The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides for the free practice of religious beliefs, provided public order is maintained, as well as self-governance by religious groups free from state interference. The constitution prohibits political parties from identifying with a specific religion. It states religious discrimination is punishable by law.
Muslims may choose either the civil family code or sharia to adjudicate family conflicts, such as marriage and inheritance disputes. Civil court judges preside over civil and customary law cases, but religious leaders informally settle many disputes among Muslims, particularly in rural areas.
By law all faith-based organizations, such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) representing religious groups, must register with the interior ministry to acquire legal status as an association. To register, organizations must provide documentation showing they have been in existence for at least two years as an association. Organizations must also provide a mission statement; bylaws; a list of goals, objectives, and activities or projects implemented; and proof of previous and future funding. They must also pass a background check. Registration enables a group to conduct business, own property, establish a bank account, receive financial contributions from private sources, and receive applicable tax exemptions. There is no formal penalty for failure to register other than ineligibility to receive these benefits. Registered religious groups and nonprofit organizations are exempt from many forms of taxation.
The law requires associations, including religious organizations and NGOs affiliated with them, to obtain authorization from the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender in order to operate. This second registration requirement allows the government to monitor organizations operating in the field of social development and identify any interventions these organizations implement. Foreign NGOs must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
By law religious education may be proposed in public and private schools, and parents have the option to enroll their children in the program.
The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Until funding resources were no longer available in the middle of the year, the government continued its campaign, begun in 2016, to implement a 2005 law forbidding forced child begging as practiced at some traditional Islamic schools. The campaign had met with limited success according to observers, many of whom criticized its efficacy, saying the campaign had focused strictly on removing child beggars from the streets rather than on addressing the conditions under which children were forced to beg, or prosecuting individuals who forced children to beg. Once funds for the campaign were depleted, the government suspended its implementation.
The government continued to provide direct financial and material assistance to religious groups, for use primarily in maintaining or rehabilitating places of worship or for underwriting special events. There continued to be no formal procedure for applying for assistance. All religious groups continued to have access to these funds and often competed on an ad hoc basis to obtain them. President Macky Sall occasionally visited beneficiaries of these funds.
The government continued to encourage and assist Muslim participation in the Hajj, again providing imams with hundreds of free airplane tickets for the pilgrimage for distribution among citizens. There were no reliable estimates of the number of tickets the government provided. In addition to these free tickets, the government organized trips to the Hajj for approximately 1,500 of the 10,500 Senegalese who participated. The government also again provided assistance for an annual Roman Catholic pilgrimage to the Vatican, the Palestinian territories, and Israel. The Catholic Church reported the government provided 370 million CFA francs ($658,000) for Senegalese Catholic pilgrims who traveled to the Vatican in August and September, compared with 368 million CFA francs ($654,000) in 2016.
The government continued to permit up to four hours of voluntary religious education per week in public and private elementary schools. Parents were able to choose either a Christian or an Islamic curriculum. The possibility also remained for students to opt out of the curriculum. The Ministry of Education reported slightly more than a million students again participated in religious education through the public elementary school system during the year.
The Ministry of Education continued to provide partial funding to schools operated by religious groups that met national education standards. It provided the largest share of this funding to established Christian schools with strong academic reputations. The majority of students attending Christian schools continued to be Muslim. The government also continued to fund a number of Islamic schools, which enrolled approximately 60,000 students.
The Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Women, Family, and Gender continued to monitor domestic associations, including religious groups and NGOs affiliated with them, to ensure they operated according to the terms of their registration, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to do the same with foreign-based NGOs, including those affiliated with religious groups. Each association submitted an annual report, including a financial report, which the ministries used in their effort to track potential funding of terrorist groups. There were no reports of the government revoking the registration of any association for operating outside the terms of its registration.