International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. A 2000 law was designed to bring other religious entities closer to the legal status enjoyed by the Catholic Church; however, the Catholic Church still retains a privileged position. Absent specific regulations to implement the new law in government institutions, non-Catholic ministers reported that local administrators sometimes impeded their efforts to carry out their ministries in hospitals, prisons, and military units.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 292,257 square miles, and its total population according to the 2002 census is just over 15 million. According to the 1992 census (the latest official figures available), of the population over the age 14, approximately 77 percent were identified as Roman Catholic.

The term Evangelical in the country is used to refer to all non-Catholic Christian churches with the exception of the Orthodox (Greek, Persian, Serbian, Armenian), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-Day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Approximately 90 percent of Evangelicals are Pentecostal. The 1992 census used the terms "Protestant" and "Evangelical" to inquire as to religion, although the terms often are considered interchangeable. In 1992 evangelicals totaled 1,198,385 persons, or 12 percent of the population over the age of 14. Those identifying themselves with the term Protestant accounted for 8,259 persons, less than 1 percent of the population. In the 1992 census, atheists and those "indifferent" regarding religion totaled 562,285, or approximately 6 percent of the population over the age of 14. All other religions totaled 409,910 persons, or slightly more than 4 percent.

In 1997 spokespersons for Protestant organizations estimated the number of Evangelicals in the country at between 1.8 and

2 million persons. Other estimates are as high as 3 million persons. The active Jewish population is estimated to be around 30,000 persons. The number of Protestants and Evangelicals has increased steadily with each census since 1930, when only

1.5 percent of the population claimed to be Protestant. The relative percentage of Catholics declines with decreases in socioeconomic status. A 1991 survey found that 93.4 percent of high-income respondents indicated that they were Catholic; the proportions declined to 75.2 percent in the middle-income group, and to 69 percent among those in the lower-income group. The survey found that 22 percent of persons at the lower-income levels were Protestants. A 1998 national survey conducted by the Center for Public Studies (CEP) suggested that 43 percent of Evangelicals were converts from another religion; 98 percent of Catholics had been born into that religion.

The CEP study also found that 8 out of 10 citizens believed in the existence of God, while 14 percent were doubtful and only

2 percent declared themselves atheists. Approximately 72 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as Catholics, 16 percent identified themselves as Evangelicals, 7 percent stated that they had no religion, 4 percent adhered to other religions, and 1 percent did not respond.

The CEP poll also found that 18 percent of respondents claimed to attend a church or temple at least once a week. In the 1998 survey, 29 percent stated that they never attended religious services. An estimated 32 percent stated that they prayed at least once a day and 15 percent stated that they never prayed.

There are a wide variety of active faiths. In addition to the dominant Catholic Church and the Pentecostal Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church, Lutheran Church, Reformed Evangelical Church, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Anglican Church, Methodist Church, and the Patriarch of Antioch Orthodox Church are among the Christian denominations represented. The Mormons and the Unification Church also are active. Other faiths include Judaism, Islam, and the Baha'i Faith. Members of all major faiths are concentrated in the capital, with Catholic, Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches also active in other regions of the country. Jewish communities also are located in Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, Valdivia, Temuco, Concepcion, and Iquique (although there is no synagogue in Iquique).

Foreign missionaries operate freely, and many priests are of foreign origin.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Church and state are officially separate. However, the Catholic Church continues to enjoy a privileged position among religions and to receive preferential treatment. In addition to Catholic events, government officials attend major Protestant and Jewish religious and other ceremonies.

The March 2000 law on religion ("ley de culto") includes a clause that prohibits religious discrimination.

Before the adoption of the 2000 law, religious faiths and related organizations other than the Roman Catholic Church were required to register with the Ministry of Justice as private, nonprofit foundations, corporations, or religiously affiliated clubs to receive tax-exempt status and the right to collect funds. Groups without such juridical status could worship, but did not enjoy the tax-exempt status, fund collection rights, and other benefits that come with legal recognition. Approximately 800 religious faiths and related organizations are registered under the old system with the Ministry of Justice. Government refusal to register a religious group, or withdrawal of its legal status, was rare, and generally stemmed from misuse of funds by the group or allegations of widespread criminal misconduct.

Traditionally the Roman Catholic Church was not governed by the same regulations as other religions; it was not required to register with the Ministry of Justice and enjoyed what amounted to "public right" ("derecho publico") status. Public right status provides that a church may not lose its juridical standing through administrative action. Until the 2000 law on religion took effect, the only other church body with this legal status was the Antioch Orthodox Church. Previously all other religions, and groups affiliated with other religions, only enjoyed "private rights" ("derecho privado"), which allowed for the lifting of status through administrative actions. The 2000 law did not affect the status historically enjoyed by the Catholic Church.

The 2000 law on religion allows any religion to obtain the legal public right status. Under the law, the Ministry of Justice may not refuse to accept a registry petition although it may object to the petition within 90 days on the grounds that all legal prerequisites to register have not been satisfied. The petitioner then has 60 days to address objections raised by the Ministry or challenge the Ministry's observations in court. Once a religious entity is registered, the State no longer has the ability to dissolve it by decree. Instead the semiautonomous Council for the Defense of the State (CDE), the official entity charged with defense of the State's legal interests, must initiate a judicial review.

In addition, the 2000 law allows churches to adopt a charter and bylaws suited to a religious organization rather than a private corporation. Churches may set up affiliates (schools, clubs, and sports organizations) without the need to register them as separate, independent corporations. The law also grants other religions the right to have chaplains in public hospitals, prisons, and military units.

As of June 12, 2002, there were 274 religious faiths and related organizations that had reregistered with the Ministry of Justice; another 300 groups were in the process of doing so. Many churches continue to delay registering due to the complexities involved in formulating a new charter and bylaws. Many others have hesitated due to the taxes and fees involved in transferring the property from the old legal entity to the new one. The Ministry of Justice formed a committee that includes representatives of the affected organizations to seek a mechanism to avoid payment of the taxes and fees for the initial reregistration.

In addition to Christmas and Good Friday, three Roman Catholic holidays are considered national holidays.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The 2000 religion law grants religions other than the Catholic Church the right to have chaplains in public hospitals, prisons, and military units. However, without specific regulations to implement the new law on religion, non-Catholic ministers continue to report that local administrators make it difficult for them to gain access to prisons and public hospitals. Catholic priests usually do not face such difficulties. There is a perception among non-Catholic pastors that administrators are allowing greater access to prisons and hospitals; however, they still may be excluded by local administrators until specific regulations are issued.

Public events frequently are marked by the celebration of a Roman Catholic Mass and, if the event is of a military nature, all members of the participating units are obliged to attend. The military continues to block efforts by non-Catholic faiths to provide military chaplains. According to one report, members of the military living on the air force base in the northern city of Iquique were forbidden from conducting Bible study for children in their homes. Military recruits, whatever their religion, are required at times to attend Catholic events involving their unit. Membership in the Roman Catholic Church generally is considered beneficial to one's military career; in the navy it is said to be virtually a requirement. However, in 2001 an ecumenical chapel was opened in the Investigative Police Academy and an Evangelical chaplain was appointed. Two ethics instructors at the academy are Evangelical. In December 2001, for the first time, an Evangelical chaplain was appointed to the chapel located in the Presidential Palace La Moneda.

Religious instruction in public schools is almost exclusively Roman Catholic. Schools are required to offer religious education, on an optional basis, twice a week through middle school. It is mandatory to teach the creed requested by parents; however, enforcement is sometimes lax. Because local school administrations decide how funds are spent for religious instruction, instruction is predominantly in the Roman Catholic faith. The Education and Gospel Task Force in San Pedro de la Paz had to secure a court order to permit an Evangelical teacher to teach religion at the public school. Church leaders also report resistance by local school administrators to appointing evangelical religion teachers, based on other than economic considerations, in the Santiago suburbs of Quinta Normal and Puente Alto. There reportedly are instances in which local officials require that an evangelical religious instructor be certified by a Roman Catholic priest before being allowed to teach.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations between the country's religious communities are generally amicable; however, some discrimination and misunderstandings occur.

Ecumenical groups exist, although they often are formed on an ad hoc basis depending on the issue involved. All major faiths participated in a human rights "dialog table" led by the Defense Minister, which submitted a report to the Government in January 2000.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

U.S. Embassy representatives met with a wide variety of religious leaders, including Santiago's Archbishop and key representatives of Evangelical and Jewish organizations. Informal contact is maintained with representatives and leaders of several other faiths.

As appropriate embassy officials have cooperated on programs such as anti-drug efforts with church-affiliated groups and the B'nai B'rith.

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