The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom.
There is no state religion, but the preamble to the constitution states that “The nation…shall be founded upon principles which acknowledge the supremacy of God.” One of the 12 members of the Senate is appointed by the governor general acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association of Churches. The membership of these organizations includes the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, the Salvation Army, the Chinese Christian Mission, the Chinese Christian Church, and the Seventh-day Adventists.
Under the constitution, freedom of religion is part of broader protections under freedom of conscience. The constitution provides that no one shall be compelled to take an oath that is contrary to a person’s religion or belief. The constitution reserves the right of the government to intervene in religious matters “for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons,” including the right to observe and practice any religion “without the unsolicited intervention of members of any other religion.” Discrimination on religious grounds is illegal.
Religious organizations and groups are required to register with the Companies Registry after paying a prescribed fee. Property taxes are not levied against churches and other places of worship, but other church-owned buildings occupied on a regular basis, such as the pastor’s or priest’s residence, are not exempt.
Foreign religious workers are permitted to enter the country and proselytize, but they must be registered and purchase a religious worker’s permit for a modest annual fee.
The constitution stipulates that religious communities may establish “places of education” and states that “no such community shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community.” By statute, the educational system maintains a strong religious curriculum. The curriculum ties “spirituality” with social studies courses. The law provides for students in both public and church-run schools from kindergarten through sixth grade to receive one class period per week of religious instruction. Some schools, however, offer religion classes daily.
The constitution prohibits any educational institution from compelling a child to receive religious instruction or attend any religious ceremony or observance. Parents may object to, and students may abstain from, attending religious observances. Most primary and elementary schools, high schools, and colleges are church affiliated. Instances where administrators do not know the law or misapply it are usually corrected as a result of parent-school consultations. There is no system in place that allows students to opt out of the religious elements of the curriculum. In rare cases, the Ministry of Education intervenes to correct a situation. Catholic holy days are routinely observed as school holidays.
The constitution also stipulates that no one shall be required to receive religious instruction or attend services without his or her consent while serving in the armed forces or while being detained in prison. The Defense Force retains a Christian chaplain but does not restrict the practice of other religions.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Monday, and Christmas.