The constitution establishes a secular state and protects freedom of religion, conscience, and belief. The government may limit these rights by law to protect the freedoms of others, or for reasons of public safety, order, morality, health, or nuisance. The constitution also mandates separation of religion and state. Citizens have the right, either individually or collectively, in public and private, to manifest their religion or beliefs in worship, observance, practice, or teaching. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious affiliation, and laws make inciting hatred or “disaffection” against religious groups a criminal offense. The constitution provides that individuals may not assert religious belief as a reason for disobeying the law. The constitution places limits on proselytizing on government premises and at government functions.
By law, religious groups must register with the government through trustees who may then hold land or property for the groups. To register, religious bodies must submit applications to the registrar of titles office. Applications must include names and identification of the trustees, signed by the head of the religious body to be registered, a copy of the constitution of the proposed religious body, land title documents for the land used by the religious body, and a registration fee of 2.30 Fiji dollars ($1). Registered religious bodies may receive an exemption from taxes after approval from the national tax agency, on the condition they operate in a nonprofit and noncompetitive capacity. By law, religious bodies that hold land or property must register their houses of worship, including their land, and show proof of title. There is no mention in the law of religious organizations that do not hold land.
Permits are required for any public meeting on public property organized by religious groups, outside of regular religious services and houses of worship.
There is no required religious instruction under the law. Private or religious groups sometimes own or manage school properties, but the Ministry of Education administers and regulates the curriculum. The law allows religious groups the right to establish, maintain, and manage places of education, whether or not they receive financial assistance from the state, provided the institution maintains educational standards prescribed by law. The law permits noncompulsory religious instruction in all schools, enabling schools owned and operated by various religious denominations but receiving government support to offer religious instruction. Schools may incorporate religious elements, such as class prayer, as long as they do not force teachers to participate, and students may be excused should their parents request it. The government provides funding and education assistance to public schools, including schools owned and operated by religious organizations, on a per pupil basis. Some schools maintain their religious and/or ethnic origin, but they remain open to all students. According to the law, the government ensures free tuition for primary and secondary schools.
The country ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in August, and the covenant entered into force in November.
On May 22, the Suva High Court acquitted three staff members of the Fiji Times newspaper and the author of a letter to the editor on charges of sedition for violating a law that prohibits publishing articles that incite and cause dislike, hatred, and antagonism toward any community. The charges stemmed from a letter to the editor published in 2016 in the Fiji Times’ indigenous language edition that prosecutors originally said incited communal antagonism against the Muslim community.
In October the Fiji Times reported that in the run-up to national elections in November, the majority of political parties said race and religion were issues that mattered to the people and were raised and expressed by the people. Sitiveni Rabuka, the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) said the prime minister was wrong in suggesting that SODELPA was “for the iTaukei,” (who are mostly Christian). Rabuka said his party affirmed the freedom and dignity of all ethnicities and religions.
According to the Fiji Sun, 60 percent of 1,000 persons interviewed in an October poll said the opposition was using race or religion in its election campaign. In July the Fiji Sun reported a Nukuloa resident said a provisional candidate of the National Federation Party opposition told him the attorney general, who is Muslim, will “make everyone a Muslim” if the governing Fiji First Party won in the election.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and other cabinet ministers continued to emphasize religious tolerance during public addresses at home and overseas. They stated the country is a multifaith nation with religious freedom guaranteed in the constitution and it must unite to defend the rights of citizens to practice their religion. Prior to its ratification, in May the parliament held public consultations on the ICCPR, including treaty provisions on religious freedom, with civil society and human rights organizations, political parties, and the public.