Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
July 30, 2012

[Covers calendar year from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2011]

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally respected religious freedom. The government did not demonstrate a trend toward either improvement or deterioration in respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom.

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

Representatives of the U.S. embassy regularly met with religious leaders.

Section I. Religious Demography

The government does not collect statistics on religious affiliation, but various sources estimate that 75 to 85 percent of the population identify themselves as Roman Catholic and 15 to 25 percent as evangelical Christian. Smaller religious groups include Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hindus, Buddhists, and Rastafarians. Baptists, Methodists, and Lutherans derive their membership in large part from the Afro-Antillean and the expatriate communities.

The Jewish and Muslim communities have approximately 10,000 members each. The Jewish community is centered largely in Panama City. Muslims live primarily in Panama City and Colon. One of the world's seven Baha'i houses of worship is in Panama City. Indigenous religions include Ibeorgun (among Kuna), Mamatata and Mamachi (among Ngobe Bugle), and Embera (among Embera).

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. The constitution provides for freedom of religion, provided that "Christian morality and public order" are respected.

Catholicism has certain state-sanctioned advantages over other faiths. The constitution recognizes Catholicism as "the religion of the majority" of citizens but does not designate it as the official state religion.

The constitution limits public offices that religious leaders may hold to those related to social assistance, education, and scientific research.

The constitution grants religious associations legal status so that they are free to manage and administer their property within the limits prescribed by law, the same as other "juridical persons." The Ministry of Government grants "juridical personality" through a relatively simple and transparent process. Juridical personality allows a religious group to apply for all tax benefits available to nonprofit organizations. There were no reported cases of religious organizations being denied juridical personality or associated tax benefits.

Under immigration law, most foreign religious workers are granted temporary missionary worker visas that must be renewed every two years for up to six years total. Catholic priests and nuns and Jewish rabbis are eligible for a special, automatic six-year visa.

The constitution dictates that Catholicism be taught in public schools; however, parents have the right to exempt their children from religious instruction.

The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Good Friday and Christmas Day.

Government Practices

There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom.

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.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

Representatives of the U.S. embassy met regularly with Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to discuss issues of concern to these communities.


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