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Colombia
Saturday, 10 September 2011 02:51
Religious Freedom Ranking:
3 out of 5 stars: Needs Improvement

ColombiaThe Constitution provides for religious freedom and specifically forbids persecution based on religion. There is no official church or religion. On the other hand, the nation “is not atheist or agnostic, nor indifferent to Colombians’ religious sentiment.” Catholicism receives a number of advantages over other religions. Marxist and other revolutionary groups often targeted religious leaders.


The country has a population of 45 million. There are no official statistics on religious affiliation. According to the Colombian Evangelical Council (CEDECOL), approximately 15 percent of the population is Protestant. On the other hand, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference estimates that 90 percent of the population is Catholic. A 2007 article in the newspaper El Tiempo stated that 80 percent of the population was Catholic; 13.5 percent of the population belonged to non-Catholic Christian groups; two percent was agnostic; and 4.5 percent belonged to religious groups such as Islam and Judaism. Other claims estimate Seventh-day Adventists total 261,000; Anglicans and Presbyterians, 50,000 each; Mennonites, 4,000; Methodists, 1,500; other Protestants and evangelicals, 5 million; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 150,000; Muslims, 10,000; and Jews, 5,000. Believers of animism and other syncretistic faiths are also present.


The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Epiphany, Saint Joseph Day, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension, Corpus Christi, Sacred Heart Day, Saints Peter and Paul Day, the Feast of the Assumption, All Saints' Day, the Immaculate Conception, and Christmas.

The government provides two different kinds of recognition to religious groups: acknowledgement as a legal entity (but without state approval) and special public acknowledgement as a religious entity. The Ministry of Interior and Justice (MOIJ) has the right to deny a religious group from registering if it does not comply with established requirements or it violates essential constitutional rights. Some non-Catholic religious leaders report discrimination in the registration process and instead chose to operate as NGOs.

Foreign missionaries are allowed a visa for up to two years. They can proselytize among the indigenous population, provided that the indigenous people welcome it. Formal agreement with the 1997 public law agreement is required for non-Catholic groups to minister to military personnel, public hospital patients, and prisoners and to provide religious instruction in public schools. Muslim and Protestant leaders complained of discrimination in acquiring military chaplain positions and gaining access to prisoners.

Parents may choose the type of education their children receive, including religious education. The Constitution states that no child shall be forced to receive religious education in public schools. However, religions can operate their own schools if they accede to the public law agreement.

The state only recognizes religious marriages celebrated by the Catholic Church and the 13 non-Catholic religious groups that have signed the 1997 public law agreement. Members of other faiths must obtain a civil marriage, as their religious marriages are not recognized.

Indigenous Christians complained that local leaders stopped them from practicing their faith on indigenous reserves. The Gonawindua Tayrona Organization (OGT) imprisoned approximately 28 Christian members of the Kogui indigenous community for two months. The OGT is the governing body of that reserve. The courts rejected a repeal from the Kogui Christians in March 2010.

There have been no reports of forced religious conversion.

The Human Rights Unit of the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated the terrorist killings of 14 members of clergy. Four of these victims were religious leaders. The Department of Córdoba, Justapaz and CEDECOL reported that former AUC members killed six evangelical leaders. The National Liberation Army (ELN) threatened members of religious groups but generally followed its agreement to stop killing religious leaders. The Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles) also targeted leaders and members of religious groups. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was responsible for the killings and kidnappings of religious leaders and practitioners. However, such incidents were generally motivated by political and economic reasons (such as ransom) rather than religious ones. The New Bolivarian Self-Defense Forces and the Aguilas Negras attacked human rights workers. Many religious workers involved in the human rights movements received death threats. Guerillas, former AUC members and FARC continued to persecute and violently attack religious officials who promoted human rights. Some religious leaders relocated to other communities in fear of death.

The Catholic Church and faith-based NGOs endorsed human rights, social and economic growth and a negotiated resolution to the internal armed conflict. The Social Pastoral Agency conducted important social work.

2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom on Colombia

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 June 2012 19:24