Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Report
November 17, 2010

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period.

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom.

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 68,039 square miles and a population of 3.2 million (according to the 2004 census). The most recent (2007) statistics on religious preference from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicate that 45.1 percent identify themselves as Roman Catholics, 10.5 percent as non-Catholic Christians, 0.7 percent as Afro-Umbandistas, 0.4 percent as Jewish, and 27.8 percent believe in God but do not claim a religious affiliation.

Some religious groups dispute the accuracy of the NBS statistics, and other groups are not reflected in the survey. Traditional Protestants include primarily Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, and Baptists. Other groups include evangelicals, Pentecostals, Mennonites, Eastern Orthodox, Christian Scientists, Salvation Army, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Evangelicals estimate they have 200,000 followers (6 percent of the population), Afro-Umbandistas estimate they have at least 100,000 (3 percent), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) estimate they have 100,000 members (3 percent), and the Jewish community estimates it has approximately 25,000 (0.7 percent). The estimated 4,000 Baha'is are concentrated primarily in Montevideo. Approximately 850 families practice Buddhism. The Unification Church is active and has major property holdings, including a daily newspaper. An Islamic cultural representative estimated that there are 300 to 400 Muslims. The Egyptian Islamic Center in Montevideo, which is supported by the Egyptian embassy, was the first mosque in the country. Muslims also gather to pray at the Uruguay Islamic Center in Canelones.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on religion, and there is strict separation of church and state. The penal code prohibits mistreatment of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups. The Honorary Commission against Racism, Xenophobia, and All Forms of Discrimination provides for government compliance with the laws, and representatives from several religious groups are active participants.

Religious groups are entitled to tax exemptions on their houses of worship, and no group reported difficulties. To receive tax exemptions, a religious group must register as a nonprofit entity and draft organizing statutes. It then applies to the Ministry of Education and Culture, which examines the legal entity and may grant religious status. The group must reapply every five years. Once the ministry grants religious status, the group can request an exemption each year from the taxing authority, which is usually the municipal government.

The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Three Kings' Day, Carnival (the Monday and Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday), Holy Thursday, Good Friday, All Souls' Day, and Christmas.

Muslims may obtain an optional identity card that identifies their religious affiliation to employers and allows them to leave work early on Fridays, and employers generally respected this practice.

Religious instruction in public schools is prohibited. Public schools allow students who belong to minority religious groups to miss school for religious holidays without penalty. There are private religious schools, primarily Catholic and Jewish.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom.

The Christian-Jewish Council met regularly to promote interfaith understanding. Traditional Protestant denominations met regularly among themselves and with the Catholic Church. There were several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that promoted interfaith understanding.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. Embassy staff met with representatives of human rights and religious NGOs, including B'nai B'rith International and the Central Jewish Committee of Uruguay. They also met with leaders of religious communities, including representatives of the Catholic Church, the Jewish community, the Muslim community, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Protestant groups, and Afro-Umbandistas.

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