Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
October 14, 2015

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Executive SummaryShare    

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 also recognizes the historical importance of the Catholic Church. Government policies provide preferential treatment to the Catholic Church in education, taxation, immigration of religious workers, and other areas. Non-Catholic religious groups were unable to register under regulations adopted in 2011 and were thus unable to receive certain benefits available to the Catholic Church.

A small anti-Semitic group operated in the country.

U.S. embassy officials met with representatives of government, religious organizations, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss ongoing problems with implementation of the religious freedom law and to promote religious freedom and tolerance.

Section I. Religious DemographyShare    

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 30.1 million (July 2014 estimate). The 2007 national census reported the population is 81 percent Roman Catholic and 13 percent Protestant (mainly evangelical). Groups constituting less than 3 percent of the population include Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Israelites of the New Universal Pact Baptists, Anglicans, Assemblies of God, Jews, Bahais, Hare Krishnas, and Muslims. According to the Israel Information Center for Latin America, there are approximately 3,000 Jews, residing primarily in Lima and Cuzco. There are small Muslim communities in Lima and Tacna. Some indigenous peoples in the remote eastern jungles practice traditional faiths. There also are indigenous communities practicing syncretic (blending Christian and pre-Colombian) beliefs, such as some Catholics in the Andean highlands.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

Legal Framework

The constitution bars discrimination based on religious affiliation or belief and provides for freedom of religion, either individually or in association with others. It also bars persecution on the basis of ideas or beliefs. The constitution establishes the separation of church and state, but recognizes the Catholic Church’s role as “an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development of the nation.” It allows for the state to collaborate with other religions as well. The constitution states that every person has the right to privacy of religious conviction.

The law on religious freedom recognizes an individual’s fundamental right of freedom of religion, as stated in the constitution and international treaties the country has ratified. Under the law, registered religious organizations gain many of the same tax benefits already granted to the Catholic Church. In accordance with an agreement with the Holy See, the Catholic Church receives preferential treatment in education, taxation, immigration of religious workers, and other areas. The law codifies the arrangement with the Catholic Church.

Registration under the law does not amount to official recognition; however, only registered religious groups are entitled to receive tax exemptions and other benefits, including worker or resident visas for foreign religious workers. Other benefits include the ability to form a legal entity that may own property, create a hierarchy and set of rules, operate religious schools, and solicit and receive voluntary donations. Implementing regulations for the law set a deadline for registration with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MINJUS) of non-Catholic religious groups. (All groups registered under previous legislation had to reregister under the terms of the new regulations). The regulations state that in order to register, a religious entity must have at least 10,000 adult members, and the membership lists are required to be certified by the National Elections Board.

Catholic and non-Catholic religious charities do not pay customs duties on imported items. Registered religious groups are exempt from taxes on places of worship.

Per an agreement with the Holy See, buildings, houses, and other real estate owned by the Catholic Church are exempt from property taxes. Other religious groups, depending on the municipal jurisdiction, are required to pay property taxes on schools and clergy residences. Non-Catholic religious organizations are only able to buy land in commercially zoned areas while the Catholic Church can establish locations in either residential or commercially zoned areas. Catholic religious workers are exempt from taxes on international travel. All work-related earnings of Catholic priests and bishops are exempt from income taxes. By law, the military may employ only Catholic clergy as chaplains.

The law mandates that all schools, public and private, provide religious education through the primary and secondary level, “without violating the freedom of conscience of the student, parents, or teachers.” The law only permits the teaching of Catholicism in public schools and the Ministry of Education mandates the presiding Catholic bishop of an area approve religious education teachers in all public schools. Parents may request the principal exempt their children from mandatory public school religion classes. Many secular private schools are granted exemptions from the religious education requirement. The law protects students who seek exemptions from Catholic education classes from being disadvantaged academically in both private and public schools.

The law on religious freedom recognizes conscientious objection in general, but does not contain provisions for excusing individuals from military service. The implementing regulations do not contain any reference to conscientious objection.

Government Practices

Minority religious groups and some members of the Catholic Church continued to criticize the religious freedom law, stating it did not address the problem of inequality and that it maintained a preferential status for the Catholic Church. They also widely criticized the law’s implementing regulations as discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The executive branch formally interacted with religious communities on matters of religious freedom through MINJUS. MINJUS implemented laws and interacted with the public through the Office of Catholic Affairs and through the Office of Interfaith Affairs for non-Catholic groups. Both offices maintained a continuing dialogue on religious freedom with the Catholic Church and other religious groups.

At year’s end, only Catholic religious groups had registered successfully under the terms of the law and implementing regulations. MINJUS received 73 applications from minority religious groups before the application deadline. Of those, MINJUS representatives estimated 10 may fulfill all requirements for registration. As of the end of the year, MINJUS and the National Elections Board had not approved any applications. MINJUS officials reported in July that the ministry was coordinating a bill to revise the religious freedom law to address registration problems. As of the end of the year, the draft remained under development.

Prior to the reregistration requirement under the implementing regulations, there had been 141 non-Catholic religious groups registered with the MINJUS. The requirement that a religious group must have at least 10,000 adult members effectively disqualified most religious groups from reregistering. Members of previously registered religious groups encountered difficulty securing worker or resident visa renewals because those visa classes were only available for members of registered religious organizations. Non-Catholic religious groups that had been previously registered also reported losing tax benefits. Critics charged that the requirement to certify membership lists with the National Elections Board was unconstitutional, since the constitution provided for the right to privacy of religious conviction.

While Catholics and non-Catholics were subject to equal taxation in most activities, non-Catholic groups with extensive charitable activities stated that goods donated from abroad continued to be taxed at commercial rates while goods donated to Catholic-affiliated groups were not. Many non-Catholic missionary groups stated the law discriminated against them by taxing their imported religious materials, including Bibles, whereas the Catholic Church was not taxed.

According to the MINJUS Office of Catholic Affairs, the government paid stipends to the Catholic cardinal, six archbishops, and other Catholic Church officials. These stipends total approximately 2.6 million nuevo soles ($896,600) annually. Some Catholic clergy and laypersons employed by the church received remuneration from the government in addition to the stipends they received from the church. This applied to the 44 active bishops and four auxiliary bishops as well as to some priests located along the borders. They represented approximately one-eighth of the clergy and pastoral agents. In addition, the government provided each diocese with a monthly institutional subsidy.

Some non-Catholic soldiers reported it was difficult to find and attend Protestant religious services because of the lack of chaplains.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

A small anti-Semitic group of fewer than 50 members operated in the country and engaged in activities including Holocaust denial, sale of anti-Semitic books and DVDs, and calling for the expulsion of the Jewish community. MINJUS officials closely monitored anti-Semitic activity and reported no increase.

Religious organizations occasionally collaborated to promote religious freedom and tolerance. The Interreligious Committee of Peru, a large working group comprising representatives from nearly all religious groups, maintained an ongoing dialogue among religious groups and lobbied for changes to the religious freedom law and regulations to promote greater religious tolerance and equal access to government benefits.

Section IV. U.S. Government PolicyShare    

U.S. embassy officials encouraged the government to revise regulations that hindered the registration of religious groups. The Ambassador expressed concern about these topics in July to the minister of justice, who pledged to advance his ministry’s work on drafting a bill to address this problem. In a July meeting with the president of congress, the Ambassador urged the legislature to coordinate with the Ministry of Justice to address the problems with registration requirements. In response to complaints from religious groups concerned about the loss of visa eligibility for missionaries due to religious group registration requirements, embassy officials held discussions on this topic with the MINJUS vice minister for human rights and the MINJUS vice minister of justice, representatives of MINJUS’ Directorate of Interfaith Affairs and Directorate of Catholic Affairs, the Human Rights Office in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the ombudsman.

The embassy engaged regularly with religious organizations and NGOs to discuss and promote religious freedom and tolerance. Embassy officials met with leaders of numerous religious communities, including representatives of the Interreligious Committee of Peru, the Catholic Church, Protestant groups, and the Mormon, Jewish, Bahai, Muslim, and Buddhist communities to discuss the state of religious freedom, preferential treatment for the Catholic Church, anti-Semitism, and concerns about government registration requirements.