The constitution provides for the free exercise of religion. It states all persons are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination based on religion. In June the Legislative Assembly amended the constitution to recognize the existence and the rights of indigenous people, including indigenous spiritual beliefs.
The penal code imposes criminal sentences of six months to two years on individuals who publicly offend or insult the religious beliefs of others, or damage or destroy religious objects. If such acts are carried out for the purpose of gaining media attention, sentences increase to one to three years. Repeat offenders face prison sentences of three to eight years. There have been no prosecutions under this law.
The constitution requires the president, cabinet ministers, vice ministers, Supreme Court justices, judges, governors, the attorney general, the public defender, and other senior government officials to be laypersons. Religious leaders may not belong to political parties. The electoral code requires judges of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and members of municipal councils to be laypersons.
The constitution grants official recognition to the Catholic Church and states other religious groups may also apply for official recognition by registering with the government. To obtain official recognition, a religious group must apply through the Office of the Director General for Nonprofit Associations and Foundations (DGFASFL) within the Ministry of Governance. The group must present its constitution and bylaws describing the type of organization, location of its offices, its goals and principles, requirements for membership, function of its ruling bodies, and assessments or dues. DGFASFL analyzes the group’s constitution and bylaws to ensure they are in compliance with applicable law. Upon approval, the group’s constitution and bylaws are published in the official gazette. DGFASFL does not maintain records on religious groups once it approves their status. Although religious groups may operate without registering with the government, registration provides tax-exempt status and facilitates activities requiring official permits, such as building churches. The law grants tax-exempt status to all officially recognized religious groups and exempts donations to officially recognized groups from taxation.
By law, the Ministry of Governance has authority to register, regulate, and oversee the finances of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), non-Catholic churches, and other religious groups. The law specifically exempts the Catholic Church from registration requirements.
Noncitizens present in the country primarily to proselytize must obtain a special residence visa for religious activities and may not proselytize while on a visitor or tourist visa.
Public education is secular. The constitution grants the right to establish private schools, and private religious schools operate without government interference. Parents have the right to choose whether their children receive religious education. Public schools may not deny admittance to any student based on religion. All private schools, whether religious or secular, must meet the same standards to obtain Ministry of Education approval.