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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. An appeal by the prosecution following the 2018 acquittal of the senior management of a leading newspaper on charges related to publishing a letter to the editor that the government characterized as antagonistic toward the country’s Muslim community remained pending.

There were two acts of vandalism against religious sites in September, one at a Hindu temple and the other at a Muslim mosque. In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attack, religious groups, political groups, and civil society representatives spoke out forcefully against religious intolerance.

U.S. embassy officials promoted religious tolerance in meetings with senior government officials. Embassy officials also met with religious leaders to promote religious tolerance, with the aim of encouraging and maintaining an active interfaith dialogue. In May the Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar to promote religious tolerance for members of the Muslim community and other religious leaders. The embassy used social media to highlight U.S. support of religious diversity in the country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 931,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2007 census, 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 iTaukei (indigenous Fijian) citizens, 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 people, particularly in rural areas where 49 percent of the population lives. 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 also 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 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, land 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, outside of regular religious services and 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 they 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 July the appellate court reviewed an appeal brought by the prosecution in the case of the senior management of the Fiji Times newspaper who were found not guilty in 2018 of charges related to publishing a letter to the editor that the government characterized as antagonistic toward the country’s Muslim community. The prosecution appealed the decision, and a decision on the appeal remained pending at year’s end.

Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, other cabinet ministers, and members of parliament continued to emphasize religious tolerance during public addresses at home and overseas. After the March attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, the prime minister called on Fijians to “pledge to condemn those making racist and hateful statements, whether online or in person” adding that “…people must do something, have the courage to call (them) out, and counter (their) hatred with vision” and that Fijians must “be the voice of love and change.” Government officials stated the country is a multifaith nation with religious freedom guaranteed in the constitution and must unite to defend the rights of citizens to practice their religion.

According to media reports, the Fiji Police Force investigated individuals on social media who were alleged to be posting messages of animosity to “incite further hatred against the Muslim community” after the attacks.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In September a man broke into and stole items from a Hindu temple in Suva. Police charged the man with one count of sacrilege for the offense. Also in September a mosque in Nausori, outside Suva, was vandalized; after the incident, the Fiji Muslim League sent out an advisory to its affiliates to take precautionary measures. Authorities made no arrests.

Media reported that Akuila Petero, an iTaukei man who had converted to Islam living in Nasaibitu Village, faced opposition when he began to build a home and place of worship for himself and other local iTaukei Muslims. Petero stated that in March a truck transporting materials for the building was stopped and that he and two other Muslims were assaulted as they were constructing the building. Local police said they were monitoring the situation.

Following the March attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which three Muslims of Fijian descent died, religious groups, political groups, and civil society representatives spoke out to condemn the act and to encourage tolerance and respect. Catholic Archbishop Peter Loy Chong said, “Fiji is home to about 62,000 Muslims. The Roman Catholic Church shares her sympathy, condolence, and prayers to Fiji Muslim families in Fiji and New Zealand who lost loved ones in the Christchurch shooting.” The Pacific Conference of Churches expressed messages of solidarity and love for the Muslim community at an interfaith vigil organized by the Fiji Muslim League. Leader of the Opposition Sitiveni Rabuka also condemned the attack and called on authorities to work together to prevent further violence.

In October some Catholic parishes commemorated Diwali at a special Mass they stated was to show respect to Hindus.

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials promoted religious tolerance in meetings with government officials.

Embassy officers met with local religious leaders with the aim of encouraging and maintaining an active interfaith dialogue. Embassy officers met with Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religious leaders to discuss the importance of respect for religious freedom as a universal human right.

On May 29, the Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar to promote religious tolerance for members of the Muslim community and other religious leaders.

The embassy used social media to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, such as posts highlighting diverse religious traditions in the country.

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 111,000 (midyear 2019 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 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.

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

Representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Fiji visited the country and discussed religious tolerance and practices regarding the treatment of minority groups with government representatives and Church of Jesus Christ leaders.

The embassy utilized social media to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, including highlighting comments by the Vice President and posts in support of International Religious Freedom Day.

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 continued to state that authorities did not allow them to use the government conference center used by other religious groups and said they experienced longer waits at government hospitals than others.

Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community reported societal religious intolerance, which they attributed to international news reports linking Islam to terrorism. They added that local Christian congregations said that Islam promoted violence. Christian parishioners reported feeling increased pressure to give more of their 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 acting secretary for foreign affairs to raise the issue of alleged discrimination against the Ahmadiyya community and to emphasize how interfaith dialogue could promote religious freedom. Embassy officials also met with leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ,) Ahmadiyya Muslim community, and the Baha’i community. An embassy officer attended the Fifth Annual National Conference of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at in Majuro.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 77,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). The Pew Foundation reported in its most recent report on the Marshall Islands (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

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, totaling approximately 40-50 members, said its members continued to report difficulties in gaining access to government officials. They said the government did not allow them to use the government International Conference Center for their events, whereas other religious denominations were granted permission to use the facility. Specifically, the community was denied the use of the International Conference Center for the Fifth Annual National Convention of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Ahmadis also reported not receiving prompt medical attention during visits to government hospitals when compared to other patients, which they attributed to the misunderstanding that their religion promoted violence.

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 $500,000 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, performance (test results), and accreditation.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community representatives said societal religious intolerance they encountered – distrusting stares, difficulties in developing social networks in the community – stemmed from international news reports that linked Islam to terrorism and the very small size of the community. They reported that they were unsuccessful at attempts to convert a former University of South Pacific facility into a medical clinic and school to provide medical outreach to the larger community. They also reported difficulty finding instructors to teach summer college courses at their mosque because of what they said was fear of being associated with Islam. The Ahmadi leaders said they continued their efforts to dispel preconceptions and present Islam as a religion of peace by having their foreign missionaries and local converts participate in Red Cross medical training, community clean-up efforts, and the government’s mass casualty training exercise. An Ahmadi leader reported that community members continued to be excluded from several interfaith gatherings.

Ahmadi community members continued to assert that leaders of local Christian congregations accused Islam of being a violent religion. The organizers of the Fifth Annual National Conference of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at in Majuro in June said the objective of the conference was to promote a better understanding of the Ahmadi community as being peaceful and making contributions to society.

Christian church parishioners reported feeling increased pressure to give more of their 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 often had to go without basic food essentials.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials met with the acting secretary of foreign affairs to affirm the importance the United States places on religious freedom and encourage government officials to promote interfaith dialogue and policy.

An embassy officer attended the Fifth Annual National Conference of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at in Majuro in June. In September and October an embassy official met with a series of religious leaders, including representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and the Baha’i Community, to discuss the climate of religious tolerance.

Micronesia

Executive Summary

The constitution states no law may be passed to establish a state religion or impair the free exercise of religion. The government may provide assistance to religiously affiliated schools for nonreligious purposes. Observers stated Kosrae State government leaders expressed differing opinions regarding tolerance and respect for smaller religious groups. The Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Kosrae State did not report any threats to individuals or incidents of vandalism unlike in previous years, but members stated they believed this was due to a decrease in their numbers residing there.

Some Christians continued to advocate amending the constitution to prohibit the presence of non-Christian religious groups. The Inter-Denominational Council in Pohnpei continued to address social problems and promote official cooperation among most Christian groups. Ahmadi Muslims reported instances of harassment on social media platforms.

U.S. embassy officers discussed religious freedom and tolerance with national and state governments. Embassy officers also had discussions with religious leaders and organized events at public and private secondary schools to promote religious inclusion and religious tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 103,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to government statistics, approximately 99 percent of the population identifies as Christian. Several Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church are present in every state. According to government statistics, 55 percent of long-term residents are Catholic and 42 percent are Protestant. The United Church of Christ is the main Protestant denomination. Other Christian groups include Baptists, Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Church, the Apostolic Church, the Salvation Army, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other religious groups exist in small numbers, including approximately 45 Ahmadi Muslims, with a variable expatriate population of Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and other Muslims. According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report, the most recent published on folk religions in Micronesia, 2.7 percent of the population followed folk religions.

In Kosrae State, 90 percent of the population is Protestant, with the Congregational Church the most prominent. In Pohnpei State, the population is divided evenly between Protestants and Catholics, although more Protestants live on the western side and more Catholics live on the eastern side. In Chuuk State, an estimated 60 percent is Catholic and 40 percent Protestant. In Yap State, an estimated 80 percent of the population is Catholic and the remainder Protestant. Religious affiliation often follows clan lines.

The majority of foreign workers are Filipinos, who number more than 1,000 and are mostly Catholic. The Fijian community comprises fewer than 100 individuals and is predominately Christian.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution forbids the establishment of a state religion or governmental restrictions on freedom of religion. The constitution provides for the free exercise of religion. It also provides that the traditions of the country may be protected by statute and, if such statute is challenged as violating rights provided in the constitution, protection of the tradition “shall be considered a compelling social purpose warranting such governmental action.”

There are no registration requirements for a group to operate as a religious entity.

While there is no religious education in public schools, private schools teach religion in addition to the curriculum established by the Department of Education. The government may fund nonreligious activities in religiously affiliated schools.

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

Government Practices

The Ahmadi imam in Pohnpei State reported the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Kosrae did not experience any incidents of threatening behavior, vandalism or intimidation, unlike in previous years. The imam said that he believed the community’s relationship with the local community and government had improved because of its decreased numbers, noting the migration of some members to the United States and other areas of the Pacific. The imam praised President David Panuelo’s public statements promoting respect for all religions. In October Panuelo told the 26th International Law and Religion Symposium in Utah, “(our) Constitution guarantees freedom of religion; you cannot have one without the other.”

Government leaders did not take any position on the public statements of some Christian leaders calling for the exclusion of non-Christians and/or prohibition on open practice of non-Christian religions.

The government continued to provide grants to private, church-affiliated schools, and continued to state it made no distinction between public and private schools in its grant programs.

Kosrae State government officials expressed differing opinions regarding tolerance and respect for smaller religious groups.

National and state government events routinely opened and closed with a prayer, invocation, or benediction from a Protestant or Catholic clergy member, and often one from each group.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Ahmadiyya Muslim community members in Pohnpei State reported being harassed on social media by individuals who appeared to be citizens residing outside the country. The harassment associated the Ahmadis with Muslim extremist groups and called for the expulsion of Muslim communities from the country. The Muslim community did not raise incidents of harassment with the government.

Some Christians on social media continued anonymously to advocate amending the constitution to prohibit the presence of non-Christian religious groups, and some pastors opposed allowing non-Christians to practice openly. Other commentators said freedom of religion was a basic human right.

The council of the United Church of Pohnpei stated it promoted unity among religious groups by addressing local social problems and promoting cooperation among religious communities. Council officials noted that the council met annually with other religious groups in the country to promote unity and cooperation.

Ahmadi Muslims said they continued outreach through youth after-school sports and homework programs in Kosrae and Pohnpei States, in addition to adult evening faith programs.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy discussed religious freedom in meetings with senior cabinet and state government officials and leaders of religious communities. Embassy officials stressed the primacy of the constitution over local laws or practices that potentially privilege one religious group over others.

In Yap and Chuuk States, embassy officials met with representatives of the Seventh-day Adventist School and Church, the International Christian School and Church of God, and the Catholic School and Church to discuss religious tolerance.

Nauru

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws provide for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, and for freedom to change one’s religion or beliefs. Smaller churches continued to find the 750-member requirement for registration difficult to meet, although religious groups stated they could conduct most normal functions without registration.

A government official stated that local communities “fear that refugees could overrun the tiny island nation.” He said Nauruans would not tolerate the Muslim refugees constructing mosques or houses of worship, although generally the population had no issue with Muslim refugees practicing their religion in private.

The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to the government. Officials from the U.S. embassy in Suva discussed religious pluralism, tolerance, and registration requirements during visits with government officials and civil society in August and October.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 national census, approximately 95 percent of the population is Christian. The Nauru Congregational Church (which includes the Nauru Protestant Church) is the largest Christian group, constituting 36 percent of the population, followed by the Roman Catholic Church at 33 percent, the Nauru Independent Assembly of God at 13 percent, and the Nauru Independent Church at 10 percent. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Baptists, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) each constitute less than 1 percent of the population. Two percent of the population reports no religious affiliation. Ethnic Chinese residents, estimated to constitute 5 percent of the population, are Confucian, Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, or nonreligious.

In addition, according to several nongovernmental organizations and the Australian government, approximately 1,000 persons fleeing their home countries lived in the country at the beginning of the year, although the number declined to approximately 300 at year’s end due to resettlement. Sources stated the number was even fewer because many who were moved from the country to Australia for temporary medical treatment were still legally considered to be in the country, even if they physically were not. Most of those coming to the country were from Muslim majority countries, although many were Christian.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the freedom of conscience, expression, assembly, and association, and for freedom to change one’s religion or beliefs. These rights may be restricted by any law that is “reasonably required” in the interests of defense or public safety, order, morality, or health.

Under the law, religious groups must register with the government to operate in an official capacity, which includes proselytizing, building houses of worship, holding religious services, and officiating at marriages. A 2014 cabinet memorandum sets out requirements for registration of new religious groups, including having at least 750 enrolled members, land, and a building in the country, and leadership by a Nauruan member of the clergy, who must reside in the country. The Catholic Church, Nauru Congregational Church, Assemblies of God, Nauru Independent Church, and Seventh-day Adventist Church are officially registered.

Religious groups may operate private schools, and a number do so. In public schools, the government allows religious groups to have a weekly religious education program with students during school hours, but it does not require schools to offer such education. In schools where religious education is provided, students are required to attend the program led by the representative of their respective religious group. Students whose faith is not represented are required to undertake independent study during the class time devoted to religious education.

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

Government Practices

Although the law requires registration for religious groups to conduct a full range of activities, local religious leaders stated the government continued to require such recognition only if a denomination’s clergy wished to officiate at marriages. Religious groups stated they could conduct most normal functions without registration. There were no reports the government discriminated in the registration process, although leaders of churches with smaller congregations continued to express concerns that the 750-member requirement implemented in 2014 was difficult to meet. The registration applications for the Baptist Church and the Church of Jesus Christ, which did not have 750 members, remained pending at the end of the year.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

A government official stated that local communities “fear that refugees could overrun the tiny island nation.” He said Nauruans would not tolerate the Muslim refugees constructing mosques or houses of worship, although generally the population has no issue with Muslim refugees practicing their religion in private.

Since religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize intolerance toward refugees as being based solely on religious identity.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador to Fiji is accredited to the government; the U.S. government does not maintain an embassy in Nauru. In August and October embassy officials discussed religious tolerance and registration requirements during meetings with senior government officials and civil society.

Palau

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for religious freedom and prohibits the government from taking any action to compel, prohibit, or hinder the exercise of religion. On January 11, the government celebrated the National Day of Prayer that “welcomes all expressions of religion, no matter what a person’s choosing is and without reservation or reproach.”

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

U.S. embassy officials met with senior government officials from the Ministry of State and with representatives of religious groups during the year to discuss the importance of government protection of religious freedom for all groups. A U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chaplain made several visits to discuss the importance of religious freedom with the country’s religious leaders. During the visits, the chaplain and embassy officials interacted with the Palau Assembly of God, Palau Baptist Church, Palau Evangelical Church, Palau Catholic Mission, Palau Seventh-day Adventist Mission, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), and representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 22,000 (midyear 2019 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, 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, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Within the foreign community of approximately 6,000 individuals, more than half are Filipino Catholic. There are small groups of Filipino, American, and local Baptists, as well as Israeli Jews. The foreign community also includes Japanese, Koreans, Indians, Europeans, Canadians, Australians, Thais, and Chinese, all practicing diverse religious beliefs.

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 the recognized private schools operated by Modekngei, Catholic Mission, Evangelical, and Seventh-day Adventist religious groups. The amount earmarked is based on the number of students attending a particular school. Private schools do not pay gross revenue tax but pay a flat port clearance fee of $3 for ordered 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. Foreign missionary applicants must provide police and medical clearances. Letters from the assigning church in the foreign country and the local accepting church must be submitted 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 11, the government celebrated the National Day of Prayer and invited religious leaders and members of all faiths and denominations as well as schoolchildren and members of the diplomatic corps to the capital for a program of prayer and song. According to the government, the program “welcomes all expressions of religion, no matter what a person’s choosing is and without reservation or reproach.”

Government-sponsored events, including a Christmas celebration at a park in Koror at which various churches performed, featured Christian prayers from various denominations.

Men and women leaders from traditional religious groups continued to convene for cultural and government events across the country.

The government provided funding to the nine recognized private schools run by religious groups, with support totaling $947,000.

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

Embassy officials met with senior officials from the Ministry of State during the year to discuss the importance of government protection of religious freedom for all groups, in addition to interfaith relations. A U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chaplain made several visits to Palau to discuss the importance of religious freedom with the country’s religious leaders. During the visits, the chaplain and embassy officials interacted with the Palau Assembly of God, Palau Baptist Church, Palau Evangelical Church, Palau Catholic Mission, Palau Seventh-day Adventist Mission, Church of Jesus Christ, and representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Embassy representatives continued to interact with members of the Palau Assembly of God, Palau Baptist Church, Palau Evangelical Church, Palau Catholic Mission, Palau Seventh-day Adventist Mission, the Church of Jesus Christ, and representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities to promote respect for religious diversity.

Papua New Guinea

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion and the right to practice religion freely. In September police filed a defamation suit against Catholic Bishop of Alotau-Sideia Rolando Crisostomo Santos after he denounced what he said was police abuse of power. The Constitutional and Law Reform Commission (CLRC) and the Department for Community Development and Religion (DfCDR) continued consultations on a proposed constitutional amendment defining the country as Christian. Parliamentary sessions and most government meetings began and ended with Christian prayers. During the year authorities moved more than 300 refugees, primarily Muslims, from detention facilities on Manus Island to detention facilities in Port Moresby, where according to media reports, they were kept in extremely poor conditions, with many suffering from mental and physical illnesses. Work on the Citizenship and Christian Values Education syllabus that made Christian life studies a compulsory subject in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide was not finalized at year’s end. The government continued to fund churches to deliver health and education services through the Church-State Partnership Program, with additional funding from international partners. In October Prime Minister James Marape announced that by 2020 all state-owned companies would pay 10 percent of profits annually to churches to manage social services. In July Prime Minister Marape said he wanted to make the country “the richest black Christian nation on earth.” Political opponents and civil society groups objected to the statement, saying the country did not have an exclusive ethnic or religious affiliation.

In January assailants killed a pastor and attacked members of his church in East Sepik Province. In March The National, the country’s leading newspaper, reported the Lutheran Church Education Agency criticized the role of new Christian and missionary groups providing education services. The Papua New Guinea Council of Churches (PNGCC) organized dialogues among its members and fostered cooperation on social welfare projects. Some participants proposed limiting cooperation in the Church-State Partnership Program to only “mainline” Christian churches.

U.S. embassy officials engaged government and civil society contacts to ensure any moves to declare the country a Christian nation do not conflict with the freedom of religion stipulated in the constitution. Embassy officials discussed the importance of equitable distribution of government support for religious groups. The Ambassador and other officials discussed religious tolerance and religious groups’ roles as health and educational service providers in regular meetings with the PNGCC and local religious leaders.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 7.1 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 98 percent of citizens identified as Christian. Approximately 26 percent of the population is Roman Catholic; 18 percent Evangelical Lutheran; 13 percent Seventh-day Adventist; 10 percent Pentecostal; 10 percent United Church (an offspring of the London Missionary Society, Australian Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand); 6 percent Evangelical Alliance; 3 percent Anglican; and 3 percent Baptist. Other Christian groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Kwato Church, and the Salvation Army, together constitute 9 percent. There are approximately 60,000 Baha’is, making up less than 1 percent of the population, and 2 percent hold indigenous or other beliefs. Newer, self-identified fundamentalist Christian religious groups are increasing, and there is a growing, almost exclusively expatriate, Jewish community in Port Moresby. Many citizens integrate Christian faith with indigenous beliefs and practices. The Muslim community numbers approximately 5,500 and includes an estimated 2,220 local converts as well as 300 refugees and asylum seekers residing at the transit accommodation in Port Moresby. Most Muslim expatriate workers live in Port Moresby, and Muslim converts live in Port Moresby or villages in the highlands.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides the individual the right to “freedom of conscience, thought, and religion and the practice of his religion and beliefs, including freedom to manifest and propagate his religion and beliefs” except where that practice infringes on another person’s rights or where it violates public laws, safety, and welfare of marginalized groups. The preamble of the constitution refers to “our noble traditions and the Christian principles that are ours.” There is no state religion.

Religious groups are required to register with the government in order to hold a bank account, own properties in the religious group’s name, have limited individual liability, and apply to the Internal Revenue Commission for exemption on income tax and to the Department of Treasury for exemption of import duty. To register, groups must provide documentation including a list of board or executive committee members and a constitution.

According to the law, religious instruction in public schools is noncompulsory, but Christian education is offered in most public schools. Students of non-Christian religious groups may opt out with approval of the school principal. Religious organizations are free to establish private schools, but students deciding to opt out of religious instruction might be asked to transfer to public schools.

Foreign missionary groups are permitted to proselytize and engage in other missionary activities. Religious workers receive a three-year special exemption visa from the government. Applications for the visa require a sponsor letter from a religious group in the country, an approved work permit from the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, and a 100 kina ($30) fee.

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

Government Practices

During the year, authorities moved more than 300 refugees, primarily Muslims, from detention facilities on Manus Island to detention facilities in Port Moresby. Media reported the refugees were kept in extremely poor conditions, with many suffering from mental and physical illnesses. Some of the detainees had been in detention for six years, and at year’s end all were awaiting status determinations. Since religion, national origin, and refugee status are often closely linked, it was difficult to characterize their treatment as being based solely on religious identity.

In September police filed a defamation suit against Catholic Bishop of Alotau-Sideia Rolando Crisostomo Santos after he denounced what he said was police abuse of power. Santos posted on Facebook that police officers burned down 19 houses in Alotau after a night of drinking. The bishop stated this was the second time police had burned down homes in the area. On September 4, police arrested Santos and local Catholic education secretary Gregory Nimagale but soon released them on bail. Member of Parliament Charles Abel publicly apologized to Santos, said he would make changes to police personnel, and stated he asked police to drop charges against Santos.

The CLRC continued consultations with government agencies and churches at the national level on a proposed constitutional amendment defining the country as Christian, but funding and capacity shortfalls delayed the countrywide consultations. In November a CLRC lawyer reported progress had stalled because leaders at the DfCDR did not issue instructions on how the CLRC should implement its mandate. The lawyer further stated the National Executive Council, the country’s national cabinet, did not authorize the department to proceed with the consultations. The DfCDR stated that consultations were on hold due to lack of funding and capacity.

Parliament sessions and most government meetings began and ended with Christian prayers, but persons of different faiths were able to opt out with no repercussion. The speaker of the house selected a member of parliament to start the sessions with a Christian prayer. The National newspaper reported government authorities in Southern Highlands Province and some national government agencies continued to tell public servants they had to attend weekly morning devotions for 10 to 20 minutes; the specific day of the devotion varied by region and agency. Individuals choosing to opt out could do so without negative consequence. Pastors from different Christian denominations led the morning devotional sessions.

The Department of Education continued to set aside one hour per week for religious instruction in public schools. Such instruction remained legally noncompulsory, although almost all students attended. Representatives of Christian churches taught the lessons, and there was no standard curriculum. According to law, children whose parents did not wish them to attend the classes could opt out with approval of the school principal.

The Citizenship and Christian Values Education syllabus, making Christian life studies compulsory in elementary and secondary public, private, and church-run schools nationwide, was not finalized at year’s end.

The government continued to fund churches to deliver health and education services through the Church-State Partnership Program with additional funding from international partners. Mainline churches continued to operate approximately 60 percent of schools and health services in the country, and the government provided financial support for these institutions. The government subsidized their operation using a formula based on the number of schools and health centers run by each church. In addition, the government continued to pay the salary and provide benefits for the majority of teachers and health staff (generally members of the civil service) who worked at these church-administered institutions, as it did for teachers and health staff of national institutions. The facilities provided services to the general population irrespective of religious beliefs, and operations were not religious in nature.

In October Prime Minister Marape announced that by 2020, all state-owned companies would pay 10 percent of profits annually to churches to run social services.

Individual members of parliament continued to provide grants of government money to religious institutions in their constituencies to carry out religious activities. Nearly all of these institutions were Christian. In November the Post Courier newspaper reported one member of parliament procured a grant of 40,000 kina ($12,100) for the United Church in his constituency to implement local church programs. In previous years, there were reports of complaints from minority Christian churches because they had not received similar funding, but there were no such reports during the year.

The Church Partnership database, announced in 2018 by the DfCDR with the stated goal of providing more support to churches, was nonoperational at year’s end because technical issues made it inaccessible to the public, according to a statement from a DfCDR official.

In July Prime Minister Marape stated he wanted to make the country “the richest black Christian nation on earth.” Political opponents and civil society groups objected to the statement, saying the country did not have an exclusive ethnic or religious affiliation. In a September Post Courier editorial, the editorial board said the country prospered from a more diverse population and was not solely a “black Christian country.”

In August during National Prayer and Repentance Day, jointly organized by the PNGCC and the DfCDR, Prime Minister Marape said the country was declared a Christian country during Independence in 1975 and that status would remain unchanged.

The PNGCC continued to work with provincial governments to establish provincial church councils. According to the chairman of the PNGCC, the provincial church councils would “bring churches closer to the government.” The PNGCC included the Anglican, Seventh-day Adventist, Baptist Union, Roman Catholic, United, and Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Salvation Army, as well as other churches and organizations as associate members.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In January assailants killed a pastor and attacked members of his church in East Sepik Province. According to The National newspaper, the pastor was killed for encouraging his church members not to attend a land dispute negotiation with a neighboring village, while the church members were attacked for not participating in customary land mediation. Police arrested and charged five persons for the killing of the pastor and the attack on the church members.

Media continued to report that established churches criticized the role of new Christian and missionary groups. In March The National reported the Lutheran Education Agency questioned the quality and commitment of smaller churches in providing education services. The Lutheran Education Agency disqualified adherents of non-mainline church denominations from teaching in Lutheran schools but accepted teachers affiliated with mainline churches.

The PNGCC continued dialogue among its members. In addition, 16 church-affiliated organizations, including the Young Women’s Christian Association, participated in its activities. The council concentrated primarily on cooperation among Christian groups on social welfare projects.

Through the Church-State Partnership Program, religious leaders discussed working together to address social issues that affected congregation members such as education, health, gender equality, fragmentation of family values, and sorcery-related violence. Some participants proposed limiting cooperation in the Church-State Partnership Program to only mainline Christian churches. Participants discussed limiting the role of non-mainline churches, in particular Pentecostal churches, because they said these smaller denominations could not offer the same level of education and health services.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officers discussed with government officials, including those from the DfCDR, the importance of equitable distribution of government support for religious groups.

Embassy representatives attended church-organized activities and participated in discussions on the role of churches in development and the importance of including a broad spectrum of religious groups. Embassy officials asked attendees, including government officials, to ensure any moves to declare the country a Christian nation do not conflict with the freedom of religion stipulated in the constitution. In October the embassy hosted a roundtable discussion with representatives of the Baha’i community, Islamic community, and the Church of Jesus Christ. Roundtable participants discussed freedom of religion, the relationship between churches and the state, and avenues for future collaboration across faith communities and with civil society partners.

The Ambassador and embassy representatives discussed religious tolerance, and religious groups’ role as health and educational service providers, in regular meetings with the PNGCC and local religious leaders.

Samoa

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change one’s religion, and it defines the country as a Christian nation. By August cases against all 39 pastors from the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (CCCS), who had been charged for not filing their tax returns or paying taxes, were dismissed or withdrawn. The Ministry for Revenue stated it would pursue the matter through the Office of the Attorney General and would file charges against the pastors in the future. The case stemmed from a 2018 change in the tax law that required clergy to begin paying income taxes from which they were previously exempt. There were continued anecdotal reports that village leaders resisted attempts by new religious groups to establish themselves in village communities, forbade individuals to belong to churches outside their village, and did not permit individuals to refrain from participating in worship services.

There was reportedly strong societal pressure at the village and local levels to participate in church services and other activities, and in some cases to give large proportions of household income to support church leaders and projects.

The Charge d’Affaires met with the commissioner of police to stress the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and to offer assistance to identify possible threats to religious groups in the country. The Charge attended numerous prayer events throughout the country during the year, including a parliamentary prayer breakfast and national prayers for the measles crisis. U.S. embassy officials maintained contact with various religious groups, including the Muslim community in the wake of the Christchurch, New Zealand tragedy.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 203,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2016 national census, Congregational Christians constitute 29 percent of the population; Roman Catholics, 18.8 percent; members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 16.9 percent; Methodists, 12.4 percent; members of the Assemblies of God, 6.8 percent; and Seventh-day Adventists, 4.4 percent. Groups together constituting less than 12 percent of the population include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Congregational Church of Jesus, Church of the Nazarene, nondenominational Protestants, Baptists, Worship Centre, Peace Chapel, Samoa Evangelism, Elim Church, Anglicans, Baha’is, and small numbers of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews, primarily in Apia. Less than 1 percent stated no religion or did not select a religion.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change one’s religion. This right may be subject to “reasonable restrictions” by law in the interests of national security or public order, health, or morals, or protecting the rights of others. Legal protections cover discrimination or persecution by private citizens as well as government officials. The preamble to the constitution describes the country as “an independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions.” In 2017 the parliament added the following clause to the first article of the constitution: “Samoa is a Christian nation founded on God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

The government does not require religious groups to register, but groups have the option to register as a charitable trust with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor. Registration is free, with a simple application. Becoming a charitable trust entitles groups to receive tax exemptions and legal status. Unregistered religious groups may not formally buy property or pay employees. Individuals or groups may establish a place of worship on community or private land. Groups wishing to establish a place of worship on communal land may face significant obstacles obtaining the customary approvals from the extended family with claims to said land and the village council.

The constitution provides that no one may be forced to take religious instruction in a religion other than his or her own and gives each religious group the right to establish its own schools. The government enforces an education policy making Christian instruction compulsory in public primary schools and optional in public secondary schools. There is no opt-out provision. Most children of other religions attend private schools.

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

Government Practices

An amended income tax law, passed in 2017 and including the taxing of ministers of religion, became effective in 2018. At least 39 CCCS pastors were charged for not filing their tax returns and paying taxes. The cases were dismissed by the district courts or withdrawn by the Ministry for Revenue in July and August. According to media reports, the Office of the Attorney General, with assistance from the ministry, will file charges in the future against the pastors. According to a press statement from the ministry, the CCCS was the only denomination that opposed the tax law.

Reportedly, matai councils, the traditional governing body of villages, frequently continued to resist attempts to introduce new religious groups into their communities on the ground of “maintaining harmony within the village” – a duty prescribed in legislation. Sources stated that it was also common in many villages throughout the country for leaders to forbid individuals to belong to churches outside of the village or to exercise their right not to worship. Villagers in violation of such rules faced fines, banishment from the village, or both.

Traditionally, villages have tended to have one primary Christian church. Village chiefs often have chosen the religious denomination of their extended families. Sources stated, however, that many larger villages have had multiple churches serving different denominations and coexisting peacefully.

Ten or more chaplains continued to be available to prisoners on a rotational basis, covering the majority of Christian denominations in the country. Prisoners of non-Christian faiths have access to counselors from their religion.

Public ceremonies typically began with a Christian prayer.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Compared to previous years, there were few reports during the year of disparaging remarks made by members of the public towards non-Christian religions.

As reported by media and in letters to the editor, there was a high level of religious observance and continued strong societal pressure at village and local levels to participate in church services and other activities, in addition to supporting church leaders and projects financially. In some denominations, financial contributions often totaled more than 30 percent of family income. This issue continued to gain media attention, in outlets such as the Samoa Observer newspaper, as members of society occasionally spoke out about pressure on families to give large amounts of their income to churches. The 2018 Public Inquiry into Domestic Violence by the National Human Rights Institute/Office of the Ombudsman stated several times that “financial pressures associated with church contributions and family obligations are unique underlying causes of family violence in Samoa.” Some individuals expressed concern that church leaders abused their privileged status among the congregation and village.

Public opinion reported on social media continued to be divided on the issue of taxing pastors. Those against taxing pastors believed as representatives of God, they should not be taxed; others felt the pastors should accept the responsibility of paying taxes as the other pastors who agreed to do so and the rest of the working population.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires met with the commissioner of police to stress the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and to offer to help determine possible threats to religious groups in the country. The Charge attended numerous prayer events throughout the country during the year, including a parliamentary prayer breakfast, and national prayers for the measles crisis.

Embassy officials maintained contact with various religious groups, including all major Christian denominations and members of the Baha’i Faith. The Charge attended many nondenominational prayer events during the year and engaged in conversations regarding religion and religious freedom in the country.

After the attacks on Muslims in neighboring New Zealand, embassy officials interacted with the local Islamic community. On separate occasions, the Ambassador and Charge met with the local imam to discuss the tragedy, safety concerns, and the state of religious freedom in the country.

Solomon Islands

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for religious freedom, including the freedom to change religions, proselytize, and establish religious schools. Laws “reasonably required” to achieve certain listed public goals may restrict these rights. As of year’s end, the Constitutional Review Committee had not finalized a draft of an approved 2017 parliamentary motion to declare the country a Christian nation. In September Malaita Province Premier Daniel Suidani urged support of recognition of Taiwan rather than China because of shared Christian and democratic values.

In April police arrested five men for damaging a United Methodist church building in Makina Village, East Guadalcanal. Police stated the attackers suspected the church of influencing congregants to vote against their preferred candidate in national elections. There were no reported injuries to the congregants. The courts ordered the five perpetrators to pay repair costs for the damage they caused. The five largest religious groups that make up the Solomon Islands Christian Association (SICA) organized joint religious activities and encouraged religious representation at national events.

The U.S. government, through the embassy in Papua New Guinea and the consular agency in Solomon Islands, discussed religious tolerance with the government during the year. Embassy officials raised the issue of a parliamentary motion seeking to change the preamble of the constitution in an effort to ensure that the changes did not discriminate against non-Christian religious organizations or activities. Embassy officials also discussed the potential for church-run schools to open enrollment to all students regardless of church affiliation. Embassy officials discussed with religious minorities whether groups believed they could freely exercise their religious beliefs and if they had concerns about the proposed change to the constitution. Embassy representatives also met with religious leaders of larger groups and leaders of SICA.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 673,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the government census and independent anthropological research, approximately 90 percent of the population is affiliated with one of the following Christian churches: Anglican Church of Melanesia, 32 percent; Roman Catholic, 20 percent; South Seas Evangelical, 17 percent; Seventh-day Adventist, 12 percent; and United Methodist, 10 percent. An estimated 5 percent of the population, consisting primarily of the Kwaio ethnic community on the island of Malaita, adheres to indigenous, animistic religions. Groups together constituting less than 5 percent of the population include Muslims, Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), and members of indigenous churches that have broken away from major Christian denominations, such as the Christian Fellowship Church, which separated from the United Methodist Church in 1960.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of thought and of religion. This includes the freedom for individuals to change religion or belief and to worship, teach, practice, and observe one’s religion in public or in private, either alone or with others. It also provides for the freedom to establish noncompulsory religious instruction. These provisions may be restricted by laws “reasonably required” to protect the rights of others, for defense, or for public safety, order, morality, or health.

All religious groups must register with the government. Religious groups are required to apply in writing to the Registrar of Companies for a certificate of registration. Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations may register as charitable organizations. To register, a group must submit the required paperwork to the Registrar of Companies; the application fee of 1,250 Solomon Islands dollars (SBD) ($150) is waived for religious groups. Documentation required for the application process includes a description of the group, a list of board members, and a constitution that states how the group is governed and how members are chosen. The registrar issues a certificate when satisfied that the requirements have been met and that the nature, extent, objectives, and circumstances of the applicant are noncommercial.

The public school curriculum includes an hour of weekly religious instruction, the content of which is agreed upon by the member churches of SICA, an ecumenical nongovernmental organization comprising the county’s five largest churches. Parents may have their children excused from religious education. Government-subsidized church schools are required to align their nonreligious curricula with governmental criteria. Non-Christian religious instruction is provided in the schools upon request. Ministers or other representatives of the religion provide these classes. Anyone found to be preventing religious instruction faces imprisonment of up to one year or a fine of up to SBD 500 ($62).

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

Government Practices

As of year’s end, the Constitutional Review Committee had not finalized draft constitutional changes intended to implement a 2017 parliamentary motion to explore the possibility of amending the preamble of the constitution to declare the country a Christian nation. Committee representatives said the changes would recognize Christianity as the main religion of the country without limiting religious freedom. In December a member of the Church of Jesus Christ in Honiara said the government should focus on economic development in Solomon Islands instead of religion, commenting that religious groups in the country did not pose a threat to civil liberties.

In September, amid a political standoff and public tension over the government’s decision to cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favor of China, Malaita Province Premier (Governor) Daniel Suidani encouraged Solomon Islanders to maintain their Christian and democratic values by supporting relations with Taiwan instead of China. Christians were present in large numbers at the airport to welcome and express sadness to Taiwanese officials arriving in the country to close down their embassy.

Three new groups, two subsidiaries of the Anglican Church of Melanesia and one local church affiliated with the Christian Fellowship Church, were registered during the year. There were no reports of religious groups being denied registration.

The government continued to interact with religious groups through the Ministry of Home Affairs. The ministry characterized its role as maintaining a balance between constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom, free speech, and free expression, and maintaining public order. The ministry also again granted a small amount of funding to churches to carry out social programs, such as a Christian care center for victims of domestic violence administrated by the Anglican Church of Melanesia. The maximum amount of these grants was SBD 15,000 ($1,900). Some churches also received funding from local members of parliament through their constituent development funds. According to informal guidelines on how constituent development funds should be allocated, no more than SBD 250,000 ($31,000) per year per district could be given to religious groups. Groups needed to apply directly to members of parliament to receive these funds.

Religious groups operated several schools and health services. The government subsidized most of the schools and health centers administered by the Catholic Church, Anglican Church of Melanesia, United Methodist Church, South Seas Evangelical Church, and Seventh-day Adventist Church. Subsidies were allocated proportionally based on the number of students at the schools and the size of the health centers. There were no reports of discrimination among groups in receiving these subsidies.

Government oaths of office customarily continued to be taken on the Bible, but this was not a compulsory practice.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In April police arrested five men following an attack on a United Methodist church in Makina Village, East Guadalcanal, in which they threw rocks at the church while persons prayed inside. The attackers did not injure the individuals inside but did cause damage to the building. Police stated the attackers suspected the church influenced persons to vote against their preferred candidate in the national general election. The men were charged with unlawful damage and later released after paying for the cost of repairing the church building.

The five largest religious groups that make up SICA continued to play a leading role in civic life, organizing joint religious activities and encouraging religious representation at national events. In June SICA organized a prison visit event for church members to share gifts, food, and church teachings with prisoners at Rove prison in Honiara. Other, smaller Pentecostal churches were part of the Solomon Islands Full Gospel Association (SIFGA), an umbrella organization. In June SICA and SIFGA cohosted the visit of a U.S. evangelist.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy and consular representatives from the embassy in Papua New Guinea and the consular agency in Solomon Islands discussed religious tolerance with senior government officials, including a recommendation that the proposed change to the preamble of the constitution not discriminate against non-Christian religious organizations or activities, and that church-run schools open enrollment to all students regardless of church affiliation.

Embassy and consular representatives discussed with religious minorities their perceptions of religious freedom and tolerance in the country and any concerns about the proposed change to the constitution. Embassy representatives met with leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Catholic archbishop to emphasize the importance of religious freedom regardless of religious affiliation. In May embassy officials discussed with SICA the challenges of church-provided health and education services, including cooperation by churches with civil society and government.

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 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 in the country. The secretariat compiled and submitted reports on these issues to the cabinet.

During regular visits, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Fiji discussed the need to protect religious freedom and tolerance with representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor; and 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 2019 estimate). According to 2016 local census data, membership in major religious groups includes the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, 35 percent; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 19 percent; Roman Catholic Church, 14 percent; Free Church of Tonga, 12 percent; and Church of Tonga, 7 percent. (The latter two are local affiliates of the Methodist Church.) Other Christian groups account for approximately 9 percent and include the Tokaikolo Church, Mo’ui Fo’ou ‘ia Kalaisi, Constitutional Church of Tonga, Seventh-day Adventists, Gospel Church, Salvation Army, Assemblies of God, other Pentecostal denominations, Anglicans, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Reportedly, 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 Islam. 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. The law also prohibits many recreational activities and sports on the Sabbath.

The law does not require registration of religious groups. Any group of individuals 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, 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’ signature, and a 115 pa’anga ($52) application fee. It is a legal requirement that if a group elects to register with the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor, it must also register with the Ministry of Revenue and Customs as a nonprofit organization. There are no additional requirements to register with the Ministry of Revenue and Customs once a group is registered as a separate legal entity with the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor.

The law allows religious leaders to legalize marriages. According to the law, only marriages solemnized by church ministers are legally recognized, and no other marriage is valid.

Religious groups may operate schools, and a number do so. In public schools, the government allows religious groups to offer an hour-long program of religious education with 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

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.

Foreign Christian missionaries were active in the country and operated freely.

The government continued to enforce a ban that prohibits bakeries 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 are granted by the minister of police in accordance with the set requirements. The Forum of Church Leaders continued to express concern about the exemption for hotels and resorts.

The Education Ministry continued to give permission to the Scripture Union and Sisu koe Fetu’u Ngingila, two private Christian NGOs, 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, 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 U.S. Embassy in Fiji met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, Innovation, and Labor to discuss religious freedom. Embassy officials also met with the Tonga National Council of Churches and representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ and discussed the need to protect interfaith tolerance.

The embassy utilized social media to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, including highlighting comments by the U.S. Vice President and posts in support of International Religious Freedom Day.

Tuvalu

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the freedom to change religion or belief and the freedom to show and spread religious belief through worship, teaching, observance, or practice. The law designates the Ekalesia A Kelisiano Tuvalu (Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu or EKT) as the state church and allows it to conduct “special services on major national events.” The powers of the ombudsman include oversight of a national human rights institution to promote and protect human rights, including religious freedom, and labor law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. Traditional island councils reportedly continued to discourage public meetings of several minority religious groups, and informal religious bans on such groups by traditional leaders remained in place.

On some outer islands, traditional leaders reportedly worked actively against nontraditional religious groups.

The U.S. Embassy in Fiji promoted religious tolerance in meetings with the government and local religious leaders when visiting the country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). Approximately 86 percent of the population belongs to the Ekalesia A Kelisiano Tuvalu (Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu or EKT), which has historical ties to the Congregational Christian Church and other churches in Samoa, 2.8 percent to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and 3.0 percent to the Brethren Church. There are small numbers of Catholics, Muslims, Baha’is, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Assemblies of God, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).

The nine island groups have traditional chiefs, all of whom are members of the EKT. Most members of other religious groups are found in Funafuti, the capital, and some Baha’is live on Nanumea Island.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The EKT is by law the state church, and the law affords its followers “the privilege of performing special services on major national events.” The constitution otherwise provides for separation of religion and state. The constitution provides for “freedom of thought, religion, and belief,” and the freedom to show and spread religious belief through worship, teaching, observance, or practice. These freedoms may be limited by law for reasons such as avoiding divisiveness; protecting the rights of others; defense; and public order, safety, morality, and health. The preamble of the constitution states the country is “an independent State based on Christian principles, the Rule of Law, and Tuvaluan custom and tradition.”

By law, any new religious group with adult members representing not less than 2 percent of the country’s total population (at the most recent census) must register with the government; failure to register could result in prosecution. The Ministry of Home Affairs requires religious groups seeking registration to submit a request signed by the head and supported by five other members of the organization. Information on and proof of the number of adherents, the name of the religious organization, and approval from the traditional elder councils, known as falekaupule, are also required in the request. Under the law, all religious groups, regardless of size, must register with and obtain approval from the falekaupule of any island on which they conduct services. The law prohibits joint or public worship by religious groups not approved by these councils. The law also allows the falekaupule to withhold permission from certain religious groups to meet publicly, should they be judged locally to “directly threaten the values and culture of the island community.” The law provides for unapproved groups to be fined up to 500 Australian dollars ($350) if they engage in public meetings in violation of the law.

The powers of the ombudsman include oversight of a national human rights institution to promote and protect human rights, including religious freedom. Labor law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.

The law guarantees the right of individuals to worship freely within their own residences.

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

Government Practices

Missionaries continued to practice without government restrictions on some islands, such as Funafuti. On other islands, such as Nanumanga and Vaitupu, formal and informal bans issued by the falekaupule remained in effect on proselytizing and public worship by representatives of religious groups that were perceived to challenge traditional cultural norms. As a consequence, missionaries said they did not try to proselytize on those islands.

Government ceremonies at the national level, such as the opening of the parliamentary year, and at the island council level continued to include Christian prayers and clergy.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

On smaller islands, including Niu, Nukufetau, Nanumanga, Niutao, and Vaitupu, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious groups were reportedly perceived by residents as being outside of traditional norms. In some cases, local traditional leaders discouraged groups from proselytizing or holding meetings, stating nontraditional and minority religious groups might disrupt traditional societal structures. Many religious groups continued to operate privately without formal approval, especially in the outer islands.

Leaders from religious minority groups acknowledged the government’s efforts to promote greater religious tolerance, but they said the government had failed to spread the message sufficiently on the outer islands.

Local minority religious leaders said the EKT continued to exert considerable influence in the social, cultural, and political life of the country. For example, the Church continued to limit activities on Sunday and encouraged a modest dress code in local villages.

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 U.S. Embassy in Fiji visited the country and met with representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and civil society and community leaders, including leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Baptist Church, and members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, EKT, and Baha’i faiths. They discussed religious tolerance and the treatment of minority groups, including the treatment by traditional leaders of persons leaving the EKT.

The embassy utilized social media to promote religious pluralism and tolerance, including highlighting comments by the U.S. Vice President and posts in support of International Religious Freedom Day.

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 Christian values, 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 March the minister for internal affairs called on all churches to conduct more “open-air crusades” around the capital city of Port Vila to combat crime. The interdenominational Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC) received a 10 million vatu ($88,700) annual grant from the government, which it said it would use for the administration of the VCC as well as to support various activities of the churches in the country.

According to the VCC, religious minorities were respected, and any tension between groups was mostly due to tribal and ethnic issues. In most rural areas, traditional Melanesian communal decision making predominated on significant social changes, such as establishment of a new religious group. In November the VCC met with a delegation from the West Papua Council of Churches and encouraged the council to help establish a region-wide Melanesia church council.

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. The U.S. Ambassador in Papua New Guinea is accredited to the government. In October the Ambassador visited the country and engaged with VCC leaders on social challenges, attended nondenominational religious services, and reinforced the importance of religious freedom in stable societies.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 293,000 (midyear 2019 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 are followers of 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. In January the media reported that approximately 5,000 believers in the John Frum Movement had converted to Christianity in recent years.

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 a violation of such rights 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 the 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 ($440); however, the law is not enforced.

According to law, children may not be refused school admission 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 years 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 March the minister for internal affairs called on all churches to hold more “open-air crusades” – as public preaching and religious events are known – as a way to combat crime around Port Vila. The minister, whom observers said was seeking to channel individuals’ attention towards morally good behavior and to reinforce values-based civic engagement, also said that because the country is predominantly Christian, citizens should attend church services and participate in church activities to reduce social problems. The minister issued a letter of instruction to the Port Vila Municipal Council to allow all churches and faith-based organizations to stage “open-air crusades” and community outreach programs within city limits. Churches welcomed the minister’s invitation. The Port Vila Municipal Authority supported the initiative but requested churches to inform the authority in advance of planned crusades and to end all events within authorized timeframes.

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 the Seventh-day Adventist and Assemblies of God Churches having observer status.

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 July the government, community organizations, and partner churches provided medical and health information, free medical consultations, and screened for common illnesses at a community health expo.

The VCC received a 10 million vatu ($88,700) annual grant from the government. The VCC said 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. In June the VCC hosted an informational event for migrant workers on their way to Australia and New Zealand to increase awareness within the seasonal worker community of labor rights, the importance of health, and cultural sensitivity.

Government oaths of office customarily were taken on the Bible.

Ceremonial prayers at national events were organized through the VCC.

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.

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 November the VCC met with a seven-member delegation of the West Papua Council of Churches. Among other topics discussed, the VCC requested the West Papua Council of Churches to commit to further discussions on establishing a Melanesian council of churches that would include Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Fiji.

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. In October the Ambassador visited the country and engaged with VCC leaders on social challenges, attended nondenominational religious services, and reinforced the importance of religious freedom in stable societies.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future