The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or traditional belief. The preamble to the constitution refers to traditional Christian values, but there is no state religion. In July the newly elected president, who is a Presbyterian Church pastor, said, “We have only one religion in Vanuatu and that is Christianity.” He also called on all Christian churches to stand together in unity. In October he urged politicians to revisit the constitution and “make amendments to address current issues.” Many persons said he was referring to a proposal from the Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC) that the constitution should be amended to allow only Christian faiths in the country. The VCC continued to call on the government to revisit the freedom of religion clause to not allow new, non-Christian faiths to develop in the country. On penalty of a fine, the law requires religious groups to register, but the government did not enforce this requirement. The VCC received a 10 million vatu ($95,200) annual grant from the government. The VCC chair said the funds would be “used for the benefit of each member of each church.”
VCC leaders reportedly continued to believe the government should revisit the freedom of religion clause in the constitution to prohibit non-Christian faiths from being established, although they did not make any public statements or organize marches as in 2016.
There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. In visits to the country, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea periodically discussed religious freedom with representatives of the government, including proposed restrictions on new religious movements entering the country. Embassy representatives also discussed religious freedom on the radio and with the VCC and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).