The constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom. The constitution and other laws protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and freely practice their religion. There are no restrictions on religious expression or speech. The constitution prohibits discrimination of any kind and specifically guarantees the religious freedom of indigenous communities. The constitution provides protection against discrimination and persecution and offers remedies for violating religious freedom.
The constitution recognizes the historic role of the Catholic Church. The government permits political parties to form based on a specific faith, but requires that the president, vice president, and members of congress be laypersons.
The government requires all religious groups to register with the Vice Ministry of Worship (VMW) in the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC). To register religious groups must, among other requirements, demonstrate legal status as a nonprofit organization, submit to financial and criminal background checks, and agree to annual recertification. There are 465 religious groups currently registered with the VMW. There are no penalties or monetary sanctions if religious groups do not register with the VMW, but they cannot receive government tax-exemption benefits or educational subsidies if they do not register. In contrast with past practice, the MEC now checks compliance of the Catholic Church with the certification law.
Missionaries must also register with the MEC and, according to the MEC, an average of 15 missionaries register every month. Most registered missionaries are Mennonites or Mormons.
By law the government officially recognizes an educational degree granted by a religiously-affiliated educational institution only if the religious group operating the institution is registered with the MEC. The MEC also monitors and inspects the facilities of educational institutions run by religious organizations. Orphanages and shelters operated by religious groups are monitored by the National Secretariat of Children and Adolescents, the Ministry of Health, and can also be inspected by the National Commission against Torture.
Religious instruction in public schools is not allowed. The government, however, does pay some teachers’ salaries in registered private religious schools.
The constitution and laws provide for conscientious objection to military service based on religious beliefs.
The government supports chaplaincy programs for Catholics and other religious groups in the armed forces.