General description of the state of religious freedom

The dynamics of religious freedom in Colombia are to a large degree comparable to Mexico’s, with the biggest difference being that the state regulation of religion is much less severe. Since the adoption of the 1991 Constitution (article 19, ratified by the 1994 religious freedom law), the separation between the Catholic Church and the state was implemented, and religious freedom was fully recognized. The available data on Colombia collected by the Religion and State Project points to a univocal conclusion: government involvement in religion is limited, especially in comparison to Mexico. Not only has Colombia no official religion, the levels of religious discrimination and religious regulation are low. Putting some sporadic elements of favoritism of the majority religion (Catholicism) aside, it can be concluded that the relation between religion and state is not putting any religious minority in a vulnerable position. This statement holds true when observing the religious freedom situation at the national level, but completely ignores very different subnational realities.

First of all, there is the atypical situation of the indigenous reserves where religious freedom for minorities is not guaranteed. Converts to Christianity are seen as a threat to the power of local fiefs and indigenous ancestral traditions, and are particularly vulnerable to suffer human rights abuses. Because of the far-reaching self-government rights of indigenous reserves, it is nearly impossible for the Colombian state to guarantee religious freedom. Converts to Christianity in indigenous communities face all forms of harassment and discrimination, including exclusion from basic social services. Faith-based schools are hardly tolerated. In the church sphere, religious freedom is also very much restricted, as any religious activity is considered a threat to the political power of indigenous leaders.

Large areas of the country continue to be under the control of criminal organizations, drug cartels, revolutionaries, and paramilitary groups. In a context of generalized impunity, all inhabitants of Colombia suffer from the conflict that has lasted for decades, but actively practicing believers are specifically vulnerable to such hostilities. Notwithstanding the peace agreement that was adopted between the Colombian government and FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in 2016, the country is not becoming safer. The peace agreement has not been implemented in the way that was expected. As a result, dissident factions have taken control of the areas previously controlled by the FARC, joining criminal gangs who operate within a context of impunity, corruption, anarchy, drug wars, and structural violence. Within such a framework, actively practicing believers are a vulnerable group that, because of its mere presence, constitutes a threat to the hegemony of criminal organizations. Active religious practice represents an alternative way to behave in society, especially for young people, which makes churches a direct competitor of criminal organizations.


Violent incidents database

Colombia 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Killings 0 1 11 7 0 2 2 7
(Attempts) to destroy Churches or Christian buildings 0 0 1 2 0 0 2 15
Closed Churches or Christian buildings 0 2 151 11 0 0 0 3
Arrests 0 0 12 1 3 0 0 5
Sentences 0 0 0 0 0 0 7 5
Abductions 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 0
Sexual Assaults 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5
Forced Marriages 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Other forms of attack (physical or mental abuse) 1 39 545 206 12 3 9 163
Attacked Christian houses 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 3
Attacked Christian shops or businesses 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
Forced to leave Home 0 0 34 173 119 1 18 91
Forced to leave Country 0 38 6 0 0 0 0 2

For more data search the Violent Incidents Database.



Index Variables Colombia
World Watch List, Open Doors International (2019) Private sphere 7.9
Family sphere 7.6
Community sphere 11.8
National sphere 9.4
Church sphere 8.5
Violence 12.6
Total score 45.2
Global Uptick in Government Restrictions on Religion in 2016
Pew Research Center (2018)
Government Restrictions Index (GRI) 3.1
Social Hostilities Index (SHI) 2.3
Government religious preference, Religious Characteristics of States Data Project
Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion (2015)
Government Religious Preference composite score – preferred religion (PRFGRP) 2.7
Government Religious Preference composite score – non-preferred religion (NPRFGRP) 1.3
The Main Religion and State Dataset
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
Official Religion (SAX) No
Official Support (SBX) Multi-Tiered Preferences 1: one religion is clearly preferred by state, receiving the most benefits, there exists one or more tiers of religions which receive less benefits than the preferred religion but more than some other religions.
Religious Discrimination Against Minority Religions (MXX) 2
Regulation of and Restrictions on the Majority Religion or All Religions (NXX) 2
Specific Types of Religious Support (LXX) 6
Societal Module
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence against minority religions: General (WSOCDISX2014) 5
Minority actions of Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence – Against the majority religion (WMIN2MAJX2014) 0
Minority actions of Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence – Against the other minority religions (WMIN2MINX2014) 1
Societal regulation of religion (WSOCREGX2014) 1
CIRI Human Rights Data Project (2011) Freedom of religion (NEW_RELFRE) 2
Religion and State-Minorities Dataset
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
Governmental Discrimination (MMXX2014)
Jehovahs Witnesses
Jews 1
Muslims 1
Protestants 1
International Religious Freedom Data
The Association of Religion Date Archives (2008)
Government Regulation of Religion Index (GRI_08) 3.1
Government Favoritism of Religion Index (GFI_08) 7.7
Social Regulation of Religion Index (MSRI_08) 6.8
Religious Freedom Rating
Hudson Institute (2007)
Religious Freedom Scale 5

For more data on our indicators click here.


Public policy recommendations

  • The international community should assist in training officials of the Colombian authorities to help them implement effective policies that protect the human rights of the indigenous population without undermining their traditional autonomy, self-determination, and identity. Additionally, it should promote and invest in programs on tolerance and groups identity so that converts from traditional religions can still be considered part of their indigenous communities despite the change of their faith or belief. By doing so, the living conditions of those members who have converted to Christianity can be improved.
  • The international community should urgently press the Colombian government to prioritize and investigate cases of killings of Human Right Defenders, including faith leaders and to speed-up peace negotiations with the remaining guerrilla groups in the country so that they can relinquish their control of marginalized areas for the citizens in these regions – especially Christians – to live their lives without fear.
  • The International Community should consider funding research programs to analyze cases of religious freedom violations, to ensure the protection of faith leaders and other faith adherents in the current peacebuilding process in Colombia. At the same time, The UN Security Council should explicitly and fully recognize that faith leaders are Human Right Defenders and should acknowledge the specific vulnerability that comes from being a figure of prominence in their communities. In this context, the UN Security Council should mandate the UN Verification Mission in Colombia to promote and support programs aimed at protecting faith leaders and their families from the violence of illegal armed groups and criminal organizations.





Policy Brief: Colombia

Ensuring the Fundamental Rights of Faith Adherents


Organized crime in Colombia: What does it mean for religious minorities?


Country Overviews and Case Studies of Mexico, Colombia, and Cuba

Briefing prepared for the Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the UK Foreign Secretary of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support for Persecuted Christians

Mexico; Colombia; Cuba

General overview of persecution of Christians in Latin America

Regional; Mexico; Colombia; Cuba

Religious Freedom in Latin America – Lecture at Regent’s Park College, Oxford – 20 March 2017

Regional; Mexico; Colombia; Cuba

Revisiting Sphere Sovereignty To Interpret Restrictions On Religious Freedom


Transcript – Challenges to Religious Freedom in the Americas – Hearing before the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the Committee on Foreign Affairs – US House of Representatives

Regional; Mexico; Colombia; Cuba; Venezuela; Bolivia; Brazil

“Challenges to religious freedom in the Americas” – Testimony before the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Regional; Mexico; Colombia; Cuba; Venezuela; Bolivia; Brazil


Recent posts

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Lecture of Dennis P. Petri at Regent’s Park College, Oxford – 20 March 2017

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Subcommittee Hearing: Challenges to Religious Freedom in the Americas

The Observatory of Religious Freedom in Latin America is a program of the Foundation Platform for Social Transformation, a registered charity in Voorburg, The Netherlands under Chamber of Commerce #50264249.

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