, Pentecostal Church of God International Movement in Colombia, Seventh-day Adventist Church of Colombia, Wesleyan Church, Christian Church of Long Bridge, and the Federation Evangelical Council of Colombia. The agreement authorizes these groups to engage in activities such as marriages, funeral services, and spiritual assistance in prisons, hospitals, military facilities, and educational institutions. Under the agreement, members of religious groups that are neither signatories to the agreement nor affiliated with signatories must marry in a civil ceremony for the state to recognize the marriage. Religious groups not signatories to the 1997 public law may not provide chaplaincy services or conduct state-recognized marriages. The Ministry of Interior began this year, but did not complete, a process to update the 1997 public law to include other religious groups.
The constitution recognizes the right of parents to choose the education of their child, including religious instruction. The law states religious education shall be offered in accordance with laws protecting religious freedom, and it identifies the Ministry of Education as responsible for establishing guidelines for teaching religion within the public-school curriculum. Religious groups, including those that have not acceded to the public law agreement, may establish their own schools, provided they comply with ministry requirements. A Constitutional Court ruling obligates schools to implement alternative accommodations for students based on their religion, which could include students at religious institutions opting out of prayers or religious lessons. The government does not provide subsidies for private schools run by religious organizations.
The penal code prohibits discrimination based on religious beliefs or violations of religious freedom, including physical or moral harm. It imposes a penalty of one to three years in prison and a fine of 10 to 15 times the monthly minimum wage, approximately 8.3 million to 12.4 million pesos ($1,700-$2,600).
A Constitutional Court ruling determined citizens may be exempt from compulsory military service if they can demonstrate a serious and permanent commitment to religious principles that prohibit the use of force. Conscientious objectors who are exempt from military service may complete alternative, government-selected public service. Other rulings established that members of Indigenous communities are not mandated to serve in the military. The law requires that regional interagency commissions evaluate requests for conscientious objector status; commission members include representatives from the armed forces, the Inspector General’s Office, and medical, psychological, and legal experts. By law, the National Commission of Conscientious Objection reviews any cases not resolved at the regional level. The law requires that every battalion or larger military unit designate an officer in charge of processing conscientious objector exemptions.
According to the law, all associations, foundations, and corporations declared as nonprofit organizations, including foundations supported by churches or religious organizations recognized by the MOI, must pay taxes. Churches and religious organizations recognized by the MOI are tax-exempt, but they must report their income and expenses to the National Tax and Customs Authority. According to a Constitutional Court ruling, the state may not seize the assets of non-Catholic churches in legal proceedings if the church meets the requirements for formal government recognition.
Foreign missionaries must possess a special visa, valid for up to two years. The MFA issues visas to foreign missionaries and religious group administrators, who are members of religious organizations officially recognized and registered with the MOI. When applying for a visa, foreign missionaries must have a certificate from either the MOI or church authorities confirming registration of their religious group with the MFA. Alternatively, they may produce a certificate issued by a registered religious group confirming the applicant’s membership and mission in the country. The visa application also requires a letter issued by a legal representative of the religious group stating the organization accepts full financial responsibility for the expenses of the applicant and family, including funds for return to their country of origin or last country of residence. Applicants must explain the purpose of the proposed activities and provide proof of economic means. A Constitutional Court ruling stipulates that, although missionaries may work in the country, no group may impose forced religious conversion on members of Indigenous communities.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The MOI reported there were 10,081 formally recognized religious organizations in the country, compared with 9,032 in 2021 and 8,214 at the end of 2020. During the year it received 1,095 applications for formal recognition of religious organizations, compared with 723 in 2021; approved 788, compared with 595 in 2021; and deferred or denied 307, compared with 15 in 2021. The MOI stated that the reason it deferred or denied petitions was because the applying entity failed to meet legal requirements or failed to provide missing information during the year. According to the MOI, 99.5 percent of the applications were from evangelical Christian churches. The MOI continued to give applicants who submitted incomplete applications or incorrect supporting documents 30 days to bring their applications into compliance. If the MOI deemed an application incomplete, it could deny recognition of the application. The applying organization could resubmit an application at any time, and the MOI indicated there was no waiting period to reapply.
The DRA provided support to the 32 geographical departments to continue implementing the National Public Policy of Religious Freedom and Worship adopted in 2018 to provide guarantees to exercise freedom of religion and worship. The policy formally recognized religions and their affiliated organizations as managers of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It further guaranteed coordination between the regions and the different levels of government to promote peacebuilding, reconciliation, and forgiveness with a view to recognizing victims of conflict in the country. As part of the initiative to support the policy, the DRA promoted the implementation of public measures on religious freedom during the year. These included campaigns to reduce stigmatization of religious communities and improve dialogues between religious groups and government institutions at the national and regional levels.
The DRA took steps to implement an international cooperation agreement with the UNDP signed in 2020 to study the religious community and gather relevant information regarding the characteristics, needs, challenges, and contributions of religious groups. During the year, the DRA offered resources to religious communities through the “Bank of Interreligious Initiatives” to highlight the contributions of religious communities to society to reduce stigmatization. The ministry also undertook research to assess the contributions of religious communities towards the country’s economic development. During the year, the DRA held dialogues with various leaders of religious communities facilitated by the National Table of Religious Affairs, an MOI-led entity for convening the government and civil society organizations of all faiths together to discuss issues of religious freedom. The DRA also conducted programs focused on religious tolerance, land rights, peace, and reconciliation.
According to the DRA and religious leaders, the MOI continued implementing its public policy goal of raising awareness of the role of religious groups in supporting victims of conflict and other vulnerable populations.
On July 6, then President Duque commemorated the National Day of Religious Freedom and spoke in support of outreach and initiatives highlighting religious freedom. In connection with the observance, the MOI and regional governments held forums and workshops to educate the public on the significance of the holiday and an expanded new public policy to foster interfaith dialogue. Religious freedom and respect for religious groups were included in territorial development plans for 2020-23 in 16 of the country’s 32 departments and 24 municipalities. The national outreach programs continued to prioritize integrating the religious community into public policy discussions, including peace building efforts related to the 2016 Peace Accord, new dialogues with illegal armed groups, and the provision of assistance to migrants displaced from the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
In December, the NGO Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) published a report on Indigenous freedom of religion or belief, in which it asserted that the legal framework prevents Indigenous citizens belonging to religious minority groups from enjoying the same rights as the rest of the population. The report stated that the 1998 Constitutional Court decision leaves members of religious minority groups in Indigenous areas without protection for their right to freedom of religion or belief or legal recourse at the national level, should they defy Indigenous traditional authorities’ prohibition on the practice of ‘non-traditional’ religions on Indigenous reserves.
According to religious groups, individuals continued to have difficulty obtaining exemptions from military service on religious grounds. Religious leaders expressed continued concern regarding a law requiring interagency commissions to evaluate requests for conscientious objector status. Religious organizations reported mixed enforcement of the conscientious objector law, stating that some objectors were still required to serve in the military, although they were exempt from carrying a weapon. The Ministry of Defense reported that by the end of the year, it had approved 124 of 209 applications seeking conscientious objector status on religious grounds.
One member of the National Table of the Religious Affairs reported that more than 60 foreign missionaries did not receive renewal of their visas to continue service in the country. The MFA confirmed that by the end of the year, it had processed 1,587 visa applications for religious missionaries, of which 47 were rejected for not complying with the documentation requirements. The MFA stated that the rejections were not due to religious reasons.
The National Police, through the Protection and Special Services Directorate, continued to provide security for religious sites, and the National Protection Unit of the MOI provided personal security to individuals deemed at risk, including those involved in religious activities.
Actions by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors
The AGO investigated three homicides of religious leaders by nonstate actors in Valle del Cauca and Córdoba. In addition, the AGO investigated 22 cases of threats by illegal armed groups against religious leaders in Boyacá, Cundinamarca, Atlantíco, Bogotá, Meta, Norte de Santander, Tolima, Valle del Cauca, Magdalena, and Nariño and one case of displacement of a religious leader in Nariño. According to the CEC, on February 8, illegal armed groups threatened Monsignor Rubén Darío Jaramillo Montoya, bishop of Buenaventura, for his role in denouncing worsening security conditions for local communities.
During the year, leaders of many religious groups continued to report that illegal armed nonstate actors, in particular the ELN, hindered peace and reconciliation programs, including those led by religious institutions, such as the Catholic Church, in rural areas with a limited state presence.
The Christian NGO Open Doors reported that due to threats from illegal armed groups against civilians across northern Colombia, many Christians were unable to attend church services. For example, on Sunday, May 8, more than 2,000 churches cancelled services to keep their congregations safe amid threats from the transnational narcotrafficking criminal organization Clan del Golfo.
One religious leader reported monthly extortion by armed groups in a rural area where a church operated a shelter for displaced persons fleeing conflict. According to the religious leader, the armed groups began the extortion in 2019. The case was not reported to authorities because of a fear of violent retribution by armed groups against religious communities.