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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 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.

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.

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. School authorities appoint religious education teachers, upon individual recommendations by the presiding bishop of the local diocese. 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 recently established nongovernmental organization that favors the strict separation of church and state and opposes the preferential treatment accorded to the Catholic religion, opposes 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.

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.

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

When Channel Two television, whose majority-owner was the Israeli-born naturalized Peruvian Baruch Ivcher, aired a series of investigative reports critical of alleged wrongdoing by the Government and security forces, the military released a statement labeling Ivcher as "this non-Peruvian Jew." The military later apologized for the characterization and retracted the statement. Despite this statement, the Government's actions in this incident appeared to be motivated by Ivcher's reporting, not his religion.

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.

During the country's period of internal conflict from 1980 to 1995, evangelical churches in particular were targeted by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist group. 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 terrorists attacked individuals because of their religious beliefs or practices.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations between members of the various religions generally are amicable. While the Government takes no steps to promote interfaith understanding or dialog, 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 (see Section I). 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, most recently with Juan Luis Cipriani, Archbishop of Lima and Primate of Peru, and with the Bishop of Iquitos 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.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 11-09-1999