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 the 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.
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 ($1.14). 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, outside of regular religious services and houses of worship, organized by religious groups.
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 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 should 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 not party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
While senior Methodist church leaders reported improved relations with the government over the past two years, at times the prime minister continued to criticize the church in parliament for what he characterized as support for the majority opposition political party. Since religion, ethnicity, and politics are closely linked, it was difficult to categorize the government’s actions as being solely based on religious identity.
On April 27, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces issued a media statement warning the Methodist church that an April 22 report by church administrators to the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs calling for the country to become a Christian state, could spark societal tension. Shortly thereafter, senior church leaders, including the Methodist church president, distanced themselves from the report and reassured the prime minister of the church’s political neutrality. Heads of other Christian faiths and the head of an interreligious organization comprised of Christians, Muslims, and Hindus also publicly affirmed their nonpolitical stance.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions amended the charges against three staff members of the Fiji Times newspaper and the author of a letter to the editor, from violating the decree that prohibits publishing articles that incite and cause dislike, hatred, and antagonism toward any community, to sedition. Sedition carries a lower maximum imprisonment term of seven years. The charges stemmed from a letter to the editor published in 2016 in the Fiji Times’ indigenous language edition that prosecutors originally said incited communal antagonism against the Muslim community. The trial, postponed from December 5, is scheduled for April 2018. The court granted the postponement to allow the two accused men the opportunity to seek legal counsel after they were left without representation when the state subpoenaed their counsel to become a state witness.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama continued to emphasize religious tolerance during public addresses at home and overseas, stating the country is a multifaith nation with religious freedom guaranteed in the constitution.