As of the end of the year, a case filed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and accepted for review in September 2014 remained pending before the constitutional court. The case involves a conflict between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and local residents in the community of Iluman, in the north of the country. The residents had forcibly stopped the Jehovah’s Witnesses from building a new assembly hall. Two lower courts in Otavalo and Ibarra previously ruled in favor of the local residents, concluding the right to self-determination was a valid rationale for preventing the practice of religion. Representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said they hoped to set a legal precedent with the case, which they said would establish that an indigenous community’s right to self-determination could not violate individuals’ rights to freely practice the religion they chose.
Catholic, Jewish, and Seventh-day Adventist representatives stated the government’s standard academic calendar, which applied to private and public schools, made it more difficult for some schools to observe certain religious holidays. For example, the government’s decision on September 22 to require schools to operate on some Saturdays because of concerns about El Nino compelled some religious schools to hold classes on holy days and religious holidays. Catholic representatives also stated religious schools received additional scrutiny from the government. Whereas public schools and non-religious private schools were under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education only, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Cults conducted visits to religiously affiliated schools and reviewed their curricula. Some religious leaders stated regulatory burdens made it prohibitively difficult to run a private religious school.
Government officials reported they provided public funding to Catholic vicariates in the Amazon region for social projects. Representatives of the Catholic Church noted they collaborated with government institutions on social assistance projects, although they stated the government imposed restrictions on social activities by religious groups when the government had a more active role in that particular area. Leaders of other religious groups stated they did not seek government funding for social projects, due to internal policies or because they did not want to be subject to conditions the government might place on them.
Religious leaders stated municipal governments helped them navigate the bureaucratic procedures to obtain land titles, building permits, and other documents necessary to maintain places of worship.
The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Cults provided training to religious groups to help them navigate the registration process. According to the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Cults, roughly 4,000 religious groups operated in the country, although only half were actually registered with the government.
Alexis Mera, the legal advisor to President Rafael Correa, criticized Archbishop of Guayaquil Antonio Arregui on August 26 after the archbishop stated the government’s call for national dialogue lacked credibility. The legal advisor called the archbishop an “insolent errand-boy” of right-wing politicians. After the legal advisor’s comments, the government sent a letter of complaint to the Vatican’s representative in the country, stating the archbishop had inappropriately engaged in political activity. The Episcopal Conference of Ecuador responded that the Catholic Church was not a partisan political actor, but had a moral responsibility to promote “a sincere dialogue and social peace.” On September 1, the foreign minister met with the president of the Episcopal Conference to discuss the situation. The foreign minister subsequently announced they agreed “to maintain spaces of dialogue to consolidate the excellent relations between the national government and the Catholic Church.”
President Correa tweeted “Heil Hitler” on April 9, in response to a tweet reporting that former president Osvaldo Hurtado had called Correa a “typical fascist” during a speech in Panama. The tweet provoked a series of critical commentaries on Twitter and was strongly condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center as showing “a serious lack of sensitivity towards the victims of the Holocaust.”