| Religious Freedom Ranking:
3.5 out of 5 stars: Needs Improvement
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. It further states that no one “shall be obligated by coercive measures to declare his ideology or beliefs.” There is no official religion. The government generally respects religious freedom in practice, but it also treats religions as profit-making organizations and refuses to exempt them from income taxes, thus making it difficult for them to engage in charitable and educational work. On the other hand, the government supports certain religious groups linked to the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) political party. There were reports of preferential treatment to these party-affiliated religious groups in the distribution of state funds and favors, and access to government services. The socialist government also demonstrated prejudice towards those individuals and groups, including religious organizations, who commented critically on government policy.
The country has a population of 5.7 million. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion. According The Nicaraguan Institute of Statistics and Census of 2005, 58.5 percent of the population is Catholic and 21.6 percent is evangelical Protestant, including the Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, Mennonites and Baptists. An independent private polling of April 2010 estimated that 56.2 percent of the population is Catholic and 24.9 percent is evangelical. Smaller religious groups include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Moravian Church, Baptist Convention, Church of God, the Church of the Nazarene, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'i Faith, the Church of Scientology and Buddhists. Many South Korean immigrants formed their own Protestant community. There is a reported 40 members of the Jewish faith and approximately 300 Muslims. It is common for Moravian churches to allow indigenous Amerindian spiritual manifestation.
On December 21, 2009, the National Assembly reformed the Law of Fiscal Equity, law, 453, declaring that all donations to religious organizations are profits and thus subject to income tax “in the manner, opportunity and amount that is determined by the Executive.” Reportedly, both Catholic and evangelical churches experienced arbitrary application of the law.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, the Immaculate Conception and Christmas. The Festival of Santo Domingo (August 1 and 10) is only celebrated in Managua. Many cities and towns also celebrate their patron saint's day.
Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations must apply for “personeria juridica” (legal standing), which the National Assembly must approve. Once approved, the group must register with the Ministry of Government as an association or foundation.
The government frequently uses religious symbols and makes reference to religious values to advance its ideological and political agenda. Government-sponsored billboards depicted images of President Daniel Ortega with the slogan “Cristiana, Socialista, y Solidaria” (Christian, Socialist, and in Solidarity.) The Catholic Church and other evangelical churches conveyed apprehension over the government’s use of religious language to influence the population.
Missionaries must obtain religious worker visas, which must completed before arrival.
The government funded two Catholic universities and one evangelical university. Religion is not taught in public schools, but private religious schools use religious instruction of choice. Many Catholic and Protestant-affiliated primary and secondary school teachers’ salaries were government paid. However, the Catholic Church has reported that government withheld many teachers’ salaries. The government did not grant private schools teachers the same optical care as public school teachers were.
The government continued to reduce its financial support of the Catholic Church, which the church had used on education. In May 2010 the Ministry of Education proclaimed a new education policy on the values of “Solidarity, Christianity and Socialism.” It is yet to be reported if the government would require this new curriculum in private primary and secondary school classrooms.
The Evangelical church complained of the government’s lack of financial support for evangelical private schools. The group expressed more concern over the lack of government interest to meet and discuss their concerns over this matter.
On April 23, 2010, the Catholic Episcopal Conference condemned the use of religious institutions for political purposes and ordered respect for the rule of law. Religious leaders also felt limited when expressing negative remarks on government structures. A Baptist Church representative from the Council of Protestant Churches of Nicaragua (CEPAD) claimed there was a contradictory relationship between revealing thoughts and ideas that condemn government transgression and the level of admission to government services.
Some groups, including the Catholic Church, reported difficulties conducting community service programs. Catholic officials reported that they required permission from the government-sponsored Citizen Power Councils. The CPCs protested during religious activities and harassed religious leaders when they intruded upon the government’s political agenda. Evangelical administrators expressed trepidation regarding the power of the CPCs, particularly the requirement to obtain permits from the CPCs in order to hold public meetings.
CEPAD reported that the CPCs attempted to separate neighborhood committees that CEPAD organized for community outreach and development.
On August 9, 2009, followers of President Ortega assaulted members of the opposition civil society group Coordinadora Civil (Civil Coordinators or CC). They were closing their annual general assembly with a walk and a cultural event in the church-owned fields around Managua’s Catholic cathedral. No action had been taken against the attackers.
There have been no reports of religious prisoners or forced religious conversions.
2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom on Nicaragua