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.