Honduras

Country Profile

 

 

 

 

  • Population:9,746,117
  • Main Language: Spanish
  • Official Religion: None
  • Main Religion: Predominantly Christian and majority Catholic
  • Other Religions: Buddhists, ethnoreligious, Hindus, Judaism, Muslims, among others
  • President: Juan Orlando Hernández (2014 – 2022)

*Upcoming presidential elections: November 28, 2021

The Constitution states that Honduras is a sovereign State of law, constituted as a free, democratic, and independent republic, with a republican, democratic, and representative form of government.

The Honduran constitutional block is made up of the Constitution, the laws, and the signed treaties. In case of conflict between the treaty or convention and the Law, the former shall prevail.

Regulations establish that the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial powers are complementary and independent and do not have subordination relationships, however, this does not apply in practice since the Executive Power has managed to co-opt all checks and balances.

The erosion of the rule of law and democracy have contributed to political instability, deep-rooted corruption and impunity, and serious human rights violations in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has been used by President Juan Orlando Hernández and by the party that represents the “National Party” to reinforce the channels of corruption in the government elite and to intimidate not only the political opposition but also the civil population opposed to the regime.

Human rights defenders, when they make use of their right to freedom of expression or when they denounce acts of corruption by authorities, are constant victims of attacks by state and non-state actors in conspiracy with the government or its political allies.

Due to the aforementioned characteristics, various local and foreign civil society organizations have classified Honduras as a dictatorship with a democratic façade and with solid connections with drug trafficking.

General Description of the State of Religious Freedom

At the normative level, the right to religious freedom is protected as follows:

Figure 1: Religious Freedom – Main legal framework

Church-State Freedom of religion Political participation of religious leaders Education Tax exemption Military Service/Spiritual attention Armed Forces
Constitution of the Republic of Honduras
Decree 226-2001
Decree 144-83
Decree 44-2004 Decree 262-2011 Decree 134-90

Decree 98-84

Own elaboration

Honduras is a country whose religious population is mainly composed of Christians and among them, Catholics are the largest group and with a broad historical presence in the country.

In addition to the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Confraternity of Honduras is among the religious groups with the greatest presence in the public space. It is an organization that associates various churches and evangelical institutions in Honduras, although there are other evangelical churches not attached to this movement. We also find the Inter-Church Forum of Honduras, made up of various leaders and pastors from different churches and religious entities, an organization dedicated to the fight for respect for the secular state, freedom of expression, worship, and religion.

Other minority religious groups present in the country include Jews, Bahamians, Muslims, Buddhists, and indigenous religions. These groups do not enjoy the same level of public representation as the most traditional churches or religions in the country.

In the country, the free exercise of all religions and cults without any preeminence is guaranteed as long as it does not contravene laws and public order. Likewise, it is established that national education must be secular and that parents will have a preferential right to choose the type of education for their children.

Regarding the relationship between the Church and the government, ministers of the various religions are not allowed to hold public office or carry out political propaganda invoking religious motives. It is important to mention that in 2019 it was sought to eliminate the prohibition of ministers of worship to hold public office in the country, even a sector of evangelical pastors sought to create the political party “Transformación Honduras”, but without success, since the constitutional prohibition maintains.

Catholic and evangelical leaders have influence in the social sphere. The church has become one of the few institutions that enjoy a high degree of trust, unlike state institutions, of which there is a high level of mistrust due to corruption scandals.

Although religious groups have at some point collaborated with the government, participated in political events, or been involved in government discussions on issues of social importance, they have also denounced the anti-democratic policies of President Juan Orlando Hernández on more than one occasion. They not only spoke out against the irregular re-election of the president in 2017, but also in recent months, they were vocal against the breakdown of the rule of law, the paralysis of the economy, the sale of the country’s natural resources, and have also criticized the recent reform of the Penal Code, which far from guaranteeing justice, reduces the penalties in cases of corruption and drug trafficking, thus becoming one more legal resource to favor impunity in the country.

In this context, activities related to humanitarian assistance carried out by religious leaders or confessional organizations critical of the government or not alienated from its interests have also suffered the consequences of the repression of the political opposition. Apparently, facing the presidential elections to be held in November 2021, humanitarian assistance would be becoming politicized since support is usually directed to municipalities with authorities related to the Government’s political party. If civil society organizations, including religious ones, do not accept the guidelines of local authorities for the distribution of aid, that is, if they do not accept the bias or arbitrariness in said distribution, obstacles are imposed either with respect to permits, logistics, or others.

It is very likely that as the government in power becomes engrained, more situations of censorship and intimidation will be identified against religious groups critical of the government, not only because in Honduras there is a history of repression against these leaders by state agents and/or criminal groups that act in collusion with local authorities, but also because this dynamic has already been observed in other countries of the region with governments of authoritarian tendency, a profile that the Honduran government seems to follow.

A. The regulation of religion by organized crime

In the country there are local criminal gangs and other criminal organizations with national presence, among the latter are the Mara Salvatrucha – MS 13 and the Barrio 18 gang, which have become the de facto authorities of various communities, mainly in urban areas such as Tegucigalpa, Comayagüela, and San Pedro de Sula.

The main source of financing for these gangs is extortion, although they carry out extremely violent acts, either during clashes for control of their territories or as a form of retaliation against those who do not comply with their rules. In this context, many churches are also forced to adapt to the norms imposed by the gangs.

It is important to clarify that the criminal practices carried out by the gangs are not directly aimed at disappearing the Church and Christianity of Honduras for doctrinal reasons. A religious group is not attacked if the gang members have some degree of closeness to the Church, if, on the contrary, they consider that the activities of the church endanger the interests of the gang, the group or religious leaders and their families become the target of retaliation. Religious groups must comply with requesting the corresponding authorizations and must pay extortion fees to the gangs that control the area where they carry out their activities. In the same way, these activities must be carried out at the times allowed by the gangs.

Another important aspect to bear in mind is that, in certain areas, religious leaders do not actively evangelize young people as this would mean interfering with the source of recruitment for the gangs. Only some young people from the community can participate in church activities, always under permanent surveillance by the gangs.

One of the factors that contribute to the greater territorial control of gangs in Honduras is the deterioration of the rule of law due to the high level of corruption, as gang members infiltrate government spaces by themselves or in alliance with local authorities. This network increases impunity and not only allows the development of criminal activities with the acquiescence of security or military elements, but also implies a lack of institutional guarantees for victims at the administrative-judicial level. On occasion, authorities use the maras as the violent arm of the government to subdue or intimidate sectors related to the opposition.

On the other hand, while joining a church is a form of exit allowed by gang leaders, this does not fully ensure the integrity of the former gang member. If the gang identifies a behavior that is suspicious or alien to the Christian life – under the criteria of the gang – this means for the convert the risk of being recruited again or being assassinated if he does not accept. Also, this does not imply escape the violence of rival gangs.

B. Hostility to religious expressions by state and non-state actors

In Honduras, religious leaders are prohibited from holding public office or making political statements.

Some authorities, radical secular groups and citizens press for the opinions and manifestations of religious groups in the public sphere to be censored or sanctioned under nondiscrimination regulations or in the context of a radical interpretation of the principle of Church-State separation. Christians in the country are particularly those who are criticized, defamed or accused of being intolerant and transgressors of human rights when, following the principles of their faith, they motivate the population to express or they themselves express their views based on faith on issues related to the rejection of abortion, the defense of marriage or family.

In recent months, in addition to cases of verbal violence against Christian religious communities, there have also been various cases of vandalism of churches of worship by radical feminist groups, as signs of rejection of the position of the Church against abortion.

Another reason for intolerance towards religious groups, especially towards an evangelical sector, is the close relationship that some of their leaders have with the government authorities. This approach is interpreted by some as complicity or acceptance of the repressive or corrupt measures of the regime.

Religious freedom and the COVID-19 pandemic

In March 2020, among the first steps taken by the government to address the pandemic, a state of emergency was decreed and all public governmental and non-governmental events and shows, with the exception of churches, were canceled. Churches were exhorted to follow the corresponding prevention measures. However, a few days later, the National Risk Management System noted as part of the strategy of closing businesses and companies, the suspension of face-to-face religious celebrations among other activities that were not part of trade and industry.

In June 2020, the country was divided into three regions according to contagion statistics and an intelligent opening scheme was implemented, through which commerce was authorized according to the percentage of the labor force, in accordance with the authorized regions and using the biosecurity protocols established by the Secretariat of Labour and Social Security. The guidelines of this reopening indicated that churches could carry out their liturgical and worship activities according to the percentage of each region applied to the capacity of their temples or premises and their faithful could gather on the corresponding day of circulation, according to the official circulation schedule except children, older adults and people with chronic diseases.

The opening process had progress and setbacks as levels of contagion varied by region. In some cities, progressing the reopening phases from level 0 to level 1 or 2 took months.

Liturgical and worship activities, as well as the presence of faithful, continued to be conditioned on the degree of contagion in the regions and the compliance with biosecurity protocols such as social distancing, temperature measurement, and others identified in the COVID-19 Biosafety Protocol for religious practice and activities centers. The prohibition of public activities does not allow activities outside temples, such as processions.

While some religious leaders held religious gatherings clandestinely, most religious groups abided by the standards and agreed with the gradual reopening of temples.

With regard to religious activities in gang-co-opted areas, it is important to note that, during the pandemic, gangs took advantage of quarantine, curfews, and other measures to strengthen their control.

Although the regulatory framework has gradually enabled the development of religious celebrations in person, the degree of violence and insecurity as a result of increased control of the maras, coupled with the government’s almost absolute approach to controlling the health crisis and inefficient management of criminal groups, have jeopardized the human security of religious leaders.

Many Christian leaders, especially those located in gang territories, are subjected to the escalation of violence and increased insecurity, they can only carry out their work as long as they have the authorization of these groups, even if the activities related to humanitarian assistance.

Similarly, religious leaders known for their work with young people to prevent them from enlisting in the ranks of these criminal groups, those who denounce the illegal activities of these groups, or whose moral influence in the community endanger gang control, become an easier target to locate due to activity closures, immobilization orders, and curfews. With regard to the humanitarian work or assistance of religious communities addressed to the most neglected social sectors, they are also conditioned on the authorization of gangs according to the territory in which they are carried out.

Likewise, the COVID-19 context and the recent natural disasters that hit the country have led to greater opportunities and government powers to obtain and allocate donations and other local and international aid. In this scenario, the delivery of donations from religious groups directly to the most vulnerable people has sometimes been hampered not only as a result of the degree of corruption within the political class and authorities but also because the goods are sought to be distributed especially among political activists or municipalities related to the current political party.

Violent Incidents Database

The Violent Incident Database (VID) is a service by the Observatory of Religious Freedom in Latin America, designed to collect, record, and analyze violent incidents related to violations of religious freedom.

In many cases, the limitations on religious freedom previously explained have led to violent incidents in the country, both against religious leaders or religious groups and even against places of worship, among others.

The following cases reported on the platform, illustrate the state of religious freedom in the country:

  • Walls of the Tegucigalpa Cathedral were vandalized with offensive messages: In commemoration of International Women’s Day, radical feminist groups posted messages on church walls. The written messages were “Religion-VIRUS”, “Genocidal Church”, “Neither the church, nor the state, I decide”, “safe abortion”, “Get your rosaries out of our ovaries”, “God bless this business”, ” Rape priests ”.
  • The son of an evangelical pastor was killed by gunshot wounds at his home: Young David Baide, the son of a pastor, was shot dead by gangs outside his home. The young man also dedicated himself to serving the church.
  • The Jesuit priest Ismael “Padre Melo” Moreno Coto denounced publicly having received death threats for his management of a radio station and NGO, as well as his opposition to the reelection of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Figure 2: Violent incidents reported in Honduras (2018-2020)

Incidents 2018 2019 2020
Killings 5 1 5
(Attempts) to destroy Churches or Christian buildings 3 2 3
Closed Churches or Christian buildings 0 0 0
Arrests 0 0 0
Sentences 0 0 0
Abductions 3 0 0
Sexual Assaults 0 0 0
Forced Marriages 0 0 0
Other forms of attack (physical or mental abuse) 20 0 10
Attacked Christian houses 0 0 0
Attacked Christian shops or businesses 1 0 0
Forced to leave Home 0 0 0
Forced to leave Country 0 0 0

Information and/or data from previous years can be found on our Violent Incidents Database

Indicators

Index Variables Honduras
World Watch List, Open Doors International (2021) Private sphere 6.8
Family sphere 5.0
Community sphere 10.6
National sphere 7.6
Church sphere 9.0
Violence 7.6
Total score 46
Global Uptick in Government Restrictions on Religion in 2016
Pew Research Center (2018)
Government Restrictions Index (GRI) 2.8
Social Hostilities Index (SHI) 1.2
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) 2.3
Government Religious Preference composite score – non-preferred religion (NPRFGRP) 1.2
The Main Religion and State Dataset
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
Official Religion (SAX) No
Official Support (SBX) Multi-level preferences 1: a religion is clearly preferred by the state, which receives the most benefits, there are one or more levels of religions that receive less benefits than the preferred religion but more than some other religions.
Religious Discrimination Against Minority Religions (MXX) 11
Regulation of and Restrictions on the Majority Religion or All Religions (NXX) 11
Specific Types of Religious Support (LXX) 3
Societal Module
Religion and State Project, Bar-Ilan University (2014)
Discrimination, harassment, acts of prejudice and violence against minority religions: General (WSOCDISX2014) 1
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) 0
Societal regulation of religion (WSOCREGX2014) 0
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)
Animists
2
Jehovahs Witnesses
Jews
Muslims 2
Protestants 2
International Religious Freedom Data
The Association of Religion Date Archives (2008)
Government Regulation of Religion Index (GRI_08) 0.3
Government Favoritism of Religion Index (GFI_08) 2.1
Social Regulation of Religion Index (MSRI_08) 1.2
Religious Freedom Rating
Hudson Institute (2007)
Religious Freedom Scale

For more data about the indicators click here.

Public Policy Recommendations

  • It is necessary to renew the mandate of the Mission of Support Against Corruption and Impunity of the Organization of American States, in order for it to continue its collaboration in the prevention, investigation, and punishment of acts of corruption.
  • It is imperative that the government promote a restructuring of the public security system to eradicate all corrupt elements within the government structure and thus seek to eradicate the presence and criminal control over some areas of the country.
  • In order to reduce the vulnerability of religious groups that work in the most neglected areas of the country, it is necessary to recognize the situations of risk and danger to which they are exposed in the development of their mission, especially in areas co-opted by criminal groups.
  • The government must implement more mechanisms for dialogue and participation of all religious groups so that everyone is heard and be equally represented in public space.
  • The government, when calling new elections, must guarantee sufficient requirements for a transparent and democratic electoral process, respecting the civil and political rights of all citizens.

Publications

 

Recent posts

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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