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Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:

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; however, preferential treatment given to the Catholic Church in education, tax benefits, and other areas continued to raise concerns about potential infringements of religious liberties of non-Catholics.

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

Relations between members of the various religions generally are amicable.

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. Although the Constitution establishes the separation of church and state, it also acknowledges the Roman Catholic Church "as an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral development" of the nation. The dominant status accorded to Roman Catholicism in public life manifests itself in various ways. For example, it is traditional for the President to attend Mass on the occasion of the country's Independence Day, and swearing-in ceremonies for cabinet ministers and other officials are conducted with the crucifix in full view. Moreover, there are four areas in which Roman Catholicism, the Catholic Church, and Catholic clergy receive preferential treatment and tangible benefits from the State: education, taxation of personal income, remuneration, and taxation of institutional property.

Religious denominations or churches are not required to register with the Government or apply for a license. Nevertheless, there is a small Religious Affairs Unit within the Ministry of Justice whose primary purpose is to receive institutional complaints of discrimination among the various churches. This Religious Affairs Unit also ensures that beyond the historic preferences (subsidies and exemptions granted to the Catholic Church only), all denominations and churches receive a variety of lesser financial benefits on an equal basis, such as exemption from certain import taxes and customs duties for which they are eligible.

Religious Demography

According to the 1993 census, of an overall population of 22,048,356, 88.9 percent declared themselves to be Catholics. These included substantial numbers of individuals of sycretistic faiths, who, for example, combine worship of the Catholic Church's saints with worship of non-Christian concepts, such as mother earth and mountain spirits. About 7.3 percent reported that they were non-Catholic Christians, including evangelical Christians (such as Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostalists, and members of the Assemblies of God, the Christian Missionary Alliance, the Evangelical Church of Peru, and the Church of God). This 7.3 percent also includes non-evangelical Christians (such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Israelites). Israelites base their beliefs and practices on the Old Testament. Adherents of non-Christian religions, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Shintoists accounted for 0.3 percent of the population, while agnostics and atheists constituted 1.4 percent of the population. The remaining census respondents specified no religious preferences. According to a respected university researcher who recently has studied the country's religious profile, evangelical Christians represent the fastest-growing religious segment within the population, while an official of the Episcopal Commission for Social Action estimates that only about 15 percent of the nation's Catholics attend church services on a regular weekly basis.

Governmental Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Although teaching about Roman Catholicism has not been required in the public school system since the education reforms of the 1970's, most schools devote 1 hour a week to such study. Prior to 1977, religious courses in public and private primary and secondary schools were interdenominational. Since 1977 public primary and secondary schools have offered only teaching about Catholicism, although some non-Catholic private schools provided non-Catholic religion courses. In April 1998, the Government issued an executive order that established basic Catholic religion courses for all public and private primary school students.

Traditionally, school authorities appoint religious education teachers, upon individual recommendations by the presiding bishop of the local diocese. In November 1999, the Education Ministry issued a directive to implement a September 1998 decree that made it mandatory for religion teachers to have the approval of the presiding bishop. Parents who do not wish their children to participate in the prescribed religion classes are asked to submit a written request for an exemption to the school principal. Non-Catholics who wish their children to receive a religious education in their own particular faith are free to organize such classes, during the weekly hour allotted by the school for religious education, but must supply their own teacher. The Freedom of Conscience Institute (PROLIBCO), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that favors the strict separation of church and state and opposes the preferential treatment accorded to the Catholic religion, objects to the requirement for Catholic teaching in the school curriculum, and claims that the alternatives made available to non-Catholic parents violate the constitutional protection of the privacy and confidentiality of one's convictions and beliefs.

PROLIBCO and other religious groups have challenged mandatory teaching of Roman Catholicism, and their case is pending before the Supreme Court. The case alleges that the mandatory catechism requirement violates the rights of non-Catholic students to practice their personal religious convictions. They also have challenged the practice in which parents must ask school directors for permission to excuse their children from mandatory religion courses and then pay for their own teacher during the hour per week of religious study.

All work-related earnings of Catholic priests and bishops are exempt from income taxes, while real estate, buildings, and houses owned by the Catholic Church are exempt from property taxes. According to an official of the Catholic Church's Episcopal Commission for Social Action, there are, in addition, two groups of Catholic clergy whose members receive state remuneration over and above the compensation paid to them by the Catholic Church. These include the 52 Catholic bishops as well as those Catholic priests whose ministries are located in towns and villages along the country's frontiers. They are rewarded by the State for their patriotism in helping to populate the most remote areas of the country and in implementing the Government's "fronteras humanas" ("human borders") program. Finally, each diocese receives a monthly institutional subsidy from the Government. According to church officials, none of these payments are substantial. However, PROLIBCO claims that the financial subsidies and tax benefits provided by the Government to the Catholic Church and its clergy are far more widespread and lucrative than publicly acknowledged. PROLIBCO has instituted legal action in the Superior Court of Public Law to eliminate all such preferential treatment. PROLIBCO also has alleged discrimination against non-Catholic groups that must pay import duties and a sales tax on Bibles brought into the country.

Conversion from one religion to another is respected, and missionaries are allowed to enter the country and proselytize.

The Government takes no steps to promote interfaith understanding or dialog.

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.

During the country's period of internal conflict from 1980 to 1995, the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist group targeted evangelical churches in particular. The group killed about 750 members of evangelical churches, including about 40 pastors. Sendero Luminoso rejects religion and has been known to threaten and intimidate religious workers. However, during the period covered by this report, there were no reported instances in which security forces, vigilante groups, or terrorists attacked individuals because of their religious beliefs or practices.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations between members of the various religions generally are amicable. The Catholic and evangelical churches collaborate closely in the area of human rights.

Since 1995 the Catholic Church (through its Episcopal Commission for Social Action) 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 innocent prisoners wrongly charged or sentenced for terrorism and treason.

There were occasional reports of incidents of anti-Semitism and discrimination. Jewish community leaders in Lima claim that a number of the capital city's most prestigious private social clubs historically have refused to accept into their ranks prospective Jewish members.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Ambassador has met with a wide variety of religious leaders, including Juan Luis Cipriani, Archbishop of Lima and Primate of Peru, the president of the Catholic Church's Episcopal Conference, the Archbishop of Callao, as well as leaders of Peru's Jewish community in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. The Embassy's human rights officer has met with representatives of the Episcopal Commission for Social Action of the Catholic Church, the Peace and Hope Evangelical Association, and the Freedom of Conscience Institute. Embassy representatives also have discussed prison reform and broader human rights issues with officials of the Episcopal Commission for Social Action.

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