U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2004 - Peru

Released by the U.S. Department of State Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on September 15, 2004, covers the period from July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004.

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 generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 496,226 square miles, and its population is approximately 27,013,000. Nearly all major religions are represented in the country. The Cuanto Institute, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), estimates that 80 percent of the population identifies itself as Roman Catholic, although the Episcopal Commission for Social Action (CEAS) estimates that only 15 percent of Roman Catholics attend church services on a weekly basis. Using the most recent census information (1993), the National Statistics Institute (INEI) estimates that Protestants, the majority of whom are evangelical or Pentecostal, constitute 7.2 percent of the population. This contrasts with the National Evangelical Council's (CONEP) estimate that evangelicals represent 12 percent of the population. The INEI estimate for evangelicals also includes non-evangelical groups such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses. INEI estimates that adherents of non-Christian religions, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Shintoists, accounted for 2.5 percent of the population, while agnostics and atheists constitute 1.4 percent. INEI estimates that between 1972 and 1993, evangelical membership grew by 133 percent, Catholic membership decreased by 10 percent, and affiliation with other religions decreased by 60 percent. Evangelicals tend to reside in areas outside of Lima, the capitol, and in rural rather than urban areas. There is a small Jewish population in Lima and Cusco and a small Muslim population in Lima and Tacna.

Some Catholics combine indigenous worship with Catholic traditions. This type of syncretistic religion is practiced most often in the highlands.

Foreign missionary groups, including 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 separation of Church and State; however, it recognizes the Catholic Church's role as "an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development of the nation." The Government acts independently of Catholic Church policy; however, it maintains a close relationship with the Church, and a concordat signed with the Vatican in 1980 grants the Catholic Church special status. Officials of the Church often exert a high profile in the public sector; for example, Cardinal Cipriani, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, played a major role in the resignation of former Prime Minister Beatrice Merino. The Constitution specifically prohibits discrimination based on religion; however, preferential treatment given to the Church in education, tax benefits, and other areas continued to raise concerns about potential infringement on the religious liberty of non-Catholics.

Congress is addressing the issue of Church-State relations in ongoing deliberations over revisions to the Constitution. The revised draft would continue to recognize the special role of the Roman Catholic Church in the country's historical, social, and cultural development, as expressed in Article 50 of the Constitution. However, the Congressional Committee on Constitutional Affairs also approved a draft amendment in 2003 which reads: "The State recognizes and respects all religious denominations and establishes agreements of cooperation with them, through its representative agents, with fairness to all." The language of the draft amendment would provide other religious groups with the opportunity to enter into agreements with the Government on a basis similar to that enjoyed by the Catholic Church.

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 complaints of discrimination from religious groups. This unit also ensures that beyond the historic preferences (subsidies and exemptions granted to the Catholic Church) all denominations and churches receive certain financial benefits, such as exemption from some import taxes and customs duties. The unit did not receive any discrimination complaints during the period covered by this report.

Conversion from one religion to another is respected, and missionaries are allowed to enter the country and proselytize without following any special procedures. Some non-Catholic missionary groups claim that the law discriminates against them by taxing religious materials, including Bibles, that they bring into the country, while the Catholic Church has not been taxed on such items.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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. 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 to them by the Catholic Church. This applies to 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 strict separation of Church and State and opposes the preferential treatment accorded to the Catholic Church, claims that the financial subsidies and tax benefits are far more widespread and lucrative than publicly acknowledged.

The General Education law mandates that all schools, public and private, impart religious education as part of the curriculum throughout the education process (primary and secondary), "without violating the freedom of conscience of the student, parents, or teachers." Catholicism is the only religion taught in public schools. Some non-Catholic parochial or secular private schools have been granted exemptions from this requirement. The Education Ministry has 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. Unlike in previous years, during the period covered by this report, there were no complaints that requests for exemptions from Catholic religious instruction had been denied. 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; however, they must supply their own teacher.

By law the military may employ only Catholic clergy as chaplains, and Catholicism is the only recognized religion of military personnel. A 1999 government decree creating 40 Catholic military chaplaincies obliges members of the armed forces and the police, as well as their civilian co-workers and relatives, to participate in their services. There have been no reports of discrimination or denials of promotion for non-Catholic members of the military, nor have there been any reports of personnel refusing to participate in Catholic services.

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.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. 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 uses evangelical church staff in rural areas to minister to its congregations when there is no priest available.

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 detainees wrongly charged or sentenced for terrorism and treason.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. U.S. Embassy staff met with leaders of numerous religious communities, including representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Jewish community, and Protestant groups. The Embassy also maintains regular contact with religious organizations involved in the protection of human rights, including the CEAS, the Inter-religious Committee of Peru, the Peace and Hope Evangelical Association, and the Freedom of Conscience Institute.


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