The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom, but officially recognize only Buddhism and Hinduism.
The constitution stipulates, “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.” It also states, “No one shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion, politics, or other status.”
The constitution states that Buddhism is the state’s “spiritual heritage.” The constitution mandates that the king be the “protector of all religions” in the country. Government approval is required to construct religious buildings and, according to the law, these buildings should adhere to the country’s traditional architectural norms.
The National Security Act (NSA) prohibits “words either spoken or written, or by other means whatsoever, that promote or attempt to promote, on grounds of religion, race, language, caste, or community, or on any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity or hatred between different religious, racial, or language groups or castes and communities.” Violating the NSA is punishable by up to three years in prison. There were no reports of prosecutions under the act during the year.
The penal code states that a defendant shall be found guilty of promoting civil unrest by committing an act that is “prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different nationalities, racial groups, castes, and religious groups and that disturbs the public tranquility.” The punishment is five to nine years in prison. There were no reports of prosecutions under this law during the year.
A 2010 amendment to the penal code made coercion or inducement to convert a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison. Bhutanese officials assert the measure fulfills a mandate extended by Article 7(4) of the constitution, which grants freedom of thought and expression and prohibits forceful conversion.
In addition to registering and regulating religious groups, the eight-member board of the Chhoedey Lhentshog, a religious regulatory authority established in 2009, defines roles in religious institutions, precludes religious figures from running in secular elections, and helps ensure that religious fundraising activities are lawful and non-predatory. The Chhoedey Lhentshog has registered 16 groups to date. There is one registered non-Buddhist organization, the Hindu Dharma Samudaya, an umbrella body representing the Hindu population.
There are no laws against publishing religious materials.
The government subsidizes Buddhist monasteries and shrines and provides aid to most of the country’s monks and nuns. The government does not provide aid to clerics of other religions.
The government asserts there is no religious curriculum in educational institutions, but local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) report students must take part in a compulsory Buddhist prayer session each morning. Religious teaching is forbidden in all schools except monastic institutions.
The government observes the following major Buddhist holidays as national holidays: Shabdrung Kuchoe, Parnirvana, First Sermon of Lord Buddha (formerly known as Drukpa Tshe Zhi), and Lhabab Duechen (or Descending Day of Lord Buddha). By declaration of the king, Dashain, the main Hindu festival celebrated in Nepal, is a national holiday.