U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2001 - Peru

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. The Constitution recognizes the Catholic Church's role as "an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development of the nation". Preferential treatment given to the Catholic Church in education, tax benefits, and other areas continued to raise concerns about potential infringements of religious liberties of non-Catholics. In December 2000, approximately 90 members of various non-Catholic churches lost a case pending before the Supreme Court challenging mandatory religious education in public schools by teachers appointed by the Catholic dioceses.

The generally amicable relations 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 land area of 798,635 square miles and its population is approximately 27,013,000. Nearly all major religions and religious organizations are represented in the country. The Cuanto Institute, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that provides demographic information, estimates that approximately 80 percent of the population identify themselves as Roman Catholics, although an official of the Episcopal Commission for Social Action (CEAS) estimates that only about 15 percent of the country's Roman Catholics attend church services on a weekly basis. Approximately 7.5 percent of the population identify themselves as Protestant, the majority of which are Pentecostal or evangelical. This 7.5 percent also includes nonevangelical Christians such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-Day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses.

The 1993 census (the latest official figures available) found that adherents of non-Christian religions, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Shintoists, accounted for less than 0.3 percent of the population, while agnostics and atheists constituted 1.4 percent of the population.

There are a number of Catholics who combine native indigenous worship with the Catholic traditions. This type of syncretistic religion is practiced most often in the highlands.

Foreign missionary groups, including the Mormons and several evangelical organizations, operate freely throughout the country.

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. The Constitution establishes the separation of church and state; however, the Constitution recognizes the Catholic Church's role as "an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development of the nation." The State thus maintains a close relationship with the Church and grants it a privileged status. The dominant status accorded to Roman Catholicism in public life manifests itself in various ways.

All faiths are free to establish places of worship, train clergy, and proselytize. Religious denominations or churches are not required to register with the Government or apply for a license. There is a small Religious Affairs Unit within the Ministry of Justice whose primary purpose is to receive institutional complaints of discrimination from the various churches. This unit also ensures that beyond the historic preferences (subsidies and exemptions granted to the Catholic Church only), all denominations and churches receive a variety of financial benefits, such as exemption from certain import taxes and customs duties for which they are eligible. The Unit did not receive any discrimination complaints during the period covered by this report.

Roman Catholicism, the Catholic Church, and Catholic clergy receive preferential treatment and tangible benefits from the State in the areas of education, taxation of personal income, remuneration, and taxation of institutional property.

Conversion from one religion to another is respected, and missionaries are allowed to enter the country and proselytize. Some non-Catholic missionary groups claim that a law discriminated against them by taxing religious materials, including Bibles, that they bring in to the country, while the Catholic Church has not been taxed on such items.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

All work-related earnings of Catholic priests and bishops are exempt from income taxes. Real estate, buildings, and houses owned by the Catholic Church are exempt from property taxes. Two groups of Catholic clergy receive state remuneration in addition to the compensation paid them by the Catholic Church. These include the country's 52 bishops as well as those priests whose ministries are located in towns and villages along the country's borders. Finally, each diocese receives a monthly institutional subsidy from the Government. According to church officials, none of these payments are substantial. However, the Freedom of Conscience Institute (PROLIBCO), an NGO that favors the strict separation between church and state and opposes the preferential treatment accorded to the Catholic religion, claims that the financial subsidies and tax benefits are far more widespread and lucrative than publicly acknowledged. PROLIBCO also has alleged government discrimination against non-Catholic groups that must pay import duties and a sales tax on Bibles brought into the country. In May the Jehovah's Witnesses claimed that the Government denied them tax-exemption for imported donations of Bibles and other religious educational materials.

Since 1977 the Ministry of Education has required Catholic religious teaching as part of public and private primary school curriculum. Some non-Catholic or secular private schools have been granted exemptions from this requirement. In April 1998, the Government issued an executive order that established basic Catholic religion courses for all primary school students. In 1999 the Education Ministry issued a directive to implement a 1998 decree that made it mandatory for school authorities to appoint religious education teachers upon individual recommendations and approval by the presiding bishop of the local diocese.

Parents who do not wish their children to participate in the mandatory religion classes must request an exemption in writing from the school principal. Such requests are granted infrequently. Non-Catholics who wish their children to receive a religious education in their own faith are free to organize such classes, at their own expense, during the weekly hour allotted by the school for religious education, but must supply their own teacher. PROLIBCO objects to the requirement for Catholic teaching in the school curriculum, and claims that the alternatives available to non-Catholic parents violate the constitutional protection of privacy and confidentiality of one's convictions and beliefs. PROLIBCO led a challenge by approximately 90 persons from various non-Catholic churches to this education practice in the Supreme Court and lost the case in December 2000. In May PROLIBCO presented its case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The results of the IACHR were pending at the end of the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

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 Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations among members of the various religions generally are amicable. Religious groups occasionally join forces in ecumenical works on behalf of the poor. The Catholic and evangelical churches collaborate closely in the area of human rights.

The Catholic Church (through the CEAS) and the National Evangelical Council of Peru (through its loosely affiliated, although independent, Peace and Hope Evangelical Association) have conducted joint national campaigns on behalf of prison inmates and prisoners wrongly charged or sentenced for terrorism and treason.

The Catholic Church is the most politically active religious denomination and has significant political influence. During the period covered by this report, at the request of the Government and because of the Church's reputation for honesty, prominent members of the Church played a pivotal role in democratization and anticorruption initiatives.

Unlike in previous years, during the period covered by this report there were no reports of incidents of anti-Semitism and discrimination. In the past, Jewish community leaders in Lima have claimed that a number of the capital city's most prestigious private social clubs have refused to accept into their ranks prospective Jewish members.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. During the period covered by this report, embassy staff members met with leaders of many of the religious communities, including representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Jewish community, and Protestant leaders. In addition, the Embassy maintains regular contact with religious and nonreligious organization that are involved in the protection of human rights, including the CEAS, the Peace and Hope Evangelical Association, and the Freedom of Conscience Institute.

The International Religious Freedom Report for 2001 is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The law provides that the Secretary of State shall transmit to Congress by September 1 of each year, or the first day thereafter on which the appropriate House of Congress is in session, "an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom supplementing the most recent Human Rights Reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom." The 2001 Report covers the period from July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001.

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