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. The Constitution recognizes the Catholic Church's role as "an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development of the nation." Preferential treatment given to the Catholic Church in education, tax benefits, and other areas continued to raise concerns about potential infringements of religious liberties of non-Catholics.

The generally amicable relations 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 798,635 square miles and its population is approximately 27,013,000. Nearly all major religions and religious organizations are represented in the country. The Cuanto Institute, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that provides demographic information, estimates that approximately 80 percent of the population identify themselves as Roman Catholics, although an official of the Episcopal Commission for Social Action (CEAS) estimates that only about 15 percent of the country's Roman Catholics attend church services on a weekly basis. Using the most recent census information (1993), the National Statistics Institute (INEI) estimates that Protestants, the majority of whom are evangelicals or Pentecostals, constitute 7.2 percent of the population. This contrasts with the National Evangelical Council (CONEP) estimate that evangelicals represent approximately 12 percent of the total population, or 2.75 million persons. INEI's estimate also includes non-evangelical Christians such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-Day Adventists, and members of Jehovah's Witnesses. INEI estimates that adherents of non-Christian religions, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Shintoists, accounted for approximately 2.5 percent of the population, while agnostics and atheists constituted 1.4 percent of the population. Comparing 1972 and 1993 census statistics, INEI estimates that evangelical membership grew by 133 percent at the time that Catholic membership decreased by 10 percent and membership in other religions decreased by 60 percent.

There are a number of Catholics who combine native indigenous worship with the Catholic traditions. This type of syncretistic religion is practiced most often in the highlands.

Foreign missionary groups, including the Mormons and several evangelical organizations, operate freely throughout the country.

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. The Constitution establishes the separation of church and state; however, the Constitution recognizes the Catholic Church's role as "an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development of the nation." The State thus maintains a close relationship with the Catholic Church, and a concordat signed with the Vatican in 1980 grants the Catholic Church special status. The dominant status accorded to Roman Catholicism in public life manifests itself in various ways. The Constitution specifically prohibits discrimination based on religion.

All faiths are free to establish places of worship, train clergy, and proselytize. Religious denominations or churches are not required to register with the Government or apply for a license. There is a small Religious Affairs Unit within the Ministry of Justice whose primary purpose is to receive institutional complaints of discrimination from the various churches. This unit also ensures that beyond the historic preferences (subsidies and exemptions granted to the Catholic Church only), all denominations and churches receive a variety of financial benefits, such as eligibility for exemption from certain import taxes and customs duties. The Unit did not receive any discrimination complaints during the period covered by this report.

Conversion from one religion to another is respected, and missionaries are allowed to enter the country and proselytize. Some non-Catholic missionary groups claim that the law discriminates against them by taxing religious materials, including Bibles, that they bring into the country, while the Catholic Church has not been taxed on such items.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Roman Catholicism, the Catholic Church, and Catholic clergy receive preferential treatment and tangible benefits from the State in the areas of education, taxation of personal income, remuneration, and taxation of institutional property. All work-related earnings of Catholic priests and bishops are exempt from income taxes. Real estate, buildings, and houses owned by the Catholic Church are exempt from property taxes. Two groups of Catholic clergy receive state remuneration in addition to the compensation paid to them by the Catholic Church. These include the country's 52 bishops as well as those priests whose ministries are located in towns and villages along the country's borders. Finally, each diocese receives a monthly institutional subsidy from the Government. According to church officials, none of these payments are substantial. However, the Freedom of Conscience Institute (PROLIBCO), an NGO that favors the strict separation between church and state and opposes the preferential treatment accorded to the Catholic religion, claims that the financial subsidies and tax benefits are far more widespread and lucrative than publicly acknowledged.

PROLIBCO also has alleged government discrimination against non-Catholic groups that must pay import duties and a sales tax on Bibles brought into the country. In November 2001, the Jehovah's Witness Association of Peru complained that since 1997 the Ministry of Education has delayed the approval of customs duty exemption on donations of such materials from abroad, and in most cases, had rejected requests for customs duties exemptions by their Association. In February 2002, the Jehovah's Witnesses reported that they had to provide a surety to release the donated material from Customs. By April 2002, the Association had filed two legal actions to uphold their right as a non-profit educational entity to be exonerated from payment of duties on such materials. Both actions were pending in the courts at the end of the period covered by this report; however, in May 2002, a Superior court ordered the temporary suspension of the surety fees the Association had been assessed to release the donated material from Customs.

The General Education law of 1998 mandated that all schools, public and private, impart religious education as part of the curriculum throughout the education process (primary and secondary), "without violating the freedom of conscience of the student, parents, or teachers." Some non-Catholic or secular private schools have been granted exemptions from this requirement. In 1999 the Education Ministry issued a directive to implement a 1998 decree that made it mandatory for school authorities to appoint religious education teachers upon individual recommendations and approval by the presiding bishop of the local diocese.

Parents who do not wish their children to participate in the mandatory religion classes must request an exemption in writing from the school principal. Unlike in previous years, during the period covered by this report, there were no complaints that requests for exemptions from Catholic religious instruction had been denied. Non-Catholics who wish their children to receive a religious education in their own faith are free to organize such classes, at their own expense, during the weekly hour allotted by the school for religious education, but must supply their own teacher. PROLIBCO objects to the requirement for Catholic teaching in the school curriculum, and claims that the alternatives available to non-Catholic parents violate the constitutional protection of privacy and confidentiality of one's convictions and beliefs. In December 2000, PROLIBCO lost a challenge by approximately 90 persons from various non-Catholic churches to this education practice in the Supreme Court. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is considering the case.

PROLIBCO is supporting an initiative by two non-sectarian (and antireligious) organizations, the Lima-based Movimiento Arreligioso Peruano and Masa Peru, to eliminate from the Constitution any reference to the Catholic Church. PROLIBCO also is seeking to collect enough signatures to ask the Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of the 1980 Concordat.

By law, the military may hire only Catholic clergy as chaplains, and Catholicism is the only recognized religion of military personnel. A November 1999 Government decree creating 40 military Catholic chaplaincies compelled members of the armed forces and the police, as well as their civilian co-workers and relatives, to participate in their services.

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 among members of the various religions generally are amicable. Religious groups occasionally join forces in ecumenical works on behalf of the poor. The Catholic and evangelical churches collaborate closely in the area of human rights.

The Catholic Church (through the CEAS) and the National Evangelical Council of Peru (through its loosely affiliated, although independent, Peace and Hope Evangelical Association) have conducted joint national campaigns on behalf of prison inmates and prisoners wrongly charged or sentenced for terrorism and treason.

During the period covered by this report, there were no reports of incidents of anti-Semitism or of discrimination. In the past, Jewish community leaders in Lima have claimed that a number of the city's most prestigious private social clubs have refused to accept into their ranks prospective members who were Jewish.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government's discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. During the period covered by this report, embassy staff members met with leaders of many of the religious communities, including representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Jewish community, and Protestant groups. In addition, the Embassy maintains regular contact with religious and nonreligious organization that are involved in the protection of human rights, including the CEAS, the Peace and Hope Evangelical Association, and the Freedom of Conscience Institute.

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