The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions and establishes laws to regulate the registration and operation of religious groups. The constitution protects against being compelled to belong to a religious group contrary to one’s belief. The MFA is responsible for monitoring and administering laws relating to religious groups; within the MFA, the Bureau of Worship is responsible for registering churches and other religious buildings, clergy, and missionaries of various religious denominations.
Although Roman Catholicism has not been the official state religion since the 1987 constitution, an 1860 concordat between the Holy See and the state according some preferential treatment to the Catholic Church remains in effect. The concordat gives the Vatican power to approve and select a specific number of bishops in the country with government consent. Under the concordat, the government provides a monthly stipend to Catholic priests. The government does not provide stipends to Episcopalian clergy, although both Catholic and Episcopalian bishops have official license plates and carry diplomatic passports. No other religious groups receive stipends for their clergy.
By law, religious institutions must register with the MFA in order to operate in the country and receive government benefits; however, there is no penalty for operating without registration, and many religious groups continue to do so. Registration affords religious groups standing in legal disputes, provides tax-exempt status, and extends civil recognition to documents such as marriage certificates and baptismal certificates. The government recognizes these certificates as legal documents only when prepared by government-certified clergy. Baptismal certificates are identifying documents with similar legal authority as birth certificates. The government does not tax registered religious groups, and it exempts their imports from customs duties. Requirements for registration include information on the qualifications of the group’s leader, a membership directory, and a list of the group’s social projects. Registered religious groups must submit annual updates of their membership, projects, and leadership to the MFA. Foreign missionaries are required to submit registration paperwork to operate privately funded clinics, schools, and orphanages. Foreign religious groups do not have special visa requirements.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Houngans (male) and mambos (female) priests said the government continued its practice of not issuing them government-recognized documents for marriage and baptismal ceremonies, even though Vodou is a registered religion. The MFA said it was working with the Vodou community to develop a certification process in accordance with the Vodou belief system.
The MFA still did not act on a request dating from the 1980s to register Muslims as a religious group. The government continued to request financial documentation as a prerequisite to complete registration. Muslims said they continued to obtain civil marriage licenses as their only legal option.
The government continued to provide financial support for the maintenance of Catholic churches and some Catholic schools. Negotiations between the Protestant Federation and the MFA continued regarding Protestant access to government funding; however, the Protestant Federation said in November that government financial support was still unavailable to Protestants. The government said it had no plans to extend public funding to any non-Catholic religious groups.
Government sources stated that limited institutional capacity continued to restrict their ability to provide for the religious needs of Muslim prisoners throughout the country, namely offering meals in compliance with Islamic dietary restrictions and arranging access to Muslim clerics. Prisoners could request to see a Muslim cleric; however, not all prisons were close enough to a Muslim institution that could provide such services. Volunteers provided religious services in some prisons. Muslim prisoners could pray freely.
Protestant and Catholic clergy continued to report largely positive working relationships with the government, citing good access to government officials.