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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 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 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.

There is a strict separation of church and state, which dates to the beginning of the century. Under the influence of reformist President Jose Batlle y Ordonez, religious instruction in the schools was banned in 1909, and separation of church and state was included in the 1917 Constitution and reaffirmed in the current 1967 Constitution. All religions are entitled to receive tax exemptions on their houses of worship, and there were no reports of difficulties in receiving these exemptions. Houses of worship must register to get tax exemptions. In order to do so, a religion or minority religious group must register as a nonprofit entity and draft organizing statutes. They then apply to the Ministry of Education and Culture, which examines the legal entity and grants religious status. The group must reapply every 5 years. Once they have status granted to them by the Ministry, they can request an exemption each year from the taxing body, which is usually the municipal government.

Religious Demography

Among the country's population of 3.2 million persons, about 52 percent of the population are practicing or nominally Roman Catholic, 16 percent are Protestant or other Christian, approximately 1 percent are Jewish, and 30 percent are members of other religions or profess no religion. According to a 1978 survey, among the Catholic majority, only a small percentage attend Mass regularly.

The mainstream Protestant minority is composed primarily of Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, and Baptist Churches. Other denominations and groups include evangelicals, Pentecostals, Mennonites, Eastern Orthodox, and Jehovah's Witnesses. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) claims 65,000 members. There are approximately 30,000 practicing members of the Jewish faith in the country who support 15 synagogues.

A 1998 poll revealed that 13 percent of the population identified themselves as atheists or agnostics, with a significant percentage identifying themselves as deists. Some of the country's 6 percent African-Uruguayan population, primarily those with roots in Brazil, practice animism.

The Unification Church is active in the country and has major property holdings. There also is a Muslim population that lives primarily on the border with Brazil. Approximately 4,000 Baha'i live in Montevideo.

The Government does not take any steps to promote interfaith understanding.

The public schools allow students who belong to minority religions to miss school for religious holidays without penalty.

Many Christian groups perform missionary work in the country without hindrance from the State. The Mormons, for example, have approximately 350 missionaries in the country at any one time. Missionaries face no special requirements or restrictions.

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 the various religious communities are amicable. The Christian-Jewish Council meets regularly to promote interfaith understanding. In addition, the mainstream Protestant religions meet regularly among themselves and with the Catholic Church.

Isolated neo-Nazi elements have carried out occasional, limited attacks since 1997. In August 1999, an intensive police investigation resulted in the arrest of eight members (including one minor) of a very small neo-Nazi group suspected of creating racist and anti-Semitic Internet websites. The authorities charged five of the suspects with subversive association; two also were charged with inciting hate or violence toward a particular group. Pending the court's final decision in the case, the defendants were released after serving approximately three months of imprisonment, the minimum statutory penalty for first offenders in cases of this nature.

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.

During the period covered by this report, embassy staff members met with human rights and religious nongovermental organizations and with leaders of many of the religious communities, including representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Jewish community, and Mormon and Protestant leaders.

The Embassy maintains frequent contact with religious and nonreligious organizations that are involved in the protection of human rights, such as the Center for Documentation, Investigation, and Social and Pastoral Promotion (OBSUR), Service of Peace and Justice (SERPAJ), Ecumenical Service for Human Dignity (SEOHU), Institute for Legal and Social Studies of Uruguay (ILSUR), and Mundo Afro, which represents the interests of citizens of African descent.

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