The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. Provided that religious practices do not breach the peace, religious expression is unrestricted.
The government does not specifically promote any religion; however, a Christian prayer is recited at the opening of every parliamentary session.
During the year, the government-funded Human Rights Commission (HRC) continued the implementation of its 2007 Statement on Religious Diversity, which aims to assure equal treatment of all religious groups under the law, the right to safety for religious individuals and communities, freedom of religious expression, the right to recognition and reasonable accommodation for religious groups, and the promotion of understanding in education. The HRC facilitated a national interfaith network with a monthly electronic newsletter.
The law provides that teaching within public primary schools “shall be entirely of a secular character;” however, it also permits religious instruction and observances in state primary schools within certain parameters. If the school committee in consultation with the principal or head teacher so determines, any class may be closed at any time of the school day for the purposes of religious instruction given by voluntary instructors; however, attendance at religious instruction or observances is not compulsory. According to the Ministry of Education, public secondary schools also may permit religious instruction at the discretion of individual school boards. The ministry does not keep data on how many schools permit religious instruction or observances; however, the curriculum division stated that religious instruction, if provided at a school, usually is scheduled after normal school hours.
Citizens may file complaints of unlawful discrimination to the HRC under the Human Rights Act. In the event that a complaint is not resolved satisfactorily with the assistance of HRC mediation, the complainant may proceed to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. The tribunal has the authority to issue restraining orders, award monetary damages, or declare a breach of the Human Rights Act (which is reported to parliament). During the year, the tribunal did not issue any decisions related to religious discrimination, nor were any such cases pending.
Conduct that is prohibited by the Human Rights Act also may be prosecuted under other laws. Therefore, in addition to the dispute resolution mechanism offered by the HRC, a complainant may initiate proceedings in the court system. According to the Department of Justice, there were no such proceedings considered by the courts during the year.
The government does not require the licensing or registration of religious groups; however, if a religious group desires to collect money for any charitable purpose, including the advancement of its religion, and wishes to obtain tax benefits, it must register with the Inland Revenue Department as a charitable trust. There is no fee for this registration.
In May 2010 the agriculture minister announced a requirement for pre-slaughter stunning for commercial killing of livestock in the country, a regulation that violates some interpretations of Jewish and Muslim dietary laws. Since the national Muslim community already incorporates pre-stunning as common practice, Halal slaughtering is unaffected by the new code of welfare. In November 2010 the Jewish community received an exemption to the animal slaughter code for kosher slaughter following a protest from the community.
The country has two registered Christian-associated political parties. There are no other religiously affiliated parties, although the law does not prevent the registration of parties based on other religions.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas.