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Mongolia


International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, the law limits proselytizing, and some groups that seek to register face bureaucratic harassment.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of approximately 580,000 square miles, and its population is approximately 2.4 million. Buddhism and the country's traditions are tied closely, and it appears likely that almost all ethnic Mongolians (93 percent of the population) practice some form of Buddhism. Lamaist Buddhism of the Tibetan variety is the traditional and dominant religion.

Since the end of Socialist controls on religion and the country's traditions in 1990, active interest in Buddhism and its practice have grown. The Buddhist community is not completely homogeneous, and there are several competing schools, including a small group that believes that the sutras (books containing religious teachings) should be in the Mongolian language and that all members of the religious clergy should be citizens.

Kazakhs, most of whom are Muslim, are the largest of the ethnic minorities, constituting approximately 4 percent of the population nationwide and 85 percent of the population of the western province, Bayan-Olgiy. Kazakhs operate Islamic schools for their children. They sometimes receive financial assistance from religious organizations in Kazakhstan and Turkey. The Kazahks' status as the majority ethnic group in Bayan-Olgiy was established in the former Socialist period and continues in much the same circumstances.

There is a small number of Christians in the country, including Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodox, and members of some Protestant denominations. There are no nationwide statistics on the number of Christians in the country. The number of citizens who practice Christianity in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, is approximately 24,000, or 0.3 percent of the registered population of the city.

Some citizens practice shamanism, but there are no reliable statistics on their numbers.

Foreign missionary groups include Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, various evangelical Protestant groups, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, and adherents of the Baha'i Faith.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, the law limits proselytizing, and some groups that seek to register face bureaucratic harassment. The Constitution explicitly recognizes the separation of church and state. A law regulating the relationship between church and state was passed in 1993 and amended in 1995.

Although there is no state religion, traditionalists believe that Buddhism is the "natural religion" of the country. The Government has contributed to the restoration of several Buddhist sites that are important religious, historical, and cultural centers. The Government does not subsidize the Buddhist religion otherwise.

Religious groups must register with the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs. While the Ministry is responsible for registrations, local assemblies have the authority to approve applications at the local level.

Under the law, the Government may supervise and limit the number of places of worship and clergy for organized religions; however, there were no reports that the Government did so during the period covered by this report. The registration process is decentralized with several layers of bureaucracy, in which officials sometimes demand payments in exchange for authorization. In addition, registration in the capital may not be sufficient if a group intends to work in the countryside where local registration also is necessary. Some groups encountered harassment during the registration process, including demands by midlevel city officials for financial contributions in return for securing legal status. When registration was completed, the same authorities threatened some religious groups with withdrawal of approval. In general, it appears that difficulties in registering primarily are the consequence of bureaucratic action by local officials and attempts to extort financial assistance for projects not funded by the city. Of the approximately 260 temples and churches founded since 1990, approximately 239 are registered, including 151 Buddhist, 74 Christian, 5 Baha'i, 4 Muslim, 2 Catholic churches, and other organizations. Two new Christian churches were registered in Ulaanbaatar in 2002. Contacts with coreligionists outside the country are allowed.

Churches and religious groups must provide the following documentation when registering with the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs: 1) a letter from the city council or other local authority granting approval to conduct religious services, 2) a letter to the Ministry requesting that the church be registered, 3) a brief description of the church or organization, 4) the charter of the church or organization, 5) documentation of the founding of the local church or group, 6) list of church leaders or officers, 7) brief biographic information (CV) on the person conducting religious services, and 8) number of worshippers (if any).

The Ulaanbaatar City Council requires similar documentation (except for the first item) prior to granting approval to conduct religious services.

Religious instruction is not permitted in public schools. There is a school to train Buddhist lamas in Ulaanbaatar.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

While the law does not prohibit proselytizing, it limits it by forbidding the use of incentives, pressure, or deceptive methods to introduce religion. With the opening of the country following the 1990 democratic changes, religious groups began to arrive to provide humanitarian assistance and open new churches, which resulted in some friction between missionary groups and some citizens. Proselytizing by registered religious groups is allowed, although a Ministry of Education directive bans mixing foreign language or other training with religious teaching or instruction. The Government enforced this law, particularly in the capital area. Churches that violate the law may not receive an extension of their registration. If individuals violate the law, the Government may ask their employers to terminate their employment.

Some missionary groups were still in the process of registering with the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs during the period covered by this report. The process is protracted for some groups, but others are registered quickly.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Citizens generally are tolerant of the beliefs of others, and there were no reports of religiously motivated violence; however, there has been some friction between missionary groups and citizens, because in the past humanitarian assistance was accompanied by proselytizing activity. Some conservatives have criticized foreign influences on youth and children, including foreign religions and the use of incentives to attract believers.

There are no significant ecumenical movements or interfaith dialog.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. U.S. embassy officials have discussed with authorities specific registration difficulties encountered by Christian churches. These discussions focused attention on U.S. concern for religious freedom and opposition to corruption; the discussions resulted in a clarification of the requirements for registration.

The U.S. Embassy maintains regular contact with Buddhist leaders, as well as with leaders and clergy of Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, and Mormon religious groups. In addition the Embassy has met with representatives of U.S.-based religious and humanitarian organizations. The Embassy also maintains contact with the staff of the local office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the U.N. Development Program to discuss human rights and religious freedom.

During the reporting period, the Ambassador called on both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Minister of Justice to highlight the importance the U.S. Government places on religious freedom, with a particular focus on the issue of religious broadcasting.



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