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Diplomacy in Action


International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

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

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

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. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of approximately 68,000 square miles and its population is estimated at 3.2 million. Over one-half of the population lives in Montevideo and surrounding areas. About 52 percent of the population are practicing or nominally Roman Catholic, 16 percent are Protestant or belong to another Christian denomination, approximately 1 percent are Jewish, and 30 percent are members of other religions or profess no religion.

The mainstream Protestant minority is composed primarily of Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, and Baptists. 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 Jews 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'is live in Montevideo.

Many Christian groups perform missionary work in the country. For example, the Mormons have approximately 365 missionaries in the country at any one time.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally 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 from the beginning of the 20th 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. To do so, a religion or minority religious group must register as a nonprofit entity and draft organizing statutes. It then applies to the Ministry of Education and Culture, which examines the legal entity and grants religious status. The group must reapply every 5 years. Once it has status granted to it by the Ministry, it can request an exemption each year from the taxing body, which is usually the municipal government.

Religious instruction in public schools is prohibited. The public schools allow students who belong to minority religions to miss school for religious holidays without penalty. There are private schools, mainly Catholic and Jewish, to serve their respective religious communities.

The Government does not take any steps to promote interfaith understanding. Missionaries face no special requirements or restrictions.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted practice of religion.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including 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 III. 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. Law enforcement authorities have responded vigorously to such activities. In September 2000, the police arrested and charged with inciting racial hatred the leader of a small neo-Nazi group believed responsible for distributing pro-Nazi propaganda. Because this was the suspect's first offense, he benefited from a general amnesty applied to first offenders and after spending several months in jail, was released in late 2000 and the case against him provisionally was closed.

Section IV. 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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