| Religious Freedom Ranking:
1.5 out of 5 stars: Poor
Cuba has an area of 68,888 sq. miles and a population of about 11.5 million. About 60 percent of the population is Catholic, Protestants make up 5 percent, and other groups include Greek and Russian Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Baha’is, and Mormons. Only 1,111 of the 6,000 to 8,000 Muslims in the country are Cubans. The rest are temporary residents.
The Constitution recognizes the right of citizens to practice their faith. However, in practice, the government places serious restrictions on freedom of religion. It does not favor any particular religion or church, but as an officially atheistic regime, its policies create major obstacles to religious believers. It relates officially with religious groups through the Office of Religious Affairs of the Cuban Communist Party. It is illegal and punishable by law to oppose one’s faith or religious belief to the Cuban Revolution, to official education, or to the fulfillment of one’s duty to work, defend the homeland with arms, show reverence for its symbols and fulfill other duties established by the Constitution.
In 1991 the government of Cuba allowed religious adherents to join the Communist Party for the first time. However, relatively few believers avail themselves of this opportunity, since the CP remains officially atheistic. Nevertheless, in 1992, the Constitution was amended to prohibit religious discrimination. References to “scientific socialism” as the basis of the state were also removed.
In spite of these changes, however, persecution of religion continues. The government requires religious groups to register with the provincial registry of associations. It forbids virtually all construction of new churches. Because church membership has been growing in recent years, this sometimes forces believers to gather in private homes in violation of the law. Authorities have warned religious leaders in Havana that if private houses of worship are not closed they will impose fines, imprison leaders and withdraw official recognition of offending religious denominations. Evangelical churches have reported evictions from and bulldozing of houses used for private worship. In recent years permission has been given to repair and restore existing churches, which allows for expansion of some structures. New buildings have also been approved to be constructed on the foundations of old ones.
Interestingly, the Cuban government has relaxed restrictions on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Members of this faith had previously been considered “active religious enemies of the Revolution” due to their refusal to salute the flag or join the military, etc. The government has authorized the Witnesses to hold small assemblies, to open a central office in Havana, and to publish the “Watchtower” and other religious tracts.
In January of 1998, Pope John Paul II paid an historic visit to Cuba. Prior to the visit, the Castro Regime authorized the first public mass since 1961 on June 29. The mass for about 4000 persons took place outside of Havana’s Cathedral. The ceremony was held to celebrate the 19th anniversary of the election of John Paul II as Pope and to kick off preparations for his upcoming visit. The government provided security, drinking water, and sanitation facilities and provided print and television coverage of the event. Since the visit, there has been some improvement in relations between the government and the Catholic Church. The government has allowed several dozen priests and members of religious orders to travel to Cuba and join the work of the church. In addition, Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega has been able to broadcast two messages by radio.
In 1998, the government also reinstated Christmas as a state holiday. Christmas had not been recognized officially in Cuba since 1969.
Foreign missionary groups work through the recognized churches. To hold events outside religious buildings, one must request permission from the Ministry of Justice.
2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report on Cuba