Fiji

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes a secular state and protects freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. It also mandates the separation of religion and state. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious affiliation, and laws make inciting hatred or “disaffection” against any religious group a criminal offense. Religious groups must register with the government. In August, Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama ordered state broadcaster Fiji Broadcasting Corporation to refrain from airing an interview with the leader of the Lotu-Vanua (First Nation Spiritual Revival Movement), stating that it would confuse religious groups in the country and the general public. The Pacific Council of Churches criticized the Prime Minister, stating his “interference was authoritarian” and that the series of televised interviews between the Lotu-Vanua leader and religious leaders illustrated freedom of expression. Hindu religious leaders and the Fiji Human Rights and Antidiscrimination Commission condemned comments made on social media by Lynda Tabuya, an opposition Member of Parliament (MP) for the Social Democratic Liberal Party, in which she stated the Hindu Diwali festival should not be celebrated on Sunday because it would disturb Christians. The holiday was celebrated over the November 14-15 weekend in the country. She later deleted the post and publicly apologized.

The Methodist Church of Fiji issued a statement distancing itself from comments made by the Church’s communications manager that the use of fireworks on Sunday (as part of the Diwali celebration) would disturb other religious gatherings. In November, a Catholic church in Suva was vandalized, the first such act of vandalism against a Catholic church in the country. In May, a Protestant church was set on fire in Votualevu, Nadi.

U.S embassy officers and local staff met with religious leaders to promote religious tolerance and to encourage and maintain an active interfaith dialogue. In May, the Ambassador hosted an iftar to promote religious tolerance. In June, the Ambassador convened an interfaith dialogue with religious leaders in the western region and discussed the importance of respect for religious freedom as a universal human right. The embassy used social media posts and videos to highlight U.S. support of religious diversity in the country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 936,000 (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the 2007 census (the most recent with a breakdown by religion), 64.5 percent of the population is Christian, 27.9 percent Hindu, and 6.3 percent Muslim. Protestants make up 45 percent of the population, of which 34.6 percent is Methodist, 5.7 percent Assembly of God, 3.9 percent Seventh-day Adventist, and 0.8 percent Anglican. Roman Catholics make up 9.1 percent of the population, and other Christian groups 10.4 percent. There are small communities of Baha’is, Sikhs, and Jews.

Religious affiliation runs largely along ethnic lines. According to the 2007 census, most indigenous Fijians, who constitute 57 percent of the population, are Christian. The majority of the country’s traditional chiefs belong to the Methodist Church, which remains influential among indigenous persons, particularly in rural areas, where 44 percent of the population lives, according to the 2017 census. Most Indian Fijians, who account for 37 percent of the total population, are Hindu, while an estimated 20 percent are Muslim and 6 percent Christian. Approximately 60 percent of the small Chinese community is Christian. The small community of mixed European and Fijian ancestry is predominantly Christian.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution establishes a secular state and protects freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. The government may limit these rights by law to protect the freedoms of others, or for reasons of public safety, order, morality, health, or nuisance. The constitution mandates separation of religion and state. Citizens have the right, either individually or collectively, in public and private, to manifest their religion or beliefs in worship, observance, practice, or teaching. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious affiliation, and laws make inciting hatred or “disaffection” against religious groups a criminal offense. The constitution provides that individuals may not assert religious belief as a reason for disobeying the law. The constitution places limits on proselytizing on government premises and at government functions. Sacrilege is outlawed and is defined as committing any crime within a place of worship after breaking and entering or before exiting with force or intentionally committing any act of disrespect in a place of worship. Penalties may include up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

By law, religious groups must register with the government through trustees, who may then hold land or property for the groups. To register, religious bodies must submit applications to the registrar of titles office. Applications must include the names and identification of the trustees signed by the head of the religious body to be registered, a copy of the constitution of the proposed religious body, title documents for the land used by the religious body, and a registration fee of 2.30 Fiji dollars ($1). Registered religious bodies may receive an exemption from taxes after approval from the national tax agency, on the condition they operate in a nonprofit and noncompetitive capacity. By law, religious bodies that hold land or property must register their houses of worship, including their land, and show proof of title. There is no mention in the law of religious organizations that do not hold land.

Permits are required for any public meeting on public property organized by religious groups with the exception of regular religious services in houses of worship.

There is no required religious instruction under the law. Private or religious groups sometimes own or manage school properties, but the Ministry of Education administers and regulates the curriculum. The law allows religious groups the right to establish, maintain, and manage places of education, whether or not they receive financial assistance from the state, provided the institution maintains educational standards prescribed by law. The law permits noncompulsory religious instruction in all schools, enabling schools owned and operated by various religious denominations but receiving government support to offer religious instruction. Schools may incorporate religious elements, such as class prayer, as long as they do not force teachers to participate and students may be excused if their parents request it. The government provides funding and education assistance to public schools, including schools owned and operated by religious organizations, on a per-pupil basis. Some schools maintain their religious and/or ethnic origin but must remain open to all students. According to the law, the government ensures free tuition for primary and secondary schools.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In August, Prime Minister Bainimarama ordered state broadcaster Fiji Broadcasting Corporation (FBC) to refrain from airing an interview with the leader of the Lotu-Vanua. According to media reports, the Prime Minister said the broadcast would confuse religious groups in the country and the general public, since Lotu-Vanua was not an organized religion and the public might believe group leader Timoci Nacola’s stated beliefs, such as that Jesus Christ was born in Fiji. The FBC did not broadcast the interview, but the company’s chief executive said that was due to the controversial material and not the Prime Minister’s comments, according to media reports. While the Pacific Council of Churches criticized the Prime Minister, stating his “interference was authoritarian” and stifled freedom of expression, other Christians, including some Methodists, supported Bainimarama’s actions and criticized the interviews overall, specifically Nacola’s comments against the Bible and Christian practices, such as tithe collection. Earlier, two other television companies, Fiji Village and Mai TV, aired similar interviews with Nacola and representatives of two Christian groups, the Christian Methodist Fellowship Church and the New Methodist Church.

On November 10, Hindu religious leaders and the Fiji Human Rights and Antidiscrimination Commission condemned comments made on social media by Lynda Tabuya, an MP from the opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party, in which she said that Diwali “should not be celebrated on a Sunday because it was a quiet day of rest for Christians.” Tabuya later deleted the Facebook comments, which were widely criticized, and issued a public apology.

Prime Minister Bainimarama, other cabinet ministers, and members of parliament continued to emphasize religious tolerance during public addresses. According to media reports of his address to the nation on October 30 for the Prophet Muhammed’s birthday, the Prime Minister said, “No person has a God-given superiority over another.” In November, Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum emphasized that religious freedom is guaranteed in the constitution, which also allows all faiths the space to practice their religion.

A decision on an appeal against the 2018 acquittal of three staff members of the Fiji Times on sedition charges remained pending at year’s end. The three, which included the editor in chief, were charged for the 2016 publication of a letter to the Fiji Times indigenous-language newspaper Nai Lalakai that the government characterized as antagonistic toward the country’s Muslim community.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On November 10, Catholic Archbishop of Suva Peter Loy-Chong issued public messages commemorating Diwali, which was celebrated in the country over the November 14-15 weekend. Also in November, the Methodist Church of Fiji issued a statement distancing itself from comments made by the Church’s communications manager on social media, similar to those by MP Tabuya, that “the use of fireworks on Sunday [as part of the Diwali celebration] would disturb other religious gatherings.”

On November 11, police arrested a man for the desecration of a religious statue at the Roman Catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral in Suva. According to Archbishop Loy-Chong, “A mentally challenged man threw a piece of block at the statue of Mary located in the grotto in front of the church.” He called for Catholics to be compassionate to the person. In public comments, some Indo-Fijians approved of the vandalism. The man’s case remained pending at year’s end. This was the first such act of vandalism against a Catholic church in the country.

On May 24, according to media reports, an unidentified person set fire to the Bible Truth Fellowship Church in Votualevu, Nadi. Members of the church put out the fire, but the building was damaged. At year’s end, a police investigation into the incident was underway.

The Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Hindu and Muslim groups operated numerous schools, including secondary schools, which were eligible for government subsidies based on the size of their student population.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officers met with local religious leaders, including the head of the Methodist Church in the country, to promote religious tolerance and to encourage them to maintain an active interfaith dialogue.

On May 20, the Ambassador hosted an iftar to promote religious tolerance. In addition to senior members of the Muslim community, guests included the Minister for Industry and Trade, the Attorney General (both Muslims), and foreign diplomats. In his remarks, the Ambassador highlighted the diversity of religious groups in countries such as Fiji and the United States.

On June 25, the Ambassador convened an interfaith dialogue with religious leaders from the country’s western division and discussed the importance of respect for religious freedom as a universal human right. Religious leaders in attendance included members of the Christian, Hindu, Arya Samaj, International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Baha’i, Sikh, and Muslim communities.

On November 6, the Ambassador spoke on social media and also during remarks at a Diwali commemoration about the importance of faith and protecting religious freedom.

The embassy used social media, including posts that highlighted diverse religious traditions in the country, to promote religious pluralism and tolerance.

Kiribati

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion. Religious groups with memberships equal to or greater than 2 percent of the population are required to register with the government.

Two islands in the southern part of the country continued to uphold a “one-church-only” policy due to a stated deference to the first Protestant missionaries that visited the islands in the 1800s.

The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to the government, and officials from the U.S. Embassy in Fiji discussed religious tolerance and practices with the government when visiting the country. Embassy officials also met with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) to discuss religious tolerance and the treatment of minority groups.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 112,000 (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the 2015 census, approximately 57 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and 31 percent belongs to the Kiribati Uniting Church (until 2016 known as the Kiribati Protestant Church). Members who did not accept the name change continue as the Kiribati Protestant Church. Five percent of the population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include the Baha’i Faith (2 percent), Seventh-day Adventist Church (2 percent), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God, and Muslims. The Church of Jesus Christ states its membership exceeds 12 percent of the population. Persons with no religious affiliation account for less than 1 percent of the population. Members of the Catholic Church are concentrated in the northern islands, while Protestants constitute the majority in the southern islands.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience (including religion), expression, assembly, and association. These rights may be limited by law “which is reasonably required” in the interests of public defense, safety, order, morality, or health, or to protect the rights of others.

By law, any religious group with adult members representing no less than 2 percent of the total population (according to the most recent census) must register with the government, although there are no legal consequences for not registering. To register, the religious organization submits a request to the Ministry of Women, Youth, and Social Affairs, signed by the head of the group and supported by five other members of the organization. Also required in the request is information regarding proof of the number of adherents and the religious denomination and name under which the group wishes to be registered.

There is no mandated religious education in public schools. Public schools in the country allow a variety of religious groups, including Catholics, Protestants, Seventh-day Adventists, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ, to provide religious education in schools. Students who opt out of religious education must participate in a supervised study period.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Most governmental meetings and events began and ended with an ordained minister or other church official delivering a Christian prayer.

The government continued to administer a small grants program for development projects administered by nongovernmental organizations and registered religious organizations. Foreign missionaries, including members of the Church of Jesus Christ, were active in the country and operated freely. Missionary visits to islands with a “one religion” tradition were allowed as long as they followed the traditional practice of requesting permission from local leaders.

The government allowed the Kiribati Protestant Church to operate but had not completed the church’s registration, which was submitted when it separated from the Kiribati Uniting Church in 2016.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

With approximately 1,000 inhabitants each, the population of two islands – Arorae and Tamana – remained largely members of the Protestant Kiribati Uniting Church, at 98 percent and 96 percent, respectively, according to the 2015 census, although a small number of Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, Church of Jesus Christ, and Baha’i adherents were also present. The residents of these islands continued their “one-church-only” tradition, which they stated was in deference to Protestant missionaries who came to the islands in the 1800s, according to government reports. On these islands, residents of other religious groups worshipped in their own homes. Villagers discouraged religious groups outside the Kiribati Uniting Church from proselytizing or holding meetings but permitted missionaries to visit if they requested permission from local leaders first.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and the embassy utilized their social media platforms to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, including highlighting comments by the President and posting videos in support of religious tolerance and practices on International Religious Freedom Day and major Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim celebrations.

Marshall Islands

Executive Summary

The constitution provides protections for religious freedom with “reasonable restrictions” to ensure public order and the rights of other individuals. The constitution provides for the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and belief and to the free exercise of religion.

Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community reported disparaging remarks on social media sites and occasional harassing phone calls. They said that some members of the general community seemed to have a general fear of their mosque. Protestant parishioners again reported feeling pressured to give substantial amounts of income to their church or face severe penalties from church leaders, including excommunication, if donation quotas were not met.

U.S. embassy officials met with the Foreign Minister to affirm the importance of religious freedom and to discuss how interfaith dialogue could promote religious freedom. Embassy officials also met with officials from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Assemblies of God, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the United Church of Christ.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 78,000 (midyear 2020 estimate). The Pew Foundation reported in 2010 that the population was more than 97 percent Christian. Major religious groups, according to the most recent census that covered religious affiliation (1999), include the United Church of Christ (formerly Congregational), with 54.8 percent of the population; the Assemblies of God, 25.8 percent; the Roman Catholic Church, 8.4 percent; Bukot nan Jesus (also known as Assembly of God Part Two), 2.8 percent; and the Church of Jesus Christ, 2.1 percent. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Full Gospel, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), Jews, Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus, and atheists. Almost all those native to the country are Christian, according to government statistics. Many foreign-born residents and workers are also Christian, and the majority of non-Christians are foreign born.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, as well as for free exercise of religion and equal protection under the law, regardless of religious beliefs. It also provides for “reasonable restrictions” imposed by law on the “time, place, or manner of conduct” – provided they are the least restrictive necessary for public peace, order, health, or security or the rights or freedoms of others, and they do not penalize conduct based on a disagreement with the ideas or beliefs expressed. The constitution states no law or legal action shall discriminate against any person on the basis of religion.

The constitution allows the government to extend financial aid to religiously supported institutions to provide nonprofit educational, medical, or social services, on the condition that such services do not discriminate among religious groups.

There are no requirements for the registration of religious groups, but if religious groups register as a nonprofit corporation or a cooperative, they may qualify for tax exemptions. The law states the tax on gross revenue shall not be applied to “corporations, associations, or societies organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, or educational purposes.” In addition, the goods imported into the country by “churches for their own religious, educational, or charitable purposes” are exempt from import duty.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Governmental functions, by continuing custom, usually began and ended with an ordained minister or other church official delivering a Christian prayer. While there was no religious education in public schools, most extracurricular school events began and ended with an interdenominational Christian prayer delivered by a minister. According to local residents, prayers before and after events were a longstanding cultural practice and part of the widely accepted tradition of the country.

During the year, the government provided funding totaling $795,000 to private schools, including religious private schools. All chartered private schools were eligible for government funding. The amount of funding religious schools received depended on how much was available after ensuring the basic needs of the public school system were covered first. The distribution of allocations was based on a combination of enrollment, test results, and accreditation.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community representatives said that disparaging remarks on their social media sites and occasional harassing phone calls stemmed from the misunderstandings of some that linked Islam to terrorism, including some encouraging them to leave the country. They also reported difficulty finding interpreters for some events and that some in the community seemed to have a general fear of their mosque. The Ahmadi leaders said they continued their efforts to dispel preconceptions and present Islam as a religion of peace by operating a daily soup kitchen and participating in various community service events.

Protestant parishioners reported feeling pressured to give substantial amounts of income to their church or face the threat of severe penalties from church leaders, such as being demoted within the hierarchy of the church or excommunication, which would have significant impact on social standing. There were reports of devout church members giving so much of their income to the church to meet the requirements and stay in good standing with the church that their families would occasionally go without basic food essentials.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials met with the Foreign Minister to affirm the importance the United States places on religious freedom and encourage government officials to promote interfaith dialogue and policy.

Throughout the year, embassy officials met with different religious officials, including representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Assemblies of God, the Church of Jesus Christ, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the United Church of Christ to discuss the climate of religious tolerance.

Palau

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits the government from taking any action to compel, prohibit, or hinder the exercise of religion. On January 18, the government celebrated the annual National Day of Prayer that “welcomes all expressions of religion…without reservation or reproach.”

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

The Ambassador engaged frequently with religious leaders at a number of events during the course of the year, including a meeting in March with a Seventh-day Adventist pastor.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 22,000 (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the 2015 national census, approximately 45 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. Other religious groups include the Evangelical Church (26.4 percent); Seventh-day Adventists (6.9 percent); Modekngei, an indigenous religious group embracing both animist and Christian beliefs (5.7 percent); and Muslims (3 percent), primarily Bangladeshi nationals. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Baptists, adherents of the Assemblies of God, and other religious groups make up approximately 13 percent of the population, combined. There are also small numbers of Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jews. Within the foreign community of approximately 6,000, more than half are Filipino Catholic. The foreign community also includes Japanese, Koreans, Indians, Bangladeshis, Europeans, Canadians, Americans, Australians, Thais, Chinese, and Taiwanese, all practicing diverse religious beliefs. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the continuing departure of foreign workers originally from Bangladesh, China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Taiwan is affecting the religious demography of the country as the population declines.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits the government from taking any action to compel, prohibit, or hinder the exercise of religion. It stipulates there shall be no state religion but allows the state to fund “private or parochial” schools on a fair and equitable basis and for nonreligious purposes.

Religious groups may obtain charters as nonprofit organizations (NGOs) from the Registrar of Corporations in the Office of the Attorney General. As NGOs, religious groups and mission agencies are exempt from paying taxes. To obtain a charter, an applicant must submit a written petition to the Registrar of Corporations and pay a filing fee of $250. The Registrar of Corporations reviews the application for statutory compliance and then requests the President to sign a charter for the NGO. Applications that meet the requirements of the law result in issuance of charters.

The law empowers the President to proclaim and designate any day in January of each calendar year as a National Day of Prayer.

The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools. Representatives of any religious group, however, may request government financial support for private religious schools. The government earmarks funds for nonreligious purposes for recognized private schools operated by Modekngei, Catholic, Evangelical, and Seventh-day Adventist religious groups. The amount earmarked is based on the number of students attending a particular school. Private schools, including religious ones, do not pay gross revenue tax but pay a flat port clearance fee of $3 for imported school supplies.

Foreign missionaries are required to obtain permits from the division of immigration, which is under the Bureau of Immigration and Labor; there are no application fees. These applicants must provide police and medical clearances and include letters from the assigning church in the sending foreign country and the local accepting church with the application. The permits are valid for a maximum of two years and may be renewed.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

On January 18, the government invited religious leaders and members of all faiths and denominations to the capital for a program of prayer and song during the National Day of Prayer. According to the government, the program “welcomes all expressions of religion, no matter what a person’s choosing is and without reservation or reproach.” Other activities to promote religious freedom included a Christmas celebration in Koror at which various churches performed and which featured Christian prayers of various denominations. Men and women leaders from traditional religious groups continued to convene for cultural and government events across the country.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In March, the Ambassador met with a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and discussed the status of religious freedom in the country. The Ambassador engaged frequently with religious leaders at a number of events during the course of the year.

Tonga

Executive Summary

The constitution grants freedom to practice, worship, and assemble for religious services. The constitution requires the Sabbath, which the government defines as Sunday, be “kept holy” and prohibits most commercial transactions and many recreational activities on Sunday, except as permitted by law. The law does not require registration of religious groups. A religious group, however, must register to be eligible for specific benefits, such as recognition of clergy as marriage officers and tax exemptions.

The Forum of Church Leaders, comprising only Christian leaders, met to discuss social issues and preventative measures for COVID-19 in the country. The secretariat compiled and submitted reports on these issues to the cabinet.

During regular engagements, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Fiji discussed the need to protect religious freedom and tolerance with representatives from the Tonga National Council of Churches as well as with other institutions.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 106,000 (midyear 2020 estimate). According to 2016 local census data, membership in major religious groups includes the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, 35 percent of the population; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), 19 percent; the Roman Catholic Church, 14 percent; the Free Church of Tonga, 12 percent; and the Church of Tonga, 7 percent. (The latter two are local affiliates of the Methodist Church.) Other Christian groups account for approximately 9 percent of the population and include the Tokaikolo Church, Mo’ui Fo’ou ‘ia Kalaisi, the Constitutional Church of Tonga, Seventh-day Adventists, the Gospel Church, the Salvation Army, Assemblies of God, other Pentecostal denominations, Anglicans, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to the census, 60 individuals identified as Buddhist, while approximately 750 reported that they followed the Baha’i Faith. Approximately 600 individuals reported no religious affiliation or did not answer the census question. Approximately 900 individuals identified as belonging to other faiths, including 34 Muslims. According to the government-run secretariat for the Forum of Church Leaders in Tonga, the fastest-growing religious group is the Church of Jesus Christ.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution allows freedom of religious practice, freedom of worship, and freedom of assembly for religious services, provided these freedoms are not used “to commit evil and licentious acts” or “do what is contrary to the law and peace of the land.” The constitution requires that the Sabbath, which the government recognizes as Sunday, be “kept holy” and prohibits commercial transactions on the Sabbath, except essential services after approval by the Minister of Police, and certain restaurants and retail stores. The law also prohibits many recreational activities and sports on the Sabbath. The law applies to both Christians and non-Christians

The law does not require registration of religious groups. Any group may gather together, worship, and practice their faith without informing the government or seeking its permission. A religious group, however, must register to be eligible for specific benefits, such as recognition of clergy as marriage officers; tax exemptions on nonbusiness income, importation of goods for religious purposes, and fundraising; protection of a denomination’s name; and access to broadcasting on public channels. Registration as a religious group requires an application to the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor, accompanied by certified copies of the group’s rules and constitution, a declaration detailing any other trust in which the applicant holds assets, a witness’s signature, and a 115 pa’anga ($52) application fee. If a group elects to register with the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor, the law requires it also to register with the Ministry of Revenue and Customs as a nonprofit organization.

The law allows religious leaders to legalize marriages. According to the law, only marriages solemnized by clergy or religious officiants, who must be Christian, are legally recognized, and no other marriage is valid. Those non-Christians unwilling to be married by a Christian minister have no legal options to marry.

Religious groups may operate schools, and a number do so. There are no schools operated by non-Christian religious groups. In public schools, the government allows religious groups to offer an hour-long program of religious education to students once per week but does not require schools to do so. In public schools where religious education is provided, students are required to attend the program led by the representative of their respective denomination. Students whose faith does not send a representative are required to take a study period during the hour devoted to religious education.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

On March 20, the government declared a state of emergency because of COVID-19 which included restrictions on religious gatherings. The restrictions were eased in May and individuals could attend religious services on Sundays only. The government did not limit the number of people who could attend these religious services. The one Islamic mosque was ordered closed by the government for three weeks.

The government-owned Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC), a 24-hour service, maintained policy guidelines regarding the broadcast of religious programming on TV Tonga and Radio Tonga. The TBC guidelines stated that in view of “the character of the listening public,” those who preach on TV Tonga and Radio Tonga must confine their preaching “within the limits of the mainstream Christian tradition.” There were no reports, however, of the TBC denying any group’s request to broadcast on public channels. The government permitted all Christian groups to participate in broadcasting one free hour of services on the radio each Sunday. All churches were able to broadcast notices of their activities on six FM radio stations and three television stations, namely Television Tonga, Digi TV, and the Christian station Doulos Television Radio.

The government continued to enforce a ban that prohibits retail establishments, bakeries, and most restaurants from operating on Sunday to comply with the constitution’s prohibition of commercial activity on the Sabbath. By special permit, the government continued to allow hotels and resorts to operate on Sunday for tourists. These special permits were granted by the Minister of Police.

The education ministry continued to allow the Scripture Union and Sisu koe Fetu’u Ngingila, two private Christian nongovernmental organizations, to provide Bible study and other activities for students of different faiths throughout the year for one hour per week. Students who did not wish to participate were allowed to study independently in school libraries.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Forum of Church Leaders, comprising only Christian leaders, under its secretariat at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, met to discuss social issues in the country, such as suicide, crime, drugs, healthy lifestyles, deportees, climate change issues, and teenage pregnancy. The secretariat compiled and submitted reports on these issues to the cabinet.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to the government. Representatives of the embassy discussed religious freedom with government officials, the National Council of Churches, and the Muslim League.

The embassy utilized social media to promote religious pluralism and tolerance.

Vanuatu

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion or traditional belief. The preamble to the constitution refers to “traditional Melanesian values, faith in God, and Christian principles,” but there is no state religion. On penalty of a fine, the law requires religious groups to register; however, the government did not enforce this requirement. In July, the Minister of Finance and Economic Management recommended that the interdenominational Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC) organize prayer sessions for all government ministries. Prime Minister Bob Loughman told the VVC chairman the government would appoint a chaplain to work with the VCC to facilitate the prayer sessions, but as of year’s end, the government had not implemented this. According to sources, the government planned to give new Bibles to all members of parliament but did not do so by year’s end. Churches were eligible to apply for a one-time stimulus package that was part of the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the VCC, religious minorities were respected, and any tension between groups was mostly due to tribal and ethnic issues. Members of minority faith groups, however, stated members of dominant religious denominations ridiculed their beliefs. In most rural areas, traditional Melanesian communal decision making predominated on significant social changes, such as the establishment of a new religious group. Throughout the year, the VCC continued dialogue with the West Papua Council of Churches to establish a region-wide Melanesian council of churches.

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. Representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea discussed with government officials the importance of interfaith dialogue and of including religious minorities in national events and programs. Embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues with leaders of the VCC and religious minority groups, and with civil society organizations.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 298,000 (midyear 2020 estimate). According to the 2009 census, the most recent, approximately 82 percent of the population is Christian. An estimated 28 percent of the population is Presbyterian; 15 percent, Anglican; 12 percent, Roman Catholic; and 12 percent, Seventh-day Adventist. Other Christian groups, cumulatively comprising 15 percent of the population, include the Church of Christ, Neil Thomas Ministries, the Apostolic Church, and the Assemblies of God. Smaller Christian groups include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), which estimates its membership at nearly 9,000, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, which estimates its membership at 750. According to the census, approximately 13 percent of the population belongs to an estimated 88 other religious groups, including Baha’is, Buddhists, Muslims, and several newly formed groups. The John Frum Movement, an indigenous religious group centered on the island of Tanna, constitutes approximately 3 percent of the population, according to census data.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for individual freedom of “religious or traditional beliefs,” including the freedoms of conscience and worship, subject “to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and to the legitimate public interest in defense, safety, public order, welfare, and health.” Any individual who believes these rights have been violated may apply “independently of any other possible legal remedy… to the Supreme Court to enforce that right.” The Supreme Court may issue orders it considers appropriate to enforce these rights if it finds they have been violated and to pay compensation. The preamble of the constitution refers to a commitment to “traditional Melanesian values, faith in God, and Christian principles,” but there is no state religion.

The law requires every religious body to apply to the government for a certificate of registration, pay 1,000 vatu ($9), and obtain final approval of the Minister for Internal Affairs to operate. Registration allows the religious group to maintain a bank account. The penalty for not registering is a fine not exceeding 50,000 vatu ($470); however, the law is not enforced.

According to law, children may not be refused admission to government and nongovernment schools or be treated unfavorably because of their religion.

The Department of Education prohibits religious discrimination. Government schools schedule time each week for religious education conducted by VCC representatives using their own materials. The government provides grants to church-operated schools and pays the salaries of teachers at church-operated schools in existence since independence in 1980. There is no uniform standard amount of time dedicated to religious instruction across all schools; however, the standard curriculum requires that students in grades seven through 12 receive one hour of religious instruction per week. Parents may request that students be excused from religious education classes in both private and public schools.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In July, the Daily Post reported that Minister of Finance and Economic Management Johnny Koanapo requested the VCC organize prayer sessions for all government ministries. Prime Minister Loughman told VVC Chairman Pastor Allan Nafuki the government would appoint a chaplain to work with the VCC to facilitate the prayer sessions. Sources said the government planned to give new Bibles to all members of parliament. As of year’s end, however, neither action had been taken.

The government continued to interact with religious groups through the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the VCC, the latter composed of the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Presbyterian Church, Church of Christ, and the Apostolic Church, with Seventh-day Adventists and the Assemblies of God having observer status. Government officials said they respected religious minorities but that these groups each had different expectations and protocols. The officials said the government preferred to work with a coordinated body like the VCC, which represented the majority of churches.

The Ministry of Health continued to cooperate with six churches, including Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, the Church of Christ, Assemblies of God, and the Church of Jesus Christ, to provide health, educational, economic, and disaster response assistance to needy local communities. In October, the government, community organizations, and partner churches provided free training on basic health awareness to combat noncommunicable diseases such as tuberculosis in their communities.

The VCC received a 10 million vatu ($94,100) annual grant from the government. The VCC said that as in years past it would use the funds for the administration of the VCC and to support the intertwined social, political awareness, and religious activities of the churches in the country, including evangelism and public outreach activities of member churches.

Churches were eligible to apply for a one-time stimulus package that was part of the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At year’s end, the funds had not been disbursed.

Government oaths of office customarily were taken on the Bible.

Ceremonial prayers at national events were organized through the VCC. Religious minorities criticized the government for not including non-Christian faith groups in celebrations of national events.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the main leader of the VCC, religious minorities were respected, and if there was tension between groups, it was mostly due to tribal and ethnic issues. Members of minority faith groups, however, stated members of dominant religious denominations ridiculed their beliefs.

In most rural areas, traditional Melanesian communal decision making predominated. In general, if a community member proposed a significant change within the community, such as the establishment of a new religious group, the action required agreement by the chief and the rest of the community.

In April, the VCC called for all churches to stand together in prayer when the islands were impacted by Cyclone Harold. The Santo Bush Mission and Talua Theological Training Institute in Santo suffered significant damage.

Throughout the year, the VCC continued dialogue with the West Papua Council of Churches regarding establishment of a Melanesian council of churches, which would include Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Fiji. According to VCC representatives, however, there were no in-person meetings due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. The U.S. Ambassador to Papua New Guinea is accredited to the government. Representatives from the Embassy in Papua New Guinea discussed religious tolerance and the importance of interfaith dialogue with senior government officials, as well as the role of faith-based organizations in disaster response operations, such as during a pandemic, and the inclusion of minority faiths in national events and programs.

Embassy representatives discussed with religious minorities, including Catholics, Baha’is, Muslims, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, their perceptions of religious freedom and tolerance in the country. Embassy representatives exchanged ideas with Christian leaders of various denominations, civil society organizations, and government agencies on the importance of interfaith dialogue regardless of religious affiliation. In October, embassy officials discussed with the VCC the central role played by church groups in response to social challenges, humanitarian assistance, disaster response, and public health emergencies.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future