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Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
El Salvador

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 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 freedom 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. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The Constitution specifically recognizes the Roman Catholic Church, and grants it legal status. In addition, the Constitution provides that other churches may register for such status in accordance with the law. The Civil Code specifies that a church must apply for formal recognition through the General Office of Non-Profit Associations and Foundations (DGFASFL) within the Ministry of Interior. Each church must present a constitution and bylaws that describe, among other things, the type of organization, location of offices, goals and principles, requirements for membership, type and function of ruling bodies, and assessments or dues. The DGFASFL must determine that the constitution and bylaws do not violate the law before it can certify a church. Once certified, the church must publish the DGFASFL approval and its constitution and bylaws in the official government gazette.

In 1997 the Government implemented a law passed in 1996 that charges the Ministry of Interior with registering, regulating, and overseeing the finances of nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) and non-Catholic churches in the country. The law specifically exempts unions, cooperatives, and the Catholic Church. The Ministry of Interior already was responsible for registering non-Catholic churches before passage of the 1996 law. The 1996 law and the 1997 implementing regulations did not change the existing mechanism for church registration. There were no allegations that churches encountered problems in obtaining registration.

The regulations implementing the tax law grant recognized churches tax-exempt status. The regulations also make donations to recognized churches tax deductible.

Religious Demography

The country is predominantly Roman Catholic. According to a 1995 survey by the Central American University Public Opinion Institute (IUDOP), approximately 56.7 percent of the population were members of the Roman Catholic Church. Additionally, 17.8 percent were members of Protestant churches, 2.3 percent were associated with other churches and religious groups, and 23.2 percent were not affiliated with any church or religion. Outside of the Catholic and Protestant churches, there are small communities representing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-Day Adventist, Jewish, and Muslim faiths, among others. A very small segment of the population practices a native religion. The predominance of the Catholic Church does not impact negatively on the religious freedom of other denominations.

Non-Salvadoran nationals seeking to promote actively a church or religion must obtain a special residence visa for religious activities. Visitors to the country are not allowed to proselytize while in the country on a visitor or tourist visa. There were no allegations during the reporting period of difficulties in obtaining visas for religious activities.

Public education is secular. Private religious schools operate in the country. All private schools, whether religious or secular, must meet the same standards in order to be approved by the Ministry of Education.

The Constitution requires the President, cabinet ministers and vice ministers, Supreme Court justices, magistrates, the Attorney General, the Public Defender, and other senior government officials to be laypersons. However, there is no such requirement for election to the National Legislative Assembly or municipal government offices.

Governmental Abuses of Religious Freedom

In December 1999, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights published a report on the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. The report concluded that the State was responsible for violating the right to life of the eight murdered persons and had failed to investigate those violations effectively. The report also criticized the 1993 general amnesty law, which resulted in the release from custody of two military officers found guilty of the murders in 1992, and called on the Government to reopen the case. President Francisco Flores publicly noted the issuance of the report and reiterated the steps taken through the Salvadoran justice system to investigate and punish the crime. However, he declined to reopen the case, stating that to do so would undermine the integrity of the post-civil war amnesty, which he regarded as essential to the continuing process of national reconciliation. In March 2000, the Central American University formally filed a suit calling for the reopening of the case, which brought formal charges before the Attorney General's office against several persons who were high-ranking officials at the time of the killings, including former President Alfredo Cristiani, and requested the detention of five former military officers.

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 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

There are amicable relations among the various religious communities. Four of the largest Protestant denominations--the Episcopal, Baptist, Lutheran, and Reform churches--have formed the National Conference of Churches (CNI), an interfaith organization created to promote religious tolerance and to coordinate a church-sponsored social program.

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. The Government has cooperated with the United States and other nations in international human rights forums in criticizing violations of religious freedom. The U.S. Government maintains a regular dialog with the principal religious leaders, church officers, church-sponsored universities, and nongovernmental organizations.

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