U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2003 - Paraguay

Released by the U.S. Department of State Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on December 18, 2003, covers the period from July 1, 2002, to June 30, 2003.

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, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

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 158,886 square miles, and its population is approximately 5,885,000 persons (2002 estimate).

An estimated 90 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. There are active Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical Christian, Jewish (both Orthodox and Reform congregations), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Baha'i communities in the country. There is an Islamic community concentrated in the Department of Alto Parana, an area that received substantial immigration from the Middle East, especially Lebanon. There is also a substantial Mennonite community, concentrated principally in the western Department of Boqueron, whose members originally came to the country to escape religious persecution. These refugees immigrated in several waves between 1880 and 1950.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

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

All religious groups must be registered with the Ministry of Education and Culture; the criteria for recognition appear to be minimal. Furthermore, the Government enforces few controls on these groups and many informal churches exist.

The Government is secular. Most government officials are Catholic, and several Catholic solemnities are public holidays. Adherence to a particular creed confers no legal advantage or disadvantage, and foreign and local missionaries proselytize freely. The Government does not take any particular steps to promote interfaith understanding.

The Paraguayan military has an extensive Roman Catholic chaplain program. The Church considers this chaplaincy as a diocese unto itself and appoints a bishop to oversee the program on a full-time basis.

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.

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

While there is no large-scale ecumenical movement in the country, all religious groups freely exercise their beliefs in a largely tolerant environment. The Catholic Church often performs Mass for government functions, Protestant and evangelical churches engage in marches and prayer vigils, and part of the Jewish community holds a large public menorah lighting every year for Hanukkah. Protestant evangelical groups such as the Assembly of God and Mormons conduct missionary activities without government interference.

The Catholic Church is involved in politics at the fringe, mostly in socio-economic matters, and does not support any particular political party. In this year's presidential election, some in the governing Colorado Party (ANR) accused the Church of supporting the Patria Querida (PQ) movement's presidential candidate, Pedro Fadul. The Church as an institution neither endorsed nor supported any candidate. The Church freely criticizes the Government.

As incoming President Nicanor Duarte Frutos assembled his cabinet mid-year, the local press commented favorably upon his nomination of several Mennonites to be ministers, reflecting a popular belief that Mennonites will transpose their honesty and efficient industry to government.

In May 2002, a building in Asuncion was spray-painted with anti-Semitic graffiti, in the first such incident in 15 years. Results of the police investigation were not known at the end of the period covered by this report.

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


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