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

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 approximately 68,000 square miles, and its population is estimated at 3.2 million. Approximately 52 percent of the population are practicing or nominally Roman Catholic, 16 percent are Protestant or belong to another Christian denomination, approximately 1 percent are Jewish, and 30 percent are members of other religions or profess no religion.

The mainstream Protestant minority is composed primarily of Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, and Baptists. Other denominations and groups include evangelicals, Pentecostals, Mennonites, Eastern Orthodox, and Jehovah's Witnesses. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) claims 65,000 members. There are approximately 30,000 practicing Jews, who support 15 synagogues.

The Unification Church is active in the country and has major property holdings. There also is a Muslim population that lives primarily on the border with Brazil. Approximately

4,000 Baha'is live in Montevideo.

Many Christian groups perform missionary work in the country. For example, the Mormons have approximately 365 missionaries in the country at any one time.

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 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 the law prohibit discrimination based on religion.

There is a strict separation of church and state, which dates from the beginning of the 20th century. All religions are entitled to receive tax exemptions on their houses of worship, and there were no reports of difficulties in receiving these exemptions. For houses of worship to receive tax exemptions, a religion or minority religious group must register as a nonprofit entity and draft organizing statutes. It then applies to the Ministry of Education and Culture, which examines the legal entity and grants religious status. The group must reapply every 5 years. Once status is granted by the Ministry, it can request an exemption each year from the taxing body, which is usually the municipal government.

Religious instruction in public schools is prohibited. The public schools allow students who belong to minority religions to miss school for religious holidays without penalty. There are private schools, mainly Catholic and Jewish, to serve their respective religious communities.

The Ministry of Interior provides religious groups with public support, traffic control, and crowd control for religious celebrations that are not official holidays.

The Penal Code prohibits mistreatment of ethnic, religious, and other minority groups. The House of Deputies Constitutional Legislative Affairs Commission is revising the Code to broaden the definition of hate crimes, and thereby make it easier for police to classify certain offenses as hate crimes and to provide the judicial system with the tools necessary to sentence violators to jail.

Missionaries face no special requirements or restrictions. The Government does not take any steps to promote interfaith understanding.

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

Relations among the various religious communities are amicable. The Christian-Jewish Council meets regularly to promote interfaith understanding. In addition, the mainstream Protestant religions meet regularly among themselves and with the Catholic Church. There are several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that promote interfaith understanding.

Early in the year, a limited outbreak of anti-Semitic graffiti and propaganda received media attention. Several Uruguayan figures, including a former minister, were defamed in the graffiti and there were reports of harassment by telephone. This resulted in swift action by the police, who arrested a small cell of three juvenile so-called "skinheads" and confiscated weapons that included a .22 caliber pistol. The adolescents were indicted and were awaiting trial at the end of the period covered by this report.

In 2001 three students harassed persons by telephoning at random persons with Jewish-sounding surnames. One victim with caller ID reported the harassment to the police, who arrested the students and then released them to their parents, who confined them to their homes during the week. At the end of the period covered by this report, the students reportedly were performing community service on weekends as required by the courts.

Isolated neo-Nazi elements have carried out occasional, limited attacks since 1997. Law enforcement authorities have responded vigorously to such activities. In September 2000, the police arrested and charged with inciting racial hatred the leader of a small neo-Nazi group believed responsible for distributing pro-Nazi propaganda. After being imprisoned for 6 months the subject benefited from a parole program for first-time offenders and was released in 2001. Sources report that the subject has paid restitution; however, he still was under investigation and faced additional related charges 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.

During the period covered by this report, embassy staff members met with human rights and religious NGOs and with leaders of many of the religious communities, including representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Jewish community, and Mormon and Protestant leaders.

The Embassy maintains frequent contact with religious and nonreligious organizations that are involved in the protection of human rights, such as the Center for Documentation, Investigation, and Social and Pastoral Promotion (OBSUR), Service of Peace and Justice (SERPAJ), Ecumenical Service for Human Dignity (SEOHU), Institute for Legal and Social Studies of Uruguay (ILSUR), and Mundo Afro, which represents the interests of citizens of African descent.


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