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Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Dominican Republic

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000


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.

Both government policy and the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contribute to the free practice of religion.

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. Governmental Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There is no state religion. However, the Roman Catholic Church, which signed a concordat with the Government in 1954, enjoys special privileges not extended to other religions. These include the use of public funds to underwrite some church expenses, such as rehabilitation of church facilities, and a complete waiver of customs duties when importing goods into the country.

Religious groups are required to register with the Government in order to operate legally. Religious groups other than the Catholic Church must request exemptions from customs duties from the Office of the Presidency when importing goods. At times the process of requesting and being granted a tax exemption can be lengthy; some requests have been denied.

Religious Demography

The major religious denomination is the Roman Catholic Church. Evangelical Christians (especially Assemblies of God, Church of God, Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals,) Seventh-Day Adventists, the Watchtower Society (Jehovah's Witnesses), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) have a much smaller but generally growing presence. Jehovah's Witnesses have a large country headquarters, school, and assembly hall complex in the national district. Many Catholics also practice a combination of Catholicism and Afro-Caribbean beliefs (santeria) or witchcraft (brujeria), but since this practice rarely is admitted openly the number is impossible to estimate. Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism are practiced. There are synagogues (but no rabbis at this time) and there is as yet no mosque in the country.

According to Demos 97, a population survey taken in 1997 by the Instituto de Estudios de Poblacion y Desarrollo, the Dominican population is 68.1 percent Roman Catholic and 11 percent Protestant Christian, inclusive of evangelicals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and traditional Protestants. In the same study, 20.1 percent of the sample said they had no religion. However, evangelical Christians claim 20 to 25 percent of the population, while the Catholic Church claims 87 percent.

Government Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Although the Government generally does not interfere with the practice of religion, attendance at Catholic Mass for members of the National Police is compulsory.

Foreign missionaries are subject to no restrictions other than the same immigration laws that govern other foreign visitors. There have been no reports that the Government has ever used these laws to discriminate against missionaries of any religious affiliation. However, in practice the process of applying for an receiving residency status can be long and costly for denominations that bring many foreign missionaries, including groups that proselytize heavily such as evangelical Protestant groups, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The acquisition of a resident status from immigration authorities currently requires an investment of approximately $35,000 (RD$ 577,500), which some groups find to be overly burdensome. So far, the potential negative impact has been avoided only by the liberal use of administrative appeals.

The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses report improved relations with the Government. The Mormons are building a major temple in Santo Domingo with an associated administrative and educational facility. The construction has required large-scale importation of materials, for which the Mormon Church had to seek special exoneration from customs duties for each shipment (unlike the Roman Catholics, for whom such exoneration is complete and automatic). Nevertheless, church officials report no difficulties in acquiring the exemption.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion 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 II. Societal Attitudes

Relations among different religious congregations are harmonious, and society generally is tolerant with respect to religious matters. However, there were occasional reports of religious discrimination on the part of individuals. The evangelical churches proposed a bill requiring Bible reading in public high schools. The Catholic Church has opposed the measure, and negotiations between the two groups to reach a compromise are proceeding amicably.

In August 1999, education authorities investigated a report that the directors of Pilar Constanzo Polytechnic School, in Villa Duarte, National District, were discriminating against students and teachers who were not Catholics. The public school laid off at least 10 teachers, and there were also complaints that Protestant students were refused admission, despite excellent test scores and grades. Students whose parents are Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, or who adhere to faiths other than Catholicism allegedly were refused entry to the school. No new developments in the investigation were reported during the period covered by this report.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

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