International Religious Freedom Report 2003
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 gives other religious entities the same legal status as that enjoyed by the Catholic Church; however, the Catholic Church unofficially 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 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 same census, 70 percent of the population over the age 14 were identified as Roman Catholic (down from 76.8 percent in 1992).

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 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. In 2002, Evangelicals totaled 1,699,725 persons, or 15.1 percent of the population over the age of 14 (up from 12.4 percent in 1992).

Other faiths recorded in the 2002 census are Jehovah's Witnesses (119,455 persons), Mormons (103,735), those identifying themselves as Jewish (14,976), Orthodox Christians (6,959), and Muslims (2,894). All other religions totaled 493,147 persons, or 4.4 percent. In the 2002 census, atheists and those "indifferent" regarding religion constituted approximately 8.3 percent (931,990) of the population over the age of 14 (up from 5.8 percent in 1992).

A wide variety of active faiths exist in the country. In addition to the predominant Catholic Church and the large 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 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. The March 2000 law on religion ("ley de culto") includes a clause that prohibits religious discrimination. However, the Catholic Church continues to enjoy a privileged status among religions and occasionally receives preferential treatment. In addition to Catholic events, government officials attend major Protestant and Jewish religious and other ceremonies.

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.

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 religious entities to adopt a charter and bylaws suited to a religious organization rather than a private corporation. Religious entities 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 mid-year, 425 religious faiths and related organizations had registered with the Ministry of Justice under the new law. Many religious entities 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 from affected organizations to seek a mechanism to avoid payment of the taxes and fees for the initial re-registration.

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 can still be subject to the arbitrary decisions of local administrators. In January, the Ministry of Justice issued regulations for Chile's prison system and the Ministry of Health is drafting regulations for hospitals. Non-Catholic pastors report that their access to prisons and hospitals was generally good during the reporting period; however, they would like each faith to have an official chaplain designated to represent them as does the Roman Catholic Chaplain for prisons and hospitals.

The celebration of a Roman Catholic Mass frequently marks public events 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, in 2002 the base commander forbade members of the military living on the air force base in the northern city of Iquique 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 and in the navy it is said to be almost 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, the President appointed an Evangelical chaplain 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. Teaching the creed requested by parents is mandatory; however, enforcement is sometimes lax. As local school administrations decide how funds are spent for religious instruction, instruction is predominantly in the Roman Catholic faith. In 2001, 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 continued 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 refuse to allow an evangelical religious instructor to teach without prior certification from a Roman Catholic priest.

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 form 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 2001.

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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