| Religious Freedom Ranking:
2 out of 5 stars: Poor
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion on the condition that the practice does not violate public morality, decency, or public order. It forbids the use of religion to avoid obeying the law or to interfere with the rights of others. Although the government generally respects religious freedom in practice, those religious groups that criticized the government often received harassment from government officials. A previous governmental policy giving special privileges to the Catholic Church has been replaced by an adversarial attitude toward any religious organization that is seen as opposing the Chavez regime’s Marxist-oriented social program.
The country has a population of 28.8 million. According to government estimates, 92 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, and the remaining 8 percent identify themselves as Evangelical Protestant, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or a member of a different religion or as an atheist. However, the Venezuelan Evangelical Council estimated that evangelical Protestants constitute approximately 15 percent of the population. The Muslim community is estimated at 100,000 and the Jewish community is estimated at 9,500.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Christmas.
Religious groups must register with the Directorate of Justice and Religion (DJR) in the Ministry of Interior Justice in order to have legal status and receive government funds.
A 1964 concordat administers relations between the government and the Vatican and offers the basis for government subsidies to the Roman Catholic Church. On July 14, President Chavez summoned Foreign Minister Maduro to review the 1964 concordat, stating that the contract was a “violation of the constitution” for granting the Catholic Church “a privilege over other churches.” On July 29, 2010, the National Assembly called for a review of the 1964 concordat.
The government provided annual subsidies to Catholic schools and social programs that helped the poor. Registered religious groups can receive funding, but most money goes to Catholic organizations. The government approved funding for the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Venezuela (CEV) at moderate levels. Other religious groups were free to establish their own schools. Rarely has the government funded certain evangelical groups, mainly for government projects.
Religious foreign missionaries require special visas. Some missionaries claimed first-time religious visas were refused and renewals of these visas were frequently denied. The government prevented foreign missionaries from working in indigenous areas.
In 2009 the National Assembly passed an education law that prohibited religious instruction in all public and private schools.
On April 20, 2010, Catholic Church leaders issued a statement claiming the government had “totalitarian intentions” and condemned government “waste, corruption, and inefficiency.” In a June 27 interview Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino was quoted stating that the government was headed down a path of Cuban-style “socialism-Marxism” and questioned the constitutionality of nine recently passed laws. In response, the government called the church the “vanguard” of the counterrevolution and compared Cardinal Urosa, archbishop of Caracas, to the 19th century church that “like him, seated on the thrones of privilege and riches, opposed independence." President Chavez also publicly referred to the cardinal and the CEV as committing “grave aggressions and injuries… that signify an unjustified and strange intrusion into political and state government affairs.” Evangelical and nongovernmental entities experienced property invasions and expropriations involving church property. Authorities reportedly did not take actions to stop the land invasions.
The government returned one property belonging to an evangelical group. It did not return properties belonging to the CEV that had been expropriated earlier in the year. Jewish community leaders publicly expressed concern about anti-Semitic expressions broadcast in official and government-affiliated media. These expressions frequently increased following government criticism of Israeli government policies or actions. President Chávez also called Israel a “genocidal state” and said he “could not believe that a Venezuelan Jew…would support this kind of massacre.” The government-affiliated web site Aporrea.com published an article suggesting the anti-Semitic book Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Many other government-owned television channels continued to show anti-Israel advertisements.
The Tiferet Israel synagogue was allegedly vandalized by several police officers. The suspects remained in prison awaiting trial. Anti-Semitic graffiti was found on commercial buildings in 2009 and 2010 because they were rumored to be Jewish-owned. Recently the government provided increased security to Jewish community centers in response to their concerns.
2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom on Venezuela