The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, including the right to choose and change one’s religion. An unenforced law prescribes a prison term of one year for a blasphemous libel conviction; however, the law exempts religious expression made in “good faith and decent language.”
There is no official system for formal registration of a religious group, but to receive government recognition, all places of worship must register through the deeds registry. The deeds registry requires an organization to submit a proposed name and address for the place of worship, as well as the names of executive group members or congregation leaders. Once formally recognized, a place of worship falls under legislation governing nonprofit organizations, allowing the organization to conduct financial operations, buy property, and receive tax benefits in its name.
Foreign religious workers require a visa from the Ministry of Citizenship. Religious groups seeking to enter an Amerindian village for the purpose of proselytizing must apply for and obtain the permission from the village council. An application to a village council must include the name of the group, the names of its members who will be going to the village, their purpose, and estimated date of arrival.
There are both public and private religiously affiliated schools. Private schools are operated entirely by private groups and are not funded by the state. Students of private schools must pay fees to attend, and the state does not control those fees. Religious education is compulsory in all private schools with a religious affiliation. All students attending a private school of religious affiliation must participate in religious education, regardless of a student’s religious beliefs. There is no religious education in public schools, whether religiously affiliated or not. Most public schools’ religious affiliations are Anglican or Methodist.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Created in 2015, the government’s Ministry of Social Cohesion’s mandate includes promoting interfaith harmony and respect for diversity. In February President David Granger said the state was responsible for ensuring social cohesion and interfaith harmony is not left to chance, the main reasons his government had established the ministry. In March the ministry held several “harmony villages” across the country to promote tolerance of various cultures and ethnic and religious identities. In May the ministry launched a five-year strategic plan to promote social cohesion.
Representatives of the Rastafarian community said that a law criminalizing the possession of 15 grams or more of marijuana infringed on their religious practices. A representative of the Rastafari Council said some members of his community faced extra scrutiny from law enforcement officials who believed Rastafaris carried marijuana on their person. According to the same representative, the Rastafari community perceived they were employed at lower rates than other citizens. The council petitioned the government to legalize the use of small amounts of marijuana for religious purposes, but authorities reportedly did not consider the proposal, saying that reviewing drug legislation was not a state priority at that time. On August 17, the Alliance For Change, a faction of the coalition government, said that it would advance the concerns of the Rastafarian group at parliament.
The government continued to maintain regulations limiting the number of visas for foreign representatives of religious groups based on historical trends, the relative size of the group, and the president’s discretion; however, religious groups continued to report the visa quotas the government allotted to them did not adversely affect their activities, as the visa limitation rule was rarely applied.
In March foreign Christian missionaries proselytized in some urban public schools. Representatives of the Hindu community stated that proselytizing in public schools is unconstitutional and the government should denounce it. In April the government stated that proselytizing in public schools is prohibited, and it disciplined the administrators of three public schools for permitting religious proselytizing by the foreign Christian missionaries in the three schools.
The Guyana Defense Force (GDF) continued to coordinate with civilian religious groups to provide military personnel with access to religious services. Leaders of the three major religious groups – Christian, Hindu, and Muslim – conducted prayer services and counseling on GDF bases.
Government representatives met with leaders of various religious groups to promote social cohesion and discuss tolerance of diversity. Government officials also participated regularly in the observance of Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religious holidays throughout the year.
In February the president, first lady, and government ministers participated in an interfaith ceremony, whose stated purpose was to celebrate the country’s religious freedom and diversity.
The government continued to declare holy days of the country’s three major religious groups as national holidays.