The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or traditional belief. The preamble to the constitution refers to traditional Christian values, but there is no state religion. In April the minister of internal affairs suggested amending the constitution to state the country is a Christian nation, but no action was taken in parliament on the proposal. On penalty of a fine, the law requires religious groups to register, but the government has not enforced this requirement. In April the minister of internal affairs said the Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC) was not fully representative of all Christian churches and should be replaced with a more inclusive umbrella organization. In August Prime Minister Charlot Salwai announced the government would start paying a 10 million vatu ($89,000) annual grant to the VCC. The media reported the prime minister, in remarks after the signing, said his government recognized the role the churches play in praying for peace and unity in the country. In July a police officer and others reportedly drove a police vehicle into a church conference venue and made “verbal assaults.” No one was injured.
In October Pastor Allan Nafuki, chairman of the VCC, stated the VCC would not support an international reconciliation ceremony that included Muslim groups. According to media reports, Nafuki also stated a review of the constitution was essential to restrict religious freedom to only include Christian churches which “preach the truth in the Bible.” In rural areas, chiefs and traditional leaders exercised influence over communal decision making, including regarding the establishment of new religious groups.
There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. In visits to the country, officials from the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea periodically discussed religious freedom with representatives of the government, including proposed restrictions on new religious movements entering the country. Embassy representatives also met and discussed religious freedom with the VCC and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).