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 based on religious affiliation.
The government requires all religious groups, except for indigenous ones that 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 6,900 Liberian dollars (LD) ($55) to file their articles of incorporation and an annual fee of 3,600 LD ($29) for registration and a registration certificate. Foreign religious organizations pay 50,100 LD ($400) for registration annually and a one-time fee of 62,600 LD ($500) to file their articles of incorporation. Religious organizations also pay 1,000 to 2,000 LD ($8 to $16) to the Liberia Revenue Authority for notarization of articles of incorporation to be filed with the MFA and an additional 1,000 LD ($8) to receive a registered copy of the articles. The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning issues proof of accreditation for the articles of incorporation. There is also an option of completing the same process at the Liberia Business Registry, where each of the other offices has representation.
Registered religious organizations, including missionary programs, religious charities, and religious groups, receive tax exemption on income taxes and duty-free privileges on goods brought into the country, privileges 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 begun in 2015. President Sirleaf, along with Catholic, Episcopal, Baptist, Lutheran, and Muslim communities, continued to oppose the initiative, while some evangelical Christian pastors, political parties and leaders, and members of the national legislature supported it. Muslim organizations, including the NMCL and NICL, continued to express concern about what they said was the implied prejudice of the proposal. They also expressed concern over the refusal of government to recognize major Muslim religious holidays while major Christian holidays were public holidays, as well as the imbalance of religious group representation in government roles. For example, the president has an official (Christian) religious advisor working for her as part of her staff, while other religions are not officially represented. The NICL stated it was concerned that some political parties called for making the country a “Christian nation” during election campaign-related events and interviews. In May the leader of the UPP told a group of Christian leaders in Ganta, Nimba County, that he would make Liberia a Christian state if elected. He also criticized the IRCL for having a Muslim leader, calling him unrepresentative of the country, particularly in international forums where he said it was unacceptable to have a Muslim representing the interests of Christians. The IRCL chair rotates every three years between a Muslim and a Christian as directed by the founding charter. According to the NMCL, political parties were also prejudiced against the selection of Muslim candidates as potential vice presidential picks due to fear that, upon the death of the president, a Muslim would become president.
The Liberia Muslim Women Network (LMW-NET) and NICL reported National Elections Commission workers refused to allow some Muslim women to register to vote because the women refused to remove their hijabs for voter ID photographs. LMW-NET representatives said that women were forced to choose between registration and going against their religious beliefs and reported that women offered to uncover their ears for the photograph, but NEC workers rejected the proposed compromise. LMW-NET members stated women wearing traditional head wraps and Catholic nuns were allowed to wear head coverings in their voter ID photographs.
In April Imam Ali Krayee of the NICL called on the government to make Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha national holidays. Imam Krayee said the country “no longer has the luxury of time” to give Muslims their full rights “like their Christian brothers and sisters.” The request to make Eid al-Fitr a national holiday has been pending since 1995.
Although enforcement of the registration requirement was lax, according to religious groups, most religious groups registered, since unregistered groups risked being shut down by the government and did not qualify for tax-free status.
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, a national holiday. Muslim-owned businesses stated they viewed the regular Sunday street cleaning as an excuse for the government to force their businesses to close to honor the Christian Sabbath. According to both the NICL and 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 (which remained unresolved). Since penalties – consisting of fines of up to 200 LD ($2) – were not strictly enforced, some Muslim-owned or -operated shops opened for limited hours on Sundays. Both the NICL and NMCL continued to say 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 NICL, NMCL, and IRCL noted that government health facilities increasingly observed a period for Christian prayer at the start of workday.
Muslim groups, including the NICL, were concerned that more Christian chaplains than Muslim imams were appointed to serve in a religious capacity in government institutions and that the government paid more pastors than imams to teach religious education in public schools. 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. Muslim leaders complained that the academic calendar developed by the Ministry of Education favored Christians, as schools were closed for Christmas and Easter (which fell during spring break), but were not closed for the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. As a result, Muslim children were likely to miss class time and exams.
In October after the president met with a foreign Muslim cleric, whose views many considered controversial, her office released a statement emphasizing the country’s policy of equality for all and of nondiscrimination.