Last Updated: Thursday, 02 October 2014, 08:47 GMT

2009 Report on International Religious Freedom - Paraguay

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 26 October 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom - Paraguay, 26 October 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ae86115c.html [accessed 2 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

[Covers the period from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009]

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 a few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, but 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 157,047 square miles and a population of 7 million. According to the 2002 national census, 89.6 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and 6.2 percent is evangelical Protestant. Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews (Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform), members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Muslims, Buddhists, adherents of the Unification Church, and members of the Baha'i Faith also are present.

Native-born citizens tend to be Catholic, while immigrants generally belong to other religious groups. The department of Alto Parana has a large Muslim community due to substantial immigration from the Middle East, particularly Lebanon. Mennonite communities flourish in the departments of Boquerón and San Pedro. Members of other religious groups are concentrated in the largest cities, including Asunción, Ciudad del Este, and Encarnación.

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 other laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion and impose few legal restrictions on religious expression or speech. The Constitution and other laws protect the right of individuals to choose, change, and freely practice their religion; provide legal protections covering discrimination and persecution; and offer remedies for the violation of religious freedom.

The Constitution recognizes the historical role of the Catholic Church. Although the Government is secular in name and practice, most government officials are Catholic, and Catholic clergy occasionally speak during official government events. The Government permits political parties to form based on a particular faith. The Constitution requires the president, vice president, and members of Congress to be laypersons. In July 2008 the Pope formally affirmed the 2006 resignation of Fernando Lugo Mendez as a bishop in the Catholic Church. In August 2008 Lugo was sworn in as the democratically elected president.

The Government observes Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Virgin of Caacupe Day, and Christmas as national holidays.

The Constitution provides for conscientious objection to military service. The armed forces have an extensive Catholic chaplain program supported by the Government. The Catholic Church considers this chaplaincy to be a diocese and appoints a bishop to oversee the program on a full-time basis.

Although the Government does not place restrictions on religious publishing or other religious media, such publications are subject to libel law.

The Government requires all churches and religious organizations to register with the Ministry of Education and Culture's Vice Ministry of Worship. Registration includes completing required paperwork, obtaining certification as a nonprofit organization, passing financial and criminal background checks, and recertifying annually. Although the Government imposes few controls on religious groups, many remained unregistered, typically evangelical churches with few members. While the registration process requires applicants to visit the Ministry in Asunción, in 2008 the Ministry began developing an online registration system for religious organizations and missionaries.

The Government does not place restrictions on foreign missionaries. After President Lugo took office in August 2008, the Vice Ministry of Worship eliminated registration fees for religious organizations. Nevertheless, the immigration process by which foreigners, including missionaries, obtain temporary or permanent residency remains opaque and requires applicants to pay fees in excess of $100 (400,000 guaraníes) per transaction and spend months or even years to obtain residency.

The Government permits but does not require religious instruction in public schools. The Government permits parents to homeschool or send their children to the school of their choice without sanction or restriction.

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.

In April 2009 leaders of the Unification Church reported continuing difficulties related to the expropriation of land in Puerto Casado by the Government in 2005. The Church claimed that the Government failed to evict local farmers illegally residing on its property after the Church donated adjacent land to local farmers in 2007.

Jehovah's Witnesses who refused to give permission for blood transfusions alleged that authorities challenged their "right to bodily self-determination." In 2008 the Government enacted a law allowing doctors to administer blood transfusions in life-threatening situations without patient consent. Based on this new law, between January and March 2009 doctors at the National Hospital in Itaugua gave newborn Sebastian Viveros several blood transfusions without the consent of his parents. Jehovah's Witnesses José Ortega and Asunción Bernarda Ortega Gaona, arrested in 2007 for refusing to allow doctors to give their daughter blood transfusions, remained under investigation at the end of the reporting period.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners 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 who had not been allowed to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

The Government generally took steps to promote respect for religious groups. On March 11-12, 2009, the Government hosted the MERCOSUR Interfaith Dialogue. President Lugo addressed the group and strongly supported the event.

In November 2008 the Government launched the "Everyone for Values" project at the inaugural Interfaith Dialogue Roundtable meeting in Asunción. The Government and representatives from 58 religious organizations signed a joint declaration in support of the "fundamental national pillars of life, education, family, and the elderly." In the spirit of this declaration, the Government designated 2009 as the "Year of the Dignified Life" and launched a public awareness campaign with support from these religious organizations and local media. The Government also hosted subsequent Interfaith Dialogue Roundtable meetings on March 6 and May 27, 2009, which were attended by representatives from 58 religious organizations.

In 2009 the Government peaceably removed illegal settlements on properties owned by the Anglican and Baptist churches.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were a few reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, but prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom.

Anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi messages and symbols, including graffiti, appeared sporadically. In November 2008 the Vice President and President of the Senate attended the Night of Broken Glass (Kristelnacht) Memorial Event in Asunción to honor Jews who died in 1938 during Kristelnacht.

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. The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officials met with representatives of different religious groups.

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