The constitution provides for the separation of religion and state, and stipulates all persons are entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It states no one shall be hindered in the exercise of these rights except as required by law to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the rights of others. It also provides for equal protection under the law and prohibits political parties that exclude citizens from membership on the basis of religious affiliation.
The government encourages all religious groups, except for indigenous ones who generally operate under customary law, to register their articles of incorporation and their organizations’ statements of purpose. Local religious organizations register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and pay a one-time fee of approximately 5,000 Liberian dollars ($55) to file their articles of incorporation, and an annual fee of 3,500 Liberian dollars ($38) for registration and to receive a registration certificate. Foreign religious organizations are charged $400 (36,400 Liberian dollars) for registration annually, and a one-time fee of $500 (45,500 Liberian dollars) to file their articles of incorporation. Religious organizations also pay 1,000 to 2,000 Liberian dollars ($11 to $22) to the Liberia Revenue Authority for notary services for articles of incorporation to be filed with the MFA and an additional 1,000 Liberian dollars ($11) to receive a registered copy of the articles. An accreditation of the articles of incorporation is awarded at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.
Registered religious organizations, including missionary programs, religious charities, and religious groups, receive tax exemption and duty-free privileges benefits not afforded unregistered groups. Registered groups may also appear in court as a single entity.
The law requires high-level government officials to take an oath ending with the phrase, “So help me God,” when assuming office. Christians kiss the Bible and Muslims the Quran on those occasions.
Public schools offer nonsectarian religious and moral education as an elective in all grades.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Some religious groups continued to pursue a constitutional amendment declaring the country a “Christian nation,” an effort that developed in 2015 at the Constitutional Review Conference where a majority of delegates endorsed the proposition, known as Proposition 24. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, along with Catholic, Episcopal, Baptist, Lutheran, and Muslim communities, all opposed the initiative, while some evangelical Christian pastors and members of the national legislature supported it.
In March the National Muslim Council of Liberia (NMCL) briefly suspended its membership within the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL), a council established to assist post-war Liberia engender religious tolerance. According to the NMCL, the suspension was in response to a campaign by the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) to pass Proposition 24, which the NMCL said would prejudice other religious groups. The LCC had not publicly voiced opposition to the constitutional amendment until May when it officially rejected Proposition 24. This action reduced tensions, according to Muslim leaders, and subsequently the NMCL restored its membership in the IRCL. The LCC rejection of Proposition 24 splintered the group, and one part launched the National Christian Council of Liberia (NCCL) in July. The NCCL continued to advocate for a countrywide vote on Proposition 24 and for its passage. The NMCL stated the events surrounding Proposition 24 ignited an unfortunate stalemate between Muslim and Christian leaders and threatened to endanger the IRCL. While thus far blocked by the president, the vote on the constitutional amendment remained pending at year end.
In January local media reported that a group of Muslim youths protested the demolition of a mosque in Ganta, Nimba County. The mosque, according to news sources, was among buildings demolished by local authorities to enable road reconstruction, but some members of the Muslim community stated county authorities targeted Muslims and did not consult them before destroying the mosque. The government deployed national police to the site of the protest, which ended peacefully. The National Council of Imams stated it was aware of the incident, but did not consider it serious enough to warrant follow-up actions or discussions.
In July Sheikh Abubakar Sumaworo, Mufti of the NMCL, called on members of the legislature, diplomatic missions, and international partners to pressure the government to declare Eid al-Fitr a national holiday. The request to make Eid al-Fitr a national holiday has been pending since 1995. In August Senator Prince Johnson submitted a bill to the legislature that would have made Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha national holidays. Johnson said the bill would enhance harmony among tribal and religious groups, including Muslims. In September Representative Edwin Snowe submitted a similar bill, proposing to make Eid al-Adha a national holiday, which remained pending at year end.
In response to the Ebola epidemic in 2015, the government continued to discourage traditional and religious burial rites that could potentially increase the number of infections.
The government, through city ordinances and presidential proclamations, required businesses and markets, including Muslim-owned or -operated businesses and shops, to remain closed on Sundays for municipal street cleaning and on Christmas in accordance with the law. Muslim-owned businesses stated they viewed the regular Sunday municipal street cleaning as an excuse for the government to force their businesses to close to honor the Christian Sabbath. According to both the National Imam Council of Liberia (NICL) and the NMCL, the ordinances and proclamations were a violation of the constitution and a threat to the peace. The NMCL reported that it brought action in court seeking redress for the forced closures. Since penalties – consisting of fines of up to 200 Liberian dollars ($2.27) – were not strictly enforced, some Muslim-owned or -operated shops opened for limited hours on Sundays. Both NICL and NMCL said they would not have a problem with the closing of Muslim-owned businesses on Christmas if the end of Ramadan was also observed as a national holiday.
Government ceremonies commonly included opening and closing prayers. The prayers were usually Christian but occasionally were both Christian and Muslim. In Lofa County, where a large number of Muslims reside, opening and closing prayers were alternately Christian and Muslim.
The government subsidized private schools, most of which were affiliated with either Christian or Muslim organizations, and subsidies were provided proportionally, based on the number of students.