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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

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

The Constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the state religion and requires that the State contributes to its maintenance; however, it also prohibits the State from impeding the free exercise of other religions "that do not impugn universal morality or proper behavior." Members of all denominations freely practice their religion without Government interference.

The law grants the Catholic Church tax-free status and allows for the Government to provide land to the Catholic Church. In some cases, the Government retains ownership of the land but grants the Church free use while, in other situations, property is simply donated to the Church. This second method is commonly used to provide land for the construction of local churches. These methods do not meet all needs of the Church, which also buys some land outright. Government-to-Church land transfers are not covered under any blanket legislation. Instead, they are handled by specific legislative action once or twice per year.

The Government does not inhibit the establishment of churches through taxes or special licensing for religious organizations. However, churches must incorporate to have legal standing, like any other organizations.

Despite the official status of the Catholic Church, ties between it and the State are clearly limited. The Constitution prohibits Church involvement in political campaigning.

According to a 1997 survey, 76 percent of the population are Catholic, and 14 percent belong to smaller evangelical churches. The mainstream Protestant denominations, largely Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopalian, account for slightly less than 1 percent. Jehovah's Witnesses have a presence on the Caribbean coast but represent only about 1 percent of the population. Seventh-Day Adventists are present and operate a university, attracting students from around the Caribbean Basin. Other groups, such as the Unification Church and Hare Krishna, are also in the country in small numbers.

The country's tradition of tolerance and professed pacifism has attracted many religious groups. The Jewish population constitutes less than 1 percent of the country's total; many of its members have found refuge before and during the Second World War. The mountain community of Monteverde, a popular tourist destination, was founded during the Korean War by a group of Quakers from the United States, acting on their convictions as concientious objectors. This community, as well as those of Mennonites and other pacifist religious groups, was welcomed by Costa Rica.

Although not mandatory, Catholic religious instruction is permitted in the public schools. Religious education teachers must be certified by the Roman Catholic Episcopal Conference, which does not certify teachers from other denominations or faiths. Private schools, including those affiliated with Protestant denominations, are free to include any religious instruction they see fit.

The Government does not restrict the establishment of places of worship. New churches, primarily evangelical Protestant churches that are located in residential neighborhoods, occasionally have conflicts with local governments due to neighbors' complaints about noise and traffic. In contrast, established Catholic Churches are built around the municipal square and do not present such problems.

Foreign missionaries and clergy of all denominations work and proselytize freely.

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.

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

Amicable relations exist between members of the country's different religions, including religious minorities. The country has a history of tolerance.

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.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999