El Salvador

Last Updated 10 November 2016

El Salvador, officially the Republic of El Salvador, is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America.

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Constitution and government

The constitution and other laws and policies guarantee freedom of religion or belief, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association. The constitution states that all persons are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination based on nationality, race, gender, or religion. But it also gives special and official recognition to the Catholic Church.

Religious privileges and exemptions

The constitution states that religious groups other than the Catholic Church may also apply for official recognition. The law grants tax-exempt status to all officially recognized religious groups. Regulations also make donations to officially recognized religious groups tax-deductible. The same advantage is not extended to comparable non-religious groups.

By law, the Ministry of Governance has authority to register, regulate, and oversee the finances of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), non-Catholic churches, and other religious groups. The law specifically exempts the Catholic Church from the registration requirement.

Education and children’s rights

Public education is secular. Private religious schools operate freely. All private schools, whether religious or secular, must meet the same standards to obtain Ministry of Education approval.

Family, community and society

The penal code imposes criminal sentences of six months to two years on those who publicly offend or insult the religious beliefs of others, or damage or destroy religious objects. If such acts are carried out with and for the purpose of publicity, sentences increase to one to three years in prison. Repeat offenders face prison sentences of three to eight years. There have been no prosecutions under this law.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and media freedom, and these rights are generally respected in practice. However, the power of violent criminal gangs in El Salvador has sometimes resulted in threats and violence against journalists who reported on gang activities, including alleged connections between gangs, politicians and business leaders.  There is unrestricted access to the internet, and the government and business have worked to expand internet access to underserved communities.

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