International Religious Freedom Report 2006
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

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

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 157,047 square miles and an estimated population of 6.3 million. According to the Government's 2002 national census, the population was 89.6 percent Roman Catholic, 6.2 percent evangelical Christian, 1.1 percent other Christian, 0.6 percent indigenous religions, and 0.3 percent other (non‑Christian) religions; 1.1 percent of respondents claimed no religious preference, and 1 percent did not provide information regarding their religious preference.

There were active Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Jewish (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Baha'i communities. There was an Islamic community concentrated in the department of Alto Parana, an area that received substantial immigration from the Middle East, particularly from Lebanon. There was also a substantial Mennonite community, principally in the western department of Boqueron.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The Government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The constitution and other laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion.

The constitution recognizes the historical role of the Catholic Church in public life, and Catholic priests often performed Mass at government functions.

The following holy days are official national holidays: Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (now known as the Founding of Asuncion), Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (now known as the Virgin of Caacupe Day), and Christmas. The Government also observed the death of Pope John Paul II as a public holiday on the day of his funeral.

All religious groups must be registered with the Ministry of the Interior. The criteria for recognition consist of completing required paperwork, being certified as a nonprofit organization, passing financial and criminal background checks, and paying a small fee. The Government enforced few controls on religious groups, and there were many unregistered churches. The latter were typically small, Christian evangelical churches with few members.

The Government is secular. Most government officials were Catholic, but adherence to a particular creed confers no legal advantage or disadvantage. The armed forces have an extensive Catholic chaplain program. The Catholic Church considers this chaplaincy as a diocese and appoints a bishop to oversee the program on a full-time basis.

Both public and religiously affiliated schools exist, and parents were free to send their children to the school of their choice without sanction or restriction. The Government imposes no curriculum requirements regarding religion.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

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

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 Abuses and Discrimination

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

In January and early February 2006 in several locations around the city of Asuncion, there were reports of approximately seventy incidents of graffiti conveying messages or depicting symbols commonly associated with anti‑Semitism and pro-Nazism. However, some of these incidents were patently against the United States or former dictator Alfredo Stroessner, insinuating the groups were fascists. Some of the graffiti was spray-painted on the private property of a well-known radio commentator of Jewish descent and at the home of the Jewish son-in-law of an ABC Color newspaper executive. The Government investigated the incidents, but police made no arrests during the period covered by this report.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. ambassador and embassy officials met regularly with representatives of different religious groups. Representatives of the embassy raised concerns with the Government over the graffiti incidents.

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