The constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom. The constitution states that individuals have a right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. The constitution also protects the right to religious practice by providing for the freedom to worship, either alone or in community with others.
Unwritten traditional laws and customs, however, which are recognized in the constitution and interpreted by traditional courts, allow approximately 360 chiefs working with their traditional councilors to restrict some rights of minority religious groups if the chiefs determine that the groups’ practices conflict with tradition and culture.
Religious groups must obtain government permission for construction of new religious buildings in urban areas and the appropriate chief’s permission in rural areas.
The law requires new religious groups or churches to register with the government upon organizing. Groups other than indigenous religious groups must apply through one of the country’s three umbrella religious bodies (the League of Churches, Swaziland Conference of Churches, or Council of Swaziland Churches) for a recommendation, which is routinely granted. Upon receipt of the recommendation, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs registers the organization. For indigenous religious groups, authorities consider proof of a religious leader, congregation, and a place of worship as sufficient grounds to grant organized status. Registered indigenous and nonindigenous religious groups receive the same benefits, including exemption from taxation, but contributions to these groups are not tax deductible.
Religious instruction is mandatory in primary school and an elective subject in secondary school. Although schools teach religion predominantly from a Christian perspective, the education ministry includes a multi-religion component in the religious curriculum. The only organized religious youth clubs reportedly permitted to operate in schools are Christian. Voluntary school clubs conduct daily prayer services in many public schools.
The constitution guarantees religious groups the right to operate private schools and provide religious instruction for their students.