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Ecuador

Executive Summary

The constitution grants individuals the right to choose, practice, and change religions; it prohibits discrimination based on religion.  The constitution also states secular ethics are the basis for public service and the legal system.  The law requires all religious groups to register with the government; failure to do so can result in the group’s dissolution and liquidation of physical property.  On November 14, President Lenin Moreno signed an executive decree that formally dissolved the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Worship (MOJ), as part of the government’s downsizing.  He stated that the government would integrate responsibilities for issues related to religion and religious groups into the Secretariat of Policy Management (SPM) within 90 days.  According to a MOJ official, by year’s end, the government had not finalized the changeover but had begun transitioning functions to the SPM.  The MOJ continued to manage the registration process during the transition, including the registration process for religious groups.  According to the MOJ, approximately 3,638 religious groups were registered with the office and more than 1,000 additional groups were in the process of registration by the end of the year.  Many religious groups stated that at times the registration process had been onerous and disruptive to their activities but said the difficulties were bureaucratic in nature.  During the year, the interfaith National Council on Religious Freedom and Equality (CONALIR), which includes representatives of the Adventist, Anglican, Baha’i, Buddhist, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox, and Protestant faith communities, continued to promote a draft religious law to revise the 1937 religion law and foster greater religious freedom and equality.  In August the group began conducting a series of human rights workshops on the importance of religious equality under the law.  Evangelical Christian and Roman Catholic representatives expressed concern about a presidential decree issued in May requiring all schools to teach a definition of gender not in line with their religious beliefs.  In response to religious groups’ stated concerns, President Moreno revised the decree on July 19.  Numerous religious leaders said the Moreno government exhibited greater support for the protection of religious freedom than the previous administration.

Many religious leaders said that societal knowledge of religious traditions and practices outside of Catholicism was generally lacking.  A new interfaith working group, including representatives from the Baha’i, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and Muslim communities, formed in October.

Embassy officials met with government officials in the Ministry of Interior and the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman to discuss the registration process and government promotion and protection of religious freedom and other related human rights.  The Ambassador hosted a roundtable with religious leaders on September 6 to discuss challenges facing their communities and changes taking place under the current administration.  Leaders from the Baha’i, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Church of Jesus Christ, and Muslim communities attended the event and met monthly on their own after the roundtable to discuss areas of common interest.  On October 30, President Moreno and Foreign Minister Jose Valencia participated in a ceremony and reception commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Jewish community in the country, which the Ambassador also attended.  The Consul General in Guayaquil hosted a roundtable on September 26 with Buddhist, Catholic, evangelical Christian, and Jewish leaders to discuss coastal communities’ challenges and advances in freedom of religion.  Embassy officials spoke with representatives from CONALIR to encourage the continuation of interfaith and ecumenical dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 16.5 million (July 2018 estimate).  According to a 2012 survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Census, the most recent government survey available, approximately 92 percent of the population professes a religious affiliation or belief.  Of those, 80.4 percent is Roman Catholic; 11.3 percent evangelical Christian, including Pentecostals; and 1.3 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Seven percent belongs to other religious groups, including Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, the Church of Jesus Christ, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans, the Greek Orthodox-affiliated Orthodox Church of Ecuador and Latin America, Presbyterians, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Baha’is, spiritualists, followers of Inti (the traditional Inca sun god), and indigenous and African faiths.  There are also practitioners of Santeria, primarily resident Cubans.

Some groups, particularly those in the Amazon jungle, combine indigenous beliefs with Catholicism.  Pentecostals draw much of their membership from indigenous persons in the highland provinces.  There are Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country, with the highest concentrations in coastal areas.  Muslim, Church of Jesus Christ, Jewish, and Buddhist populations are primarily concentrated in large urban areas, particularly Quito, Guayaquil, and Cuenca.  Many evangelical Christian churches are not affiliated with a particular denomination.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution grants all individuals the right to practice and profess publicly and freely the religion of their choice and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  It states the government has a responsibility to “protect voluntary religious practice, as well as the expression of those who do not profess any religion, and will favor an atmosphere of plurality and tolerance.”  Individuals have the right to change their religion.  The constitution also states secular ethics are the basis for public service and the country’s legal system.  The constitution grants the right of self-determination to indigenous communities, including provisions granting freedom to “develop and strengthen their identity, feeling of belonging, ancestral traditions and form of social organization.”

A 1937 agreement (concordat) with the Holy See accords juridical status to the Catholic Church and grants it financial privileges and tax exemptions.  Other religious groups must register as legal entities with the government under a separate 1937 religious law and a 2000 decree on religion.  If a religious group wishes to provide social services, it must also register under a 2017 executive decree regulating civil society.  The 2017 decree dictates how civil society organizations must register to obtain and maintain legal status.  Current regulations require individual religious congregations and organizations to conduct this registration process through the MOJ.

The National Secretary for Policy Management’s Office of Planning maintains a national database of legally recognized civil society organizations, including religious groups.  Registration provides religious groups with legal and nonprofit status.  An officially registered organization is eligible to receive government funding and exemptions from certain taxes.

To register as a religious group, the organization must present to the government a charter signed by all of its founding members and provide information on its leadership and physical location.  Three experts in religious matters appointed by the MOJ evaluate the application, in consultation with religious organizations already legally established in the country.  The 2017 decree does not specify the criteria for selection of religious experts.  The registration process is free.  Failure to obtain legal status through registration may result in the dissolution of the group and liquidation of its physical property by the government.  To register as a social or civil society organization, religious groups require the same documentation, as well as approved statutes and a description of the mission statement and objectives of the organization.  According to the MOJ, registrants must deliver the paperwork to the MOJ’s Quito office in person.

The law prohibits public schools from providing religious instruction, but private schools may do so.  Private schools must comply with Ministry of Education standards.  There are no legal restrictions specifying which religious groups may establish schools.

Foreign religious missionaries and volunteers must apply for a temporary residence visa to work in the country and present a letter of invitation from the sponsoring organization to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The letter must include a commitment to cover the applicant’s living expenses and detail the applicant’s proposed activities.  Applicants also must provide a certified copy of the bylaws of the sponsoring organization and the name of its legal representative as approved by the government.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Many religious leaders said that society exhibited a general lack of knowledge about religious traditions and practices outside of Catholicism, such as traditional female head coverings in the Islamic and Greek Orthodox faiths.  A Buddhist leader said that society frequently confused Hindu practices with Buddhist practices.  Baha’i leaders stated that individuals, but not institutions, had prejudices against minority religious groups.  Some religious leaders expressed concerns about what they considered an erosion of traditional religious values in issues such as gender identity and education.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials discussed with the MOJ the new registration process and continued delays some groups reported in registering or updating their information.

The Ambassador hosted a roundtable with religious leaders on September 6 in Quito to discuss challenges facing their communities and changes taking place under the Moreno administration.  Leaders from the Baha’i, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Church of Jesus Christ, and Muslim communities attended the event.  Following the roundtable, Baha’i, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Church of Jesus Christ, and Muslim leaders, as well as a representative from the U.S. embassy, met in October to develop concrete actions on interfaith issues and social projects.  In November the group met with President Moreno.  The group elected a steering committee to follow up on topics such as education, support to vulnerable populations, and CONALIR’s proposed religious law.  The embassy remained engaged with the group through the end of the year.

The Consul General in Guayaquil hosted a roundtable on September 26 to discuss coastal communities’ challenges and advances in freedom of religion.  Leaders from the Buddhist, Catholic, evangelical Christian, and Jewish communities attended the event.  Embassy officials also spoke with representatives from CONALIR to encourage the continuation of interfaith and ecumenical dialogue.

On October 30, the Ambassador, along with others from the diplomatic community, attended a ceremony and reception commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Jewish community in the country at which President Moreno spoke.  In connection with the anniversary commemoration, the Ambassador hosted a visiting American Jewish Committee representative and leading members of the Jewish community for a discussion of continuing efforts to fight anti-Semitism in the region.

The embassy and consulate used social media platforms in Quito and Guayaquil to highlight the Ambassador and Consul General’s religious roundtable discussions with representatives from different religious communities, International Religious Freedom Day, and other efforts to promote social inclusion and religious diversity.  Separately, embassy and consulate officials met with leaders of the Buddhist, Catholic, Orthodox Church of Ecuador and Latin America, evangelical Christian, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewish, and Muslim communities to discuss challenges associated with the government’s registration process and societal respect for religious diversity.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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