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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 Government does not require religious groups to be licensed or registered unless they form nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) that engage in commercial activity.

About 1,000 different religious groups, churches, cults, societies, Christian fraternities, and foundations coexist in the country.

Together with the military and the Government, the Roman Catholic Church is widely viewed as one of the three pillars of society. Approximately 90 percent of the population considers itself to be Roman Catholic, though most citizens do not practice the religion or follow a syncretistic version. For example, many sierra Indians follow a brand of Catholicism that combines indigenous beliefs with orthodox Catholic doctrine. Saints often are venerated in ways similar to Indian deities. In 1998 the Catholic Church had only 36 bishops and 1,382 priests to minister in 997 parishes. At the political level, the Government retains strong ties to the Vatican; the Papal Nuncio is the customary dean of the diplomatic corps. The Government allows missionary activity and religious demonstrations by all religions.

Some Christian, non-Catholic, multidenominational groups such as the Gospel Missionary Union (GMU), the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Hoy Cristo Jesus Bendice (HCJB) have been active in the country for many years. The Christian Alliance was established in 1906; HCJB began operating in the country in 1931, and its World Radio Missionary Fellowship broadcasts reach all parts of the country. Other active Protestant groups include the Evangelical Group, World Vision, and the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), which operates in remote areas with the eventual objective of translating the Bible into Indian languages.

The combination of poverty, neglect, and syncretistic practices in urban and rural areas created conditions that were conducive to the spread of Protestant missionary and Pentecostal evangelical activity. Such activity began in the 1960's, but became more pronounced in the 1980's. Southern Baptists, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church), Jehovah's Witnesses, and Pentecostals have been successful in finding converts in different parts of the country. The following faiths and denominations are also present in the country, but in relatively small numbers: Anglican, Assembly of God, Baha'i, Buddhist, Episcopalian, Hindu, Jewish, Lutheran, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterian, Rosicrucians, Masons, Unification Church and the Church of Scientology. Two relatively new groups are the Native American churches of Itzachilatan, whose adherents practice Indian healing rites and nature worship, and the followers of Inti, the traditional Inca sun god. Atheists also exist. The total of these above groups represents about 10 percent of the population.

The Government does not permit religious instruction in public schools; private schools have complete liberty to do so, as do parents in the home. There are no restrictions on publishing religious materials in any language.

In early 1998, police in Pinchincha suspended the meetings of a group known as "Gnostico Cristiano Universal," following the suicide of 29 members of the "Heaven's Gate" cult in California, while they investigated possible links between the two groups.

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 return to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Although Relations between religious communities generally have been amicable, there were a few incidents of interreligious or intrareligious tension or violence during the period covered by this report.

In March 1998, in the pilgrimage town of Quinche, near Quito, Catholic residents burned an evangelical temple that was under construction. Catholic Church leaders criticized the act. Subsequently, in April 1999, an evangelical indigenous church was surrounded by a mob who briefly held 100 church members hostage.

During 1998 there was a series of non-violent confrontations between groups of Protestants and Catholics in the town of Peguche, in the province of Imbabura. Some citizens claimed that commercial rivalry was at the root of the problem.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is involved in a 5-year legal fight with the former owner of some land purchased for a new temple in Guayaquil. The Church is appealing a court judgement of $800,000 handed down in favor of the landowner. The Church alleges that the judge may have been bribed.

In April 1999, Southern Baptist workers reported increasing opposition from local residents to the development of a church and a medical clinic in the town of Chachas. The Baptist workers were accused of "starting a new religion." Based on official permission from community leaders to operate the clinic, local police promised to give protection to the Baptist workers.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom 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