The constitution defines the state as secular and establishes separation of religion and state. It prohibits religious discrimination and holds all citizens equal before the law, regardless of religion. The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, the free practice of religion, and the right to form religious communities that may govern and manage their affairs independently, “consistent with public order.” The constitution stipulates religious communities whose activities are contrary to law or promote conflict among ethnic groups may be banned.
The law requires all associations to register, including religious groups. Registered groups are eligible for exemptions from fees for land use and construction permits. To register, a group must present to the MOI copies of its founding statutes and internal rules, a letter attesting to publication of these documents in the applicable local administrative bulletin, a formal letter of request for registration addressed to the minister of interior, a property lease, the police records of the group’s leaders, and the group’s bank statements. The registration fee is 10,000 CFA francs ($17). Registered religious groups must also provide the MOI with proof of nonprofit status to receive exemptions from local taxes and customs duties on imports. The MOI maintains an official registry of religious groups.
The constitution states parents have the right to choose their children’s religious education. The state provides for public education based on “religious neutrality.” Public schools are secular and do not provide religious instruction. Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups operate primary and secondary schools, in which representatives of religious groups give religious instruction. These schools must register with the Ministry of Education, which ensures they meet the same standards as public schools.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The MOI reported it generally processed registration requests from religious groups within one month and estimated it rejected more than 100 such applications during the year, compared with more than 40 in the 2016-17 period. Ministry officials described the religious groups it rejected as often “one-man operations,” practicing a mixture of Christianity and traditional animist beliefs. Their difficulty with registration usually concerned gathering the appropriate documents, according to ministry officials. In addition, there was anecdotal evidence of an increase in “fake pastors” seeking to defraud their followers. The MOI emphasized the necessity for all groups to register and no longer allowed unregistered groups to operate freely. Unregistered groups charged with fraud or other illegal activity were most likely to be sanctioned.