The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the free exercise of worship. These practices must not be “opposed to morals, to good customs or to the public order.” Religious groups may establish places of worship, as long as the locations abide by hygiene and security regulations.
According to the constitution, church and state are officially separate. The law prohibits religious discrimination. The ONAR is charged with promoting religious freedom and tolerance and ensuring respect for constitutional protections of religious freedom. The law provides civil legal remedies to victims of discrimination based on religion or belief and increases criminal penalties for acts of discriminatory violence.
The law does not require religious groups to register with the government; however, there are tax benefits available to those that register. Once registered, a religious group may then apply for recognition as a religious nonprofit organization. This differs from the nonprofit status for other nongovernmental organizations in that religious organizations have the option of adopting a charter and bylaws suited to a religious entity rather than a private corporation or a secular nonprofit.
There are currently more than 3,000 religious entities registered, the majority of which are small Pentecostal faith communities. By law, the Ministry of Justice may not refuse to accept the registration petition of a religious entity, although it may object to petitions within 90 days if legal prerequisites for registration are not satisfied.
Applicants for religious nonprofit status must present the Ministry of Justice with an authorized copy of their charter and corresponding bylaws with signatures and identification numbers of those who signed the charter. The bylaws must include the organization’s mission, creed, and structure. The charter needs to specify the signers, the name of the organization, and its physical address, and must include confirmation that bylaws have been approved. In the event the ministry raises objections to the group, the petitioner has 60 days to address objections the ministry raises or can challenge the ministry in court. Once registered, the state cannot dissolve a religious entity by decree. If concerns are raised, post-registration, about a religious group’s activities, the semiautonomous Council for the Defense of the State may initiate a judicial review of the matter. The government has never deregistered a legally registered group. One registration per religious group is sufficient to apply to extend non-profit status to affiliates, either additional places of worship or schools, clubs, and sports organizations without registering them as separate entities. According to ONAR, the Ministry of Justice receives approximately 30 petitions monthly; the ministry has not objected to any petition and registered every group that completed the required paperwork.
Publicly subsidized schools must offer religious education for two teaching hours per week through high school. Local school administrators decide how religious education classes are structured. The majority of religious instruction in public schools is Roman Catholic, although the Ministry of Education approved instruction curricula designed by 14 other religious groups. Schools must provide religious instruction for students in the curriculum requested by their parents, and parents may have their children excused from religious education. Parents also have the right to homeschool their children for religious reasons or may enroll them in private, religiously-oriented schools.
The law grants religious groups the right to appoint chaplains to offer religious services in public hospitals, and prisons. Prisoners may request religious accommodation. Regulations for the armed forces and law enforcement agencies allow officially registered religious groups to appoint chaplains to serve in each branch of the armed forces, in the national uniformed police, and the national investigative police.