The constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change one’s religion. This right may be subject to “reasonable restrictions” by law in the interests of national security or public order, health, or morals, or protecting the rights of others. Legal protections cover discrimination or persecution by private citizens as well as government officials. The preamble to the constitution describes the country as “an independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions.” In June the parliament added the following clause to the first article of the constitution: “Samoa is a Christian nation founded on God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
The government does not require religious groups to register, but groups have the option to register as a charitable trust with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor. Registration is free, with a simple application. Becoming a charitable trust entitles groups to receive tax exemptions and legal status. Unregistered religious groups may not formally buy property or pay employees. Religious groups may be established on community land or on land owned by their leader.
The constitution provides that no one may be forced to take religious instruction in a religion other than his or her own, and gives each religious group the right to establish its own schools.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In January during parliamentary debate on the constitutional amendment that would make the country an officially Christian state, several parliamentarians stated the constitution should be amended further to limit Samoa to “Christian denominations only.”
In June parliament amended the constitution to define the country as a Christian state founded on the Trinity. Discussing the amendment, Prime Minister Tuilaepa stated the main reason Christianity was not included in the body of the constitution initially was because there were no religious wars in the country when the constitution was written. He added that religious wars were a common occurrence throughout the world and that it was the government’s duty to legislate accordingly to avoid religious tensions. Tuilaepa largely framed the justification for this amendment as protecting the country from religions that promote violence and “murderous rage.” While not naming any religion specifically, he followed up that comment by referring to terrorism and the Middle East.
The amendment received mixed feedback, but the media, including the Samoa Observer, reported largely positive reviews from the public, including statements praising the moral influence of Christian principles in the country’s heritage. The Muslim League of Samoa and an academic from the National University of Samoa criticized the amendment in the media, stating it could have negative consequences for religious freedom in the country.
Reportedly, matai councils, the traditional governing body of villages, frequently continued to resist attempts to introduce new religious groups into their communities on the grounds of “maintaining harmony within the village,” a duty that is prescribed in legislation. Observers continued to report that in many villages throughout the country, leaders forbade individuals to belong to churches outside of the village or to exercise their right not to worship. Villagers in violation of such rules faced fines and/or banishment from the village.
Traditionally, villages have tended to have one primary Christian church. Village chiefs often have chosen the religious denomination of their extended families. Many larger villages have had multiple churches serving different denominations and coexisting peacefully.
Ten or more chaplains continued to be available to prisoners on a rotational basis, covering the majority of Christian denominations in the country.
The government enforced an education policy making Christian instruction compulsory in public primary schools and optional in public secondary schools. There was no opt-out provision.
Public ceremonies typically began with a Christian prayer.