The constitution (and its partial amendments) and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. The constitution grants all residents the right “to profess their faith freely.” The law provides the legal framework for religious freedom.
By constitutional and legal obligation, the government “sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic faith” and provides tax-exempt subsidies to the Catholic Church to compensate for expropriation of church property in the colonial era. The Catholic Church receives institutional privileges such as school subsidies, a large degree of autonomy for parochial schools, and licensing preferences for radio frequencies.
The Secretariat of Worship is responsible for conducting the government’s relations with religious organizations. The law stipulates that a non-Catholic religious organization must register with the Secretariat of Worship as a civic (rather than religious) association and must report periodically to maintain its status. The Secretariat of Worship considers having a place of worship, an organizational charter, and an ordained clergy as criteria for registration. Registration is not required for private religious services, such as those in homes, but is necessary for public activities. Registration is necessary to obtain tax-exempt status. According to the Secretariat of Worship, 4,580 religious entities are registered, of which approximately 90 percent are Protestant.
Foreign missionaries of registered religious organizations may apply to the Secretariat of Worship, which in turn notifies immigration authorities to request the issuance of the appropriate documents.
Public education is secular; however, students may request instruction in the religion of their choice, which may be conducted in school or at a religious institution. Many churches, synagogues, and mosques operated private schools, including seminaries and universities.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Good Friday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and Christmas. The law authorizes seven days of paid leave for those observing Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover, and also for those observing the Islamic New Year.