The constitution declares the country to be a Christian nation but upholds freedom of conscience, belief, and religion for all persons. It prohibits discrimination based on religion and provides for the right of individuals to manifest and propagate religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. It protects the freedom of individuals to change their religion or belief. It states no one shall be compelled to take an oath or perform acts contrary to his or her religious belief. The law prescribes legal recourse against, and penalties of fines and imprisonment for, violations of religious freedom.
The Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs, established in 2016, has a mandate that includes the implementation of the country’s declaration as a Christian nation, providing policy and legal framework on matters pertaining to Christian and religious affairs, and guidance on the promotion of national values, principles, and ethics. Ministry functions include preserving religious heritage sites and the coordination of public religious celebrations, such as the commemoration of the declaration as a Christian nation and the National Day of Prayer. The ministry’s mandate also includes ensuring that Christian values are reflected in government, education, family, media, arts and entertainment, and business. The ministry is also charged with promoting church-state, interdenominational, and interfaith dialogue.
Faith-based organizations and religious groups may register their organizations through the Chief Registrar’s Office in the Ministry of Home Affairs or through the Patent and Companies Registration Authority as a company. All are required to pay regular statutory fees of approximately 750 kwacha ($75) as stipulated by the law. If registered as a company, all faith-based organizations are required to seek clearance from the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs in addition to fulfilling other statutory requirements. To be registered, a group must have a unique name, possess a constitution consistent with the country’s laws, and adhere to laws pertaining to labor and employment practices and criminal conduct.
To be registered by the chief registrar under the Ministry of Home Affairs, the registrar’s office conducts a preliminary assessment to ascertain the authenticity of the applicants and a security check. Clearance for religious groups must also be obtained from the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs. To gain clearance, the religious group must provide documentation that includes the organization’s constitution and a recommendation letter from a recognized mother body to which it is aligned. Major church mother bodies include the Zambia Conference for Catholic Bishops (formerly Zambia Episcopal Conference-Catholic churches), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (evangelical Protestant churches), and the Council of Churches in Zambia (traditional Protestant churches). Based on its findings, the ministry provides recommendations to the chief registrar on any additional steps required to complete the registration.
Unlike for nonreligious organizations, under regulations put out by the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs, it is no longer sufficient for religious groups to inform law enforcement directly of their intent to hold a meeting or event outside of normal religious services. The regulations require clearance from the religious ministry first and for the religious group to belong to a mother body that has provided a validation letter. The religious group must submit the validation letter and documentation for the activity to the ministry. After granting approval, the ministry instructs law enforcement authorities under the Ministry of Home Affairs to allow the religious group to hold the event.
The Minister of Home Affairs has the legal authority to revoke the registration of religious groups. Grounds for revocation include failure to pay registration fees or a finding by the minister that the group has professed purposes or has taken or intends to take actions that run counter to the interests of “peace, welfare, or good order.” Groups may appeal this finding through the courts. The government has the authority to levy fines and prison sentences of up to seven years against unregistered religious groups and their members; there were no reported cases involving prison sentences or fines levied during the year.
The Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs may make a recommendation to the tax authority for consideration of a tax exemption for religious groups. The recommendation is based on a long-term record and profile of community social work. The law provides for privileged tax treatment for public benefit organizations, including religious groups, provided they are established for the promotion of religion, education, and relief of poverty or other distress.
The constitution allows religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and provide religious instruction to members of their religious communities. The government requires religious instruction in all schools from grades one through nine. Students may request education in their religion and may opt out of religious instruction only if the school is not able to accommodate their request. Religious education after grade nine is optional and is not offered at all schools. The religious curriculum focuses on Christian teachings but also incorporates comparative studies of Islam, Hinduism, and traditional beliefs.
Entry into the country of foreign missionaries or clergy is also scrutinized by the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs. The ministry, in collaboration with the Immigration Department, may approve or deny permits and visas for travelers coming into the country for religious activities.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
By the end of the year, no legislation existed for the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs to specifically define its roles and responsibilities, leading to ambiguity regarding its mandate. According to religious groups, the administrative measures put in place by the ministry made the process of obtaining a permit to hold a religious gathering more bureaucratic. The Catholic and Protestant church mother bodies, along with leaders of numerous minority religious groups, continued to oppose the creation of the ministry, stating citizens were already able to practice their faith freely.
The Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs stated it instituted a new strategy in March aimed at curbing “false churches and prophets.” In her statement to Parliament, Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs Godfridah Sumaili announced requirements of affiliation to a church mother body for “accountability or supervision” and additional screening her ministry would perform for certain visa applications. Sumaili did not provide a clear definition of “false churches.” The minister stated the strategy intended to stop those “who are exploiting the favorable environment of religious freedom.”
Minority religious groups with no representative mother body expressed doubts about their ability to comply with regulations instituted during the year by the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs that require all religious groups to associate with a mother body. The ministry explained that foreign religious groups that did not belong to a mother body could work with their aligned embassy for validation by certifying the organization was registered in its country of origin.
On April 14, immigration authorities deported Nigerian Andrew Ejimadu (also known as “Seer 1”) on grounds of being a danger to peace and good order. On May 5, immigration authorities denied Zimbabwean Uebert Angel, founder of the Good News Church and Uebert Angel Ministries, entry into the country for a religious event. Angel allegedly insisted on holding a “Millionaire Academy” meeting for which he was charging a 1,995 kwacha ($200) entry fee. Officials from the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs stated they would not allow any clergy to take advantage of persons they described as desperate for spiritual attention.
Religion remained a dominant theme surrounding politics in the country. Religious groups said there was self-censorship by clergy members who commented on governance issues. According to religious leaders, any clergy member who expressed dissenting views on governance or human rights faced the possibility of being labeled as “aligned” with the political opposition.
On October 18, the government sponsored and organized the third National Day for Prayer and Fasting under the theme “Repentance, Promoting Peace and Reconciliation, Consolidating National Unity in Diversity.” Many church and political opposition leaders did not participate, stating the event blurred the line between church and state. Various religious groups announced a boycott of the event, which they stated was politically driven. During the event, authorities ordered all liquor traders to open after 6 p.m. instead of the prescribed 10 a.m. According to the government, the holiday was structured to enable the general public to commemorate it in a solemn and sober manner. During the event, President Lungu reaffirmed the country’s identification as a Christian nation. Major opposition political parties and several religious bodies stated the occasion was highly politicized by the ruling party and attracted mostly ruling party Patriotic Front supporters.
Prominent religious groups continued to state the government should not be involved in church affairs, such as the building of the proposed Interdenominational House of Prayer, which remained incomplete. The Council of Churches in Zambia and the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops continued to state the declaration of October 18 as a day of prayer and the building of the National House of Prayer should not be government driven. Several religious leaders outside the council agreed and expressed the same sentiment.