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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 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 ascertain 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.

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 Mormon, 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.

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 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.

During February and March of 1999, eight break-ins and burglaries occurred at offices of the Lutheran Church, including four at the Church's Office of Human Rights. The National Civilian Police opened an investigation into the incidents. Initially there was concern that these incidents might have been attacks directed against the Lutheran Church or its work in human rights. However, they occurred in high-crime areas, and the available evidence indicated that they were common crimes.

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. Embassy officials discussed the break-ins at Lutheran Church offices (see Section II) with Church officials, NGO's, and the Government and continued to monitor the situation in its regular ongoing contacts with Church officials.

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Revised last: 10-09-1999