Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the free exercise of worship. It states these practices must not be “opposed to morals, to good customs, or to the public order.” Religious groups may establish and maintain places of worship if the locations comply with public hygiene and security regulations established by laws and municipal orders.
According to the constitution, religion and state are officially separate. The law prohibits discrimination based on religion, provides civil remedies to victims of discrimination based on their religion or belief, and increases criminal penalties for acts of discriminatory violence. The law prohibits discrimination in the provision of social services, education, ability to practice religious beliefs or gain employment, property rights, and the right to build places of worship.
By law, registration for possible conscription to the military is mandatory for all men between the ages of 17 and 45. Alternative service, by working for the armed forces in a job related to the selectee’s expertise, is possible only for those studying in certain fields. The law makes no provision for conscientious objection. Only ministers or priests from registered religious organizations are exempted on religious grounds.
The law does not require religious groups to register with the government, although there are tax benefits for those that do. Once registered, a religious group is recognized as a religious nonprofit organization. Religious organizations have the option of adopting a charter and bylaws suited to a religious entity rather than to a private corporation or a secular nonprofit. Under the law, religious nonprofit organizations may create affiliates, such as charitable foundations, schools, or additional houses of worship, which retain the tax benefits of the parent religious organization. According to ONAR, public law recognizes more than 3,200 religious organizations as legal entities, mostly small evangelical Christian or Pentecostal churches. By law, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) must accept the registration petition of a religious entity, although it may object to petitions within 90 days if legal prerequisites for registration are not satisfied.
Applicants for religious nonprofit status must provide the MOJ with an authorized copy of their charter and corresponding bylaws with charter members’ signatures and their national identification numbers. The bylaws must include the organization’s mission, creed, and structure. The charter must specify the signatories, the name of the organization, and its physical address, and it must include confirmation that the religious institution’s charter signatories approved the bylaws. In the event the MOJ raises objections to the group, the group has 60 days to address the MOJ’s objections or challenge them in court. Once a religious entity is registered, the state may not dissolve it by decree. If concerns are raised regarding a religious group’s activities after registration, the semiautonomous Council for the Defense of the State may initiate a judicial review of the matter. The government has never deregistered a legally registered group. One registration per religious group is sufficient to extend nonprofit status to affiliates, such as additional places of worship or schools, clubs, or sports organizations, without registering them as separate entities.
ONAR is charged with facilitating communication between faith communities and the government and ensuring the protection of the rights of religious minorities.
By law, all public schools must offer religious education as an elective class for two teaching hours per week through pre-elementary, elementary, middle, and high school. Local school administrators decide how religious education classes are structured. Most religious instruction in public schools is Catholic. The Ministry of Education also has approved instruction curricula designed by 14 other religious groups, including Orthodox and Reform Jews, evangelical Christians, and Seventh-day Adventists. Schools must provide religious instruction for students according to students’ religious affiliations. Parents may have their children excused from religious education. Parents also have the right to homeschool their children for religious reasons or enroll them in private, religiously oriented schools.
The law grants religious groups the right to appoint chaplains to offer religious services in public hospitals and prisons. Prisoners may request religious accommodations. Regulations for armed forces and law enforcement agencies allow officially registered religious groups to appoint chaplains to serve in each branch of the armed forces, the national uniformed police, and the national investigative police.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.