The constitution provides for freedom of expression and freedom of religion, stating, “Every person has the right to practice their religion or belief in public within the limits of public order and the respect due to the beliefs of other creeds.” The constitution recognizes the distinct legal personality of the Catholic Church and the government has a concordat with the Holy See.
The constitution does not require religious groups to register for the purpose of worship, but groups seeking to obtain tax-exempt status or to enter into contracts must register with the government. The Catholic Church receives these benefits without the requirement to register. To register, a religious group must file with the Ministry of Interior a copy of its bylaws, evidence that it is a newly established legal entity that intends to pursue religious objectives, and a list of its initial membership with at least 25 members. The ministry may reject a registration application if it believes the group does not appear to be devoted to a religious objective, appears intent on undertaking illegal activities, or engages in activities that could threaten public order. Most applications are approved after a lengthy process. 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 spiritual practices. The law permits Mayan spiritual groups to conduct ceremonies at Mayan historical sites on government-owned property free of charge with written permission from the Ministry of Culture. Anyone seeking access to the sites located in national parks or other protected areas, however, is required to pay processing or entrance fees.
The criminal code penalizes with one-month to one-year prison sentences the interruption of religious celebrations, “offending” a religion, which the law leaves vague, and the desecration of burial sites or human remains; however, charges are seldom filed under these laws.
According to the constitution, no member of the clergy of any religion may serve in the government as president, vice president, government minister, tax superintendent or part of the Tax Authority Directory, judge, or magistrate.
The law provides for at least one “religious space, according to [the prison’s] capacity,” in each prison. Chaplain services are limited to Catholic chaplains and nondenominational (usually evangelical) Protestant chaplains. The law does not specify that access must be provided for prisoners of minority religious groups to spiritual counselors from their faith.
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 permitted and are found in all areas of the country. Religious instruction is allowed, but attendance is optional in private religious schools.
The government requires foreign missionaries to obtain tourist visas to enter the country; visas are renewable every three months. After renewing their tourist visas once, foreign missionaries may apply for temporary residence for up to two years; the residential permit is renewable.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
According to media reports and Mayan spiritual leaders, antagonism in the interior of the country between Indigenous evangelical Christian groups and Indigenous spiritual practitioners of Mayan communities continued, with a local government entity involved in one instance. Religious leaders reported that on May 16, in Chichipate, Izabal Department, members of the local community government unlawfully detained Mayan spiritual guide Adela Choc Cruz and her adult daughter, Sandra Tec Choc, and threatened to burn Adela alive for allegedly committing acts of witchcraft against the child of a local evangelical Christian leader. According to reports, community members burned Adela’s house and warded off police officers who attempted to free her and prevent the destruction of Adela’s house. As of year’s end, neither the Public Ministry nor police had investigated the case nor arrested or brought charges against those accused of making the threats nor those who set fire to Adela’s house and detained her.
On July 1, President Giammattei established through an executive agreement the Presidential Commission on Religious Liberty and appointed as its commissioner García, an evangelical Christian pastor in Antigua. García said the commissioner served as a conduit between the President and representatives of registered religious groups across a broad spectrum of faiths. As of year’s end, the commission consisted of one individual, the commissioner. García said in his role as commissioner, he met with faith actors several times during the year through a series of roundtables. Some faith actors said they believed the commission should invite Mayan Cosmovision representatives to be fully inclusive and representative of the country’s society. The commissioner reportedly did not include Mayan groups because they were not registered as religious groups.
According to representatives of various faiths attending the commission’s meetings, García and Giammattei acted on some of the concerns raised by members of the religious community. A representative of the Jewish community who attended the meetings said the commissioner cleared bureaucratic steps needed to repair damage to a wall in a Jewish cemetery that had fallen three years previously. The cemetery is part of national patrimony and an historic site. At a July meeting of the commission, Giammattei reportedly directed the Ministry of Culture to work directly with the commissioner to ease bureaucratic hurdles and to advise community leaders on what was needed to quickly receive permits needed for repairs to religious sites.
Similarly, Muslim community representatives reported that in October, the commission held a working level meeting with the Ministry of Government to help Muslim and Church of Jesus Christ leaders understand the regulations and requirements for applying for visas for missionaries to enter the country and to render assistance in expediting these processes within the limits of the law.
According to evangelical Protestant groups, non-Catholic religious groups continued to have to follow a vaguely defined process involving several steps that could take up to two years and cost approximately 10,000 quetzals ($1,300) to register with the Ministry of Interior and be able to enter into contracts or receive tax-exempt status. In September, Presidential Commissioner on Religious Liberty García arranged for RENAP to open a special service window for religious institutions to facilitate their registrations and help their leaders file their paperwork.
The passage of a law on sacred sites, which the Committee on the Designation of Sacred Sites (COLUSAG) submitted to Congress in 2009, remained pending. According to a Mayan spiritual leader involved in drafting the bill, if passed, the resulting law would provide legally protected status for Mayan spiritual sites, making it a crime to damage or remove spiritual objects from them. The law would also establish a national council with legal authority to name holy sites and credential Mayan spiritual practitioners for the purposes of granting them access to protected sites.
Some Mayan leaders again said the government limited their access to several religious sites on government-owned property and required them to pay to access the sites, even though the Ministry of Culture offered free access to credentialed Mayan spiritual practitioners. The same leaders said credentials were not given in a timely manner to all practitioners who wished to access the sites. The government continued to state there were no limitations on access; however, anyone seeking access to the sites located in national parks or other protected areas had to pay processing or entrance fees. In Tikal, a complex of Mayan pyramids dating from 200 A.D. and one of the most sacred sites for Mayan spirituality, the access fee was approximately 20 to 30 quetzals ($3 to $4), which, according to members of COLUSAG, was prohibitive for many members of Indigenous communities.
During the year, authorities released three members of the Mayan community of Chicoyogüito and placed them under house arrest pending trial, following their arrest in 2021 for attempted trespassing on land Mayans stated included sacred spiritual sites. Eighteen other members of the Mayan community remained in jail, and all awaited trial as of year’s end. The court did not express a reason why some were given house arrest and others not. According to local sources, the three individuals were squatters who intended to parcel and sell the land, and their claim to the land was based on ancestral right to land and not based on spiritual practice.
According to the Guatemalan Interreligious Dialogue, an interfaith group with representatives of the Catholic Church, evangelical Protestant churches, the Church of Jesus Christ, Mayan spiritual practitioners, and Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish groups, some municipal authorities in rural areas continued to discriminate against non-Catholic groups in processing building permit approvals and in local tax collection.
In May, Congress held the second of three required readings on a bill that sought to privatize the ownership of sacred and archeological sites of Mayan spiritual significance and cultural history in order to commercialize access and use of those sites. On May 18, some Mayan spiritual groups and Indigenous ancestral authority groups from the interior of the country protested the bill, marching on Congress and demanding an audience with the President of Congress, Shirley Rivera. The same day, Rivera agreed to withdraw the bill temporarily in response to the protests. As of year’s end, Congress had not resumed consideration of the bill.