Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

2009 Report on International Religious Freedom - Guatemala

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 - Guatemala, 26 October 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ae8613b78.html [accessed 20 December 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 no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

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 42,043 square miles and a population of 14 million. According to official census data, the indigenous population is 43 percent of the total, although unofficial estimates are higher.

There is no official census of religious affiliation. The Episcopal Conference of Guatemala, the official ruling body of the Roman Catholic Church, estimates that 65 to 70 percent of the population is Catholic (2009). Alianza Evangelica, the official umbrella organization for Protestants, estimates that 35 to 40 percent of the population is Protestant. A 2006 survey conducted by Latinobarómetro indicates that Catholics constitute 56.9 percent of the population and evangelicals 30.7 percent. The largest Protestant group is the Full Gospel Church, followed by the Assemblies of God, the Central American Church, and the Prince of Peace Church, as well as many independent evangelical groups. Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Seventh-day Adventists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Jehovah's Witnesses are present. Jews (approximately 2,000) and a small Muslim population reside primarily in Guatemala City.

Catholics and Protestants are distributed throughout the country, and their adherents are found among all major ethnic groups and political parties. According to leaders of Mayan spiritual organizations and Catholic and Protestant missionaries, many indigenous Catholics and some Protestants also practice some form of indigenous spiritual ritual.

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.

There is no state religion; however, article 37 of the Constitution recognizes explicitly the distinct legal personality of the Catholic Church.

The Government observes Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter, and Christmas as national holidays. It observes the Feast of the Assumption as a local holiday in Guatemala City (the Virgin of the Assumption is the patron saint of Guatemala City).

The Government neither establishes requirements for religious recognition nor imposes registration requirements for believers to worship together. The Government requires religious organizations as well as nonreligious associations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to register as legal entities in order to conduct business such as renting or purchasing premises, entering into contracts, and enjoying tax-exempt status. The Government does not charge religious groups a registration fee.

Due to its historical presence since colonial times, the Catholic Church does not have to register as a legal entity; the Constitution recognizes it as such. Any other religious group may file a copy of its bylaws and a list of its initial membership with the Ministry of Government to receive formal recognition. The group must have at least 25 initial members, and the bylaws must reflect an intention to pursue religious objectives. Applications are rejected only if the organization does not appear to be devoted to a religious objective, appears intent on undertaking illegal activities, or engages in activities that appear likely to threaten public order. There were no reports that the Government rejected any group's application during the reporting period; however, Protestant leaders alleged that they found the application process lengthy (lasting from six months to several years) and estimated that due to these bureaucratic difficulties 7,000 Protestant churches either had not applied for registration or had not completed the process.

Foreign missionaries must obtain tourist visas, which are issued for renewable periods of three months. After renewing their tourist visas once, they may apply for temporary residence. Specific missionary visas are neither issued nor required.

The Government does not subsidize religious groups. The Constitution permits, but does not require, religious instruction in public schools. There is no national framework for determining the nature or content of this religious instruction; when provided, it tends to be programmed at the local level. During the reporting period, the Ministry of Education consulted with the Catholic Church and Protestant groups on the integration of general values focusing on good citizenship, although not specific religious teachings, into school curriculums.

During the Spanish colonial period, some Catholic churches were built on sacred Mayan sites. Mayan spiritual leaders continued to use some of these locations to practice syncretic forms of worship. The law permits Mayan spirituality groups to conduct religious ceremonies at Mayan historical sites on government-owned property.

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.

Although registered religious entities are legally exempt from taxes, Protestant leaders noted that local officials sometimes required their churches to pay property taxes.

In August 2008 the Immigration Service denied entry to Puerto Rican José Luis Miranda, who claimed to be the Antichrist and planned to participate in a conference. Immigration officials based the decision on article 29 of the Immigration Law, which grants authority to permit or deny entry to any foreigner. Miranda's church is registered and recognized by the Government and holds regular meetings in Guatemala City. In 2007 the Government also denied entry to Miranda, despite having granted him permission to enter and preach on several prior occasions since the founding of his church in Puerto Rico in 1986.

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.

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.

The interreligious movement focused on discussion of social questions rather than interfaith discourse. For several years, representatives of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish groups, and traditional Mayan spirituality, have participated in the Interreligious Dialogue and the Foro Guatemala to discuss social and political topics.

Evangelical Protestant churches were split between a majority group, which avoided interreligious engagement with other religious traditions, and a minority group, which actively promoted an interreligious and multicultural viewpoint.

Mayan spiritual leaders continued to note widespread disagreements with evangelical Protestants, and to a lesser extent, charismatic Catholics. Protestant churches historically have been less tolerant of indigenous practices than the Catholic Church, whose approach in many areas of the country is to tolerate traditional practice not directly in conflict with Catholic dogma.

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. U.S. embassy officials, including the Ambassador, met on various occasions with leaders of major religious institutions as well as religious-based NGOs. Embassy officials promoted dialogue between leaders of diverse religious communities and Mayan and ladino groups within civil society.

Search Refworld

Countries