Last Updated 13 July 2017

Chile consists of several religious populations. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion that coexists with Protestants, Evangelicals, other religious groups as well as a significant and growing proportion of the non-religious or religiously unaffiliated, which occasionally face discrimination. The Chilean Constitution assures freedom of religion and separation of church and state, but religion has a significant influence over public policy and education.

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

A constitutionally secular state, the Constitution grants freedom of belief and practice that are not opposed to “morality, good customs or the public order”. Churches may be officially recognised as long as they meet security and hygiene conditions under the law.

The rights to form nongovernmental organizations and to assemble peacefully are largely respected. Tthe government routinely gave permits for student demonstrations starting in 2011, however police allegedly used excessive force against protesters. Although the law protects worker and union rights, the use of anti-union practices by private emplpoyers are commonly reported.

Religious privileges

Churches and their dependencies that exclusively serve their communities receive tax exemptions. A law created in 1999 made religious discrimination illegal and placed a legislative emphasis on the separation of church and state in an attempt to incorporate Chile’s growing Protestant and Evangelical minority. However, the government often gives preferential treatment to the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic chaplains also have a privileged status in the army.

Education and children’s rights

The notion of personal, secular worldviews is not openly treated within the education system.

Due to the religion’s prominence in history, Catholic doctrine is usually incorporated into the public school curriculum, despite efforts to diversify it. Publicly subsidized schools are required to offer religious education two teaching hours per week through high school; although parents may decide to have their children omit religious education. Religious instruction in public schools is almost exclusively Catholic, although the Ministry of Education approved curricula for 14 other religious groups. Schools must teach the religion requested by the parents, but enforcement of this requirement is weak.

Family, community and society

One 2015 source puts the number of religiously “unaffiliated” at 25% of the population.

However, Chilean society remains strongly influenced by the Churches and religious beliefs, in particular around national state events. The Churches and beliefs are carry signficiant influence on public policy, and in mass media.

Harassment of religious minorities

Jewish organizations have reported anti-Semitic incidents, including desecration of their religious property. The indigenous Mapuche, some of whom still practice indigenous religions, have had their tribal lands and way of life encroached by the government. Prominent Mapuche tribal leaders have been arrested and detained by Chilean authorities. Religious leaders have made attempts to mediate between the government and tribal leaders but there was not much success.

Disputes regarding religious freedom

Chilean citizens have the right to apply for judicial relief, the ‘Recurso de Protección’ (“constitutional action”) (Article 20), against any arbitrary or illegal acts or threat of their religious freedom. However, these are rare situations partially due to the nation’s tendency not to legalize conflicts, and perhaps also partially due to the caution that beliefs are treated with as they may be just matters of devotion. Jehovah’s witnesses seeking judicial review in cases of blood transfusions had received relatively high publicity. A case with greater media coverage had been the denial of the possibility of showing the film The Last Temptation of Christ. The International Court of Human Rights crushed the decision considering that this did not deprive or diminish religious freedom. The court ordered the exhibition of the film and a reform to the national law.

Demographic trend toward irreligiosity

The number of religious citizens in Chile may create the impression that being religious is a great factor as much in social life as in the national legal order, but statistics have shown a decline in the Catholic faith and increase in non-believers. Although there is a high regard for religious support in the community (79.4 percent), moral behavior does not necessarily correlate with religion because it is considered possible to live a moral life without belief in God (75.3 percent). Religious support is considered a personal choice. 80.7 percent of people surveyed prefer that their children decide for themselves on matters of religious beliefs and not try to influence them too much.


Chile has strict law against abortion. Enacted during the Pinochet dictatorship, the law establishes that abortion, under any circumstances, is a “crime against family order and public morality”. Therefore, clandestine abortions are performed in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, and are responsible for at least 12% of maternal deaths. Women’s movements are calling for sex education to enable women and girls to make their own choices, for greater access to contraceptives, and for the legalization of abortion. There are major challenges to reform in the face of social conservatism, opposition from the most influential churches, and a lack of political will.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of speech is generally respected, though some laws prohibiting defamation of state institutions remain. Two right-leaning companies dominate the print media, though the television market is highly diverse. In 2008, a freedom of information law was enacted and received praise from civil society groups. However, in 2012, the police had detained and harassed many reporters while they were covering student protests.


“…To declare as a non-believer or atheist causes surprise and mistrust. It is perceived almost as trheateneing as that status was never considered as a valid option in training and education. The option of being atheist or agnostic is not included as an option to choose…

The recent governments have been pressured to adhere more faithfully to the secular nature of the Constitution, but instead what they have done is to recognize the existence of other religions. This has resulted in the evangelical churches, Jewish, orthodoxreligiosn and other minority faiths (but not atheism) [being included] in national events…”

— Anonymous

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