The constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom, although the constitution recognizes Buddhism as the state’s “spiritual heritage.”
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 bans discrimination based on religion. The constitution mandates that the king be the “protector of all religions.”
Government approval is required to construct religious buildings and, according to the law, these buildings should adhere to the country’s traditional architectural norms.
Both law and policy enforce a strict separation between religion and politics. The king and Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of the Central Monastic Body) previously served as dual head of state until the 2008 constitution established a democratic constitutional monarchy that eliminated the political role of monastic institutions. No ordained members of the clergy, irrespective of religion and including the sizable population of Buddhist monks, are permitted to engage in political activities, including running for office or voting.
The law 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.” Violations are punishable by up to three years in prison. There were no reports of prosecutions under the act.
The penal code states that a defendant shall be found guilty of promoting civil unrest by advocating “religious abhorrence” or 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.
The penal code makes coercion or inducement to convert a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison. The measure enforces a provision of the constitution that 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, defines roles in religious institutions, enforces the prohibition on religious figures running in secular elections, and monitors religious fundraising activities. The Chhoedey Lhentshog has registered 85 religious groups to date. There is one registered non-Buddhist organization, the Hindu Dharma Samudaya, an umbrella body representing the Hindu population. There are no registered Christian religious organizations, although Christians meet in private venues to worship in informal groups.
The government subsidizes Buddhist monasteries and shrines and provides aid to most of the country’s monks and nuns. The government does not normally provide aid to clergy of other religions.