The constitution bars discrimination based on religious affiliation or belief and provides for freedom of conscience and religion, either individually or in association with others. It provides for the separation of religion and state but recognizes the historic importance of the Catholic Church. Some Catholic Church members and members of religious minorities continued to criticize the 2011 religious freedom law, stating it maintained institutional preferences for the Catholic Church. Many non-Catholic groups said, however, that they were generally pleased with the government’s revised religious freedom regulations, which reduced the government registry standards for non-Catholic entities. The changes adopted in 2016 in registration regulations stimulated more minority religious groups to register voluntarily with the Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) Directorate of Justice and Religious Freedom. Some non-Catholic groups said the removal of the prerequisite of registration in order to receive tax and visa benefits and other government services had improved their ability to practice their religion in the country.
Jewish community leaders and members stated that some individuals engaged in conspiracy theories about Jews and Israel. Muslim leaders said that when the media reported terrorist attacks in Europe and the Middle East, some non-Muslim members of the public made negative comments about Islam, including through social media. Both Jewish and Muslim leaders also said some public and private schools and employers did not always give their members time off for religious holidays. The Inter-Religious Council of Peru, representing a broad spectrum of religious groups, continued to engage the MOJ for equal access to government benefits for all religious groups, including taxation exemptions (income, import, property, and sales), visas for religious workers, and the opportunity to serve as military chaplains. The council also discussed the government’s revised religious freedom regulations with religious communities.
U.S. embassy officials discussed the 2016 revised implementing regulations to the 2011 religious freedom law with government representatives and emphasized the importance of equal treatment of all religious groups under the law. Embassy officials also engaged leaders from the Catholic, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Bahai, evangelical Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim communities to promote tolerance and respect for religious diversity.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 31 million (July 2017 estimate). The 2007 national census reported the population as 81 percent Catholic and 13 percent Protestant (mainly evangelical Protestant). A 2014 Pew Research Center study estimated 76 percent of the population is Catholic, 17 percent Protestant, 3 percent other faiths, and 4 percent atheist or agnostic. According to the MOJ, religious groups together constituting, in no specific order, less than 3 percent of the population include Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Israelites of the New Universal Pact Baptists, Jews, Bahais, Buddhists, International Society of Krishna Consciousness, and Muslims.
According to the Israel Information Center for Latin America, 3,000 Jews reside in the country, primarily in Lima, Cusco, and Iquitos. Approximately 2,000 Muslims live in Lima and 600 in the Tacna region. Lima’s Muslim community is approximately half-Arab in origin and half local converts, while Tacna’s is mostly Pakistani. The majority of Muslims are Sunni.
Some indigenous peoples in the far eastern Amazonian jungles practice traditional faiths. Many indigenous communities, particularly Catholics in the Andean highlands, practice a syncretic faith blending Christian and pre-Columbian beliefs.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution bars discrimination and persecution based on religious affiliation or belief and provides for freedom of religion, either individually or in association with others. It states every person has the right to privacy of religious conviction. It establishes the separation of religion and state but recognizes the Catholic Church’s role as “an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development” of the country.
An agreement with the Holy See accords the Catholic Church institutional privileges in education, taxation, and immigration of religious workers. The law exempts Catholic Church buildings, houses, and other real estate holdings from property taxes. Other religious groups often must pay property taxes on schools and clergy residences, depending on the municipal jurisdiction and whether they have sought and received tax exemptions. The law exempts Catholic religious workers from taxes on international travel. The government also exempts all work-related earnings of Catholic priests and bishops from income taxes. By law, the military may employ only Catholic clergy as chaplains.
The revised implementing regulations to the religious freedom law the government adopted in 2016 make registration with the MOJ’s Directorate of Justice and Religious Freedom optional and voluntary. The stated purpose of the registry is to promote integrity and facilitate a relationship with the government. The revised regulations do not require government registration for a religious group to obtain institutional benefits. They allow all religious groups, registered or not, to apply for tax exemptions and worker or resident visas directly with the pertinent government institutions.
For religious entities seeking to register with the government, the regulations require at least 500 adult members. The regulations exempt all “historically established” religious groups from this requirement. The explanatory statement accompanying the regulations identifies Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, evangelical and all other Protestant churches, as well as the Jewish and Muslim communities, as examples of “historically established” religious groups. Registration is free, the process usually takes one week, and the MOJ provides assistance in completing the application forms.
According to law, all prisoners, regardless of their religious affiliation, may practice their religion and seek the ministry of someone of their same faith.
The law mandates that all schools, public and private, provide religious education through the primary and secondary levels, “without violating the freedom of conscience of the student, parents, or teachers.” The law permits only the teaching of Catholicism in public schools, and the Ministry of Education requires the presiding Catholic bishop of an area to approve the public schools’ religious education teachers. Parents may request the school principal to exempt their children from mandatory religion classes. The government may grant exemptions to secular private schools and non-Catholic religious schools from the religious education requirement. Non-Catholic children attending Catholic schools are also exempt from classes on Catholicism. The law states that schools may not academically disadvantage students seeking exemptions from Catholic education classes.
The law requires all employers to accommodate the religious days and holidays of all employees; this accommodation can include allowing an employee to use annual vacation leave for this purpose.
Foreign religious workers must apply for a visa through the Ministry of Interior’s Office of Immigration. If the religious group is registered with MOJ, the immigration office accepts this as proof the applicant group is a religious organization. If the group is unregistered with MOJ, the immigration office makes its decision on a case-by-case basis.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Some Catholic Church members and members of religious minorities continued to criticize the 2011 religious freedom law, stating it maintained institutional preferences for the Catholic Church and did not address the government’s unequal provision of benefits, specifically the stipends paid to certain Catholic clergy. Non-Catholic groups, however, said they were generally pleased with the revised registration regulations because they reduced the government registry standards for non-Catholic entities. By the end of the year, the government had registered 115 non-Catholic groups that had voluntarily requested registration; only Catholic groups registered in 2016. Most of the new registered groups were Protestant; however, Jewish, Muslim, Bahai, Orthodox Christian, and Jehovah’s Witnesses entities also registered. The government accepted and approved the applications from all interested religious groups. According to a Mormon community representative, the Mormon Church did not believe it was necessary to register. The representative said the Mormon Church received tax benefits and visas for its religious workers even though it had never registered.
The executive branch, through the MOJ, formally interacted with religious communities on matters of religious freedom, including the new registration process, taxation exemptions, religious worker visas, and budgetary support for religious groups. The MOJ continued to implement laws and interact regularly with the public through its Office of Catholic Affairs and Office of Interfaith Affairs for non-Catholic Religious Groups. Government engagement with religious groups included conferences and other meetings to discuss the new registration process, joint charity campaigns, and cultural events.
According to the MOJ’s Office of Catholic Affairs, the government paid stipends to the Catholic cardinal, six archbishops, and other Catholic Church officials, totaling approximately 2.6 million soles ($803,000) annually. Some Catholic clergy and laypersons employed by the Church received remuneration from the government in addition to Church stipends, including 44 active bishops, four auxiliary bishops, and some priests. These individuals represented approximately one-eighth of the Catholic clergy and pastoral agents. In addition, the government provided each Catholic diocese with a monthly institutional subsidy, based on a historic agreement with the Holy See. The Catholic Church used the funds to provide services to the poor, regardless of their religious affiliation, according to Catholic Church representatives. Similar stipends were not available to other religious groups.
Some Protestant soldiers continued to report some difficulty finding and attending non-Catholic religious services because of the absence of non-Catholic chaplains in the military.
Congress passed a resolution declaring October 31 the National Day of Evangelical Christian Churches. Members of the evangelical Christian community said they appreciated the government’s gesture.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
The Inter-Religious Council of Peru, an umbrella organization open to all religious groups and representing a broad spectrum of religious groups, including evangelical and other Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, and Mormon communities, maintained a steady dialogue among religious entities, including engaging religious communities about the impact of the government’s revised religious freedom regulations. In its regular meetings with the MOJ, the council continued to press for equal access to government benefits for all religious groups, including taxation exemptions (income, import duties, property, and sales), visas for religious workers, and the opportunity to serve as military chaplains.
Jewish community leaders said that some individuals engaged in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on social media. Muslim leaders said that when the media reported terrorist attacks in Europe and the Middle East, some non-Muslim members of the public posted negative social media comments about Islam. Muslim and Jewish community members stated that public and private schools in addition to employers occasionally required their members to use accumulated leave for non-Catholic religious holidays such as Eid al-Fitr and Yom Kippur, an option in accordance with the law.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Embassy officials encouraged the government to implement the religious freedom law and its implementing regulations in a manner equally fair to all religious groups. The embassy discussed implementation of the revised regulations with government officials and advocated for additional changes to promote government respect for religious diversity and the equal treatment of all religious groups under the law.
Embassy officials met with representatives of the Inter-Religious Council, academics, the Catholic Church, Protestant and evangelical Protestant groups, and the Mormon, Bahai, Jewish, and Muslim communities to discuss equal treatment of religious groups, anti-Semitism, the government’s implementation of the revised religious freedom regulations, and the voluntary registration of religious groups.