Last Updated 5 October 2018

The Republic of Colombia is predominantly Christian and majority Catholic. It has suffered a low intensity conflict over decades, which has now significantly diminished. The relatively recent constitution of 1991 established a presidential representative democratic republic.

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the right to the freedoms of expression, association and assembly. The constitution specifically prohibits religious discrimination. However, the Roman Catholic Church retains a privileged position with the Colombian state.

Catholic privilege

A 1973 concordat between Colombia and the Vatican replaced the clause in the Constitution of 1886 that had established the Catholic Church as the official religion with one stating that “Roman Catholicism is the religion of the great majority of Colombians.” In its own explanation of this change, the Colombian government said that it was not establishing an official religion but merely declaring that it regards the Catholic religion as being of “fundamental importance to the public welfare and the full development of the community.”

Subsequently, the 1991 constitution mandated separation of church and state, stating that there is no official church or religion, and added that the state “is not atheist or agnostic, nor indifferent to Colombians’ religious sentiment.” Some observers interpret the constitutional assertion that the state “is not atheist or agnostic, nor indifferent to Colombians’ religious sentiment” to mean that the state unofficially endorses a privileged position for Catholicism—the predominant “religious sentiment” of Colombians, and in practice there remains Catholic privilege. A 1994 Constitutional Court decision declared unconstitutional any official government reference to a religious characterization of the country.

Education and children’s rights

The revision of the Concordat between Colombia and the Vatican (027/93) declared Catholic influence on education unconstitutional.

The constitution establishes the right of parents to choose the type of education that their children receive, including religious instruction. However, it also states that no student shall be forced to receive religious education in public schools.

Bigotry in schools

Nevertheless, there have been incidents of bigotry in relation to compulsory worship and conservative moral norms in schools.

A district school in Bogotá obliged students to wait for their parents while kneeling down to an image of the Virgin Mary; when a parent asked for his daughter to be exempted from this activity, it resulted in the teacher picking on her and insinuating she would fail the academic year.

Sergio David Urrego Reyes was a middle school student attending a private Catholic school near Bogotá. In May 2014, due to a photo saved on his phone which depicted him and his boyfriend kissing, he was referred to the School Counselor and told that he was in breach of the school’s regulation that prohibited “obscene, grotesque or vulgar PDA [public displays of affection] on and off school property”. After a parent-teacher conference, where the students were forced to reveal their relationship to their parents, Sergio was expelled. Denying any discrimination against homosexuality, the school informed the parents that Sergio would be allowed back on the condition that he went to therapy every month until graduation. After his boyfriend’s parents sued Sergio for sexual harassment, despite their relationship being consensual, Sergio committed suicide.

The headmistress in this case allegedly referred to Sergio as an “anarchist, atheist and homosexual”. The group Voto Católico (Catholic Vote), one of the conservative groups that defended the school, published a note which read: “The authorities, rather than trying to indict the school headmistress and use the case as an excuse to annihilate Religious Freedom, should be alarmed by the popularity that suicidal ideologies are gaining amongst Colombian teenagers.”

Family, community and society

Intolerance of atheistic beliefs is reported to be common.

Illiberal religious influence on social issues

Although Colombia has a solid framework for secularism, the Secular state is still in the process of consolidation. The state has not been able to completely separate itself from religion, especially from the Catholic Church.

Before 1991, it was illegal to register a religious body that wasn’t part of the Catholic Church until the constitutional change that allowed other groups to become established. Freedom of religion as a result has become increasingly tolerated and the proportion of non-religious people is estimated to be around 18 percent.

Pressure from religious groups has increased in the last decade. These groups have been advocating against state secularism, thereby threatening the rights of religious and sexual minorities, women and non-religious individuals.

Religious leaders often use their position as a majority as a legitimizing factor to impose religious dogma on the whole population. In 2011, Monsignor Juan Vicente Córdoba stated:

“Right now I speak in behalf of all Evangelical Christians, all Catholics, Jews and Muslims, that means we’re talking here about 99% of the Colombian population. I would ask the Court to consider not trampling on the culture, principles and religion of a nation.”

Abortion and access to certain vaccines are still illegal following push-back from religious fundamentalist groups.

LGBT rights

LGBT rights in Colombia have been acknowledged by the Constitutional Court through a gradual process. Although there are no laws discriminating against the LGBT community, civil servants often prioritize their own religious beliefs over the Colombian constitution and the principles of non-discrimination.

In 2011, the Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled that same-sex couples should be recognised as a family unit. In November 2015 it ruled that excluding same-sex couples from being able to adopt a child “limited children’s right to a family”.

Senator Viviane Morales, leader of the “Sign for Mom and Dad campaign”, campaigned for a public referendum on overturning the ruling. Two million Colombians signed the petition and 45 senators from Colombia’s Democratic Center and Conservative parties backed the initiative, but the Senate rejected the call.


In 2006, Sentence C-355 decriminalized abortion in three exceptional circumstances. Christian civil servants have made an effort to reverse this partial decriminalization.

Prayer at the Congress and City Councils

Since 2007, Council sessions in Cartagena have begun with a prayer, a practice introduced to: “recover the religious principles of the city”. When seven councilors motioned to remove this obligation, they were overruled by majority vote. In 2015, Miguel Ángel Garcés sued the District for failing to uphold secular principles. When the verdict in his favour was made public, evangelical leaders organized a public protest.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, and the media are free and diverse. The constitution also protects the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of association.


However all these rights are restricted in practice by violence. Dozens of journalists have been murdered since the mid-1990s, many for reporting on drug trafficking and corruption. Most of the cases remain unsolved, and threats of violence remain commonplace. The government does not restrict access to the internet or censor websites.

Religious threat to artistic expression

Catholic and Evangelical fundamentalists have attempted to censor music, photography, visual arts and films.

In one pivotal case, in August 2014, the artist María Eugenia Trujillo was scheduled to premiere her exhibition “Concealed Women”, which featured works in which vaginas and other parts of the female body appeared in scenes related to religious imagery. The exhibition was called off by a provisional order provoked by 75 writs claiming that the exhibit breached Article 19 of the Constitution, the article which guarantees freedom of religion. ‘Voto Católico (Catholic Vote)’, which supported the censorship, declared: “This exposition is, intentionally, an act of symbolic violence against the Catholic community and an open insult to God.” The decision to suspend the exhibit was later overturned by the Ministry of Culture.

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