The constitution provides for the separation of religion and state and stipulates all persons are entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It states no one shall be hindered in the exercise of these rights except as required by law to protect public safety, order, health, morals, or the rights of others. It provides for equal protection under the law and prohibits political parties that exclude citizens from membership based on religious affiliation. It also states no religious group should have exclusive privileges or preferences, and the country should establish no state religion.
The government requires all religious groups, except for indigenous ones that generally operate under customary law, to register their articles of incorporation and their organizations’ statements of purpose.
Local religious organizations register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and pay a one-time fee of 6,900 Liberian dollars ($44) to file their articles of incorporation and an annual fee of 3,600 Liberian dollars ($23) for registration and a registration certificate. Foreign religious organizations pay 50,100 Liberian dollars ($320) for registration annually and a one-time fee of 62,600 Liberian dollars ($400) to file their articles of incorporation. Religious organizations also pay 1,000 to 2,000 Liberian dollars ($6 to $13) to the Liberia Revenue Authority for notarization of articles of incorporation to be filed with the MFA and an additional 1,000 Liberian dollars ($6) to receive a registered copy of the articles. The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning issues proof of accreditation for the articles of incorporation. There is also an option of completing the same process at the Liberia Business Registry, where each of the other offices has representation.
Registered religious organizations, including missionary programs, religious charities, and religious groups, receive tax exemptions on income taxes and duty-free privileges on goods brought into the country, privileges not afforded unregistered groups. Registered groups may also appear in court as a single entity.
The law requires high-level government officials to take an oath ending with the phrase, “So help me God,” when assuming office. It is customary for Christians to kiss the Bible and Muslims the Quran on those occasions.
Public schools offer nonsectarian religious and moral education, which includes an overview and history of religious traditions and an emphasis on moral values.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
A number of religious organizations, Christian and Muslim, cited the government’s perceived indifference to the interests of the Muslim community as having the potential to fuel long-term grievance and instability.
A number of Muslim organizations continued to express concern over the government’s reluctance to recognize or observe major Islamic religious holidays, while continuing to recognize Christmas as a public holiday and the second Friday in April as Fast and Prayer Day, the latter sometimes coinciding with Good Friday. Muslim organizations credited the administration of President George Weah, which took office in January, with granting one day of leave to government employees celebrating Eid al-Fitr in June but continued to advocate making Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha national holidays. Muslim organizations have requested to make Eid al-Fitr a national holiday since 1995. The Baha’i community also submitted a petition before the 1999-2003 civil war to recognize its religious holidays, and their organization’s leadership reaffirmed interest in the matter but did not resubmit the petition.
The government, through city ordinances and presidential proclamations, required businesses and markets, including those owned or operated by Muslims, to close on Sundays and Christmas for municipal street cleaning. Some Muslim business owners said they viewed the regular street cleaning as an excuse for the government to close all businesses in honor of the Christian Sabbath.
Members of the Muslim and Baha’i communities working in government or public positions said government agencies continued to be reluctant to grant time off to observe religious holidays.
The inauguration of President Weah and the July 26 Independence Day celebration included opening and closing prayers from Christian clergy; representatives from the Muslim community were invited to attend as guests but not to participate in the official ceremony.
According to Muslim religious leaders, the government employed a disproportionate number of Christian chaplains in comparison to Muslim chaplains to serve in government institutions when compared to the religious demographics of the country. The government reportedly employed only two Muslim chaplains – one in the armed forces and one in the Supreme Court. The legislature and many other government institutions exclusively employed Christian chaplains, who frequently read Christian prayers before starting official business.
In May the inspector general of the Liberia National Police met with the country’s chief imam and Muslim communities and assured the Muslim community of his administration’s commitment to their safety during Ramadan.
In March President Weah appointed two religious advisors, both Christians, as part of the new administration. Representatives of Muslim organizations said they viewed them as gatekeepers rather than intermediaries, controlling access to the president rather than facilitating outreach. Representatives of Muslim religious organizations said they hoped to see a Muslim religious advisor or a more direct link between the Office of the President and the Muslim community.
The government continued to subsidize private schools, most of which were affiliated with Christian and Muslim organizations. The government provided subsidies proportionally, based on the number of students, but Muslim leaders said the subsidies disproportionately favored Christian schools.
Before leaving office in January, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed an executive order on domestic violence banning the practice of female genital mutilation. The order would remain in force for one year unless extended. Some observers saw the order as a repudiation of traditional secret societies, which combine religious and cultural practices, and engaged in the practice as part of their indoctrination ceremonies. Others complained the order was not enforced, leading to an increase in reported cases. In December the National Traditional Council promised to halt Poro and Sande society activities during the academic year, so as not to prevent young inductees from attending school. The council also undertook an inventory of all existing chapters of the secret societies, also called “bushes” or “groves,” and the head of the council requested local chiefs to refrain from opening new chapters.
In October a news report noted that the head of a traditional council of chiefs in Nimba County called upon the government to intervene in cases of persons injured through practices described as witchcraft, and it accused police and prosecutors of failing to intervene. The report, and others, reported an increase in cases of trial by ordeal, also known as “sassywood,” in which those accused of witchcraft undergo painful or dangerous experiences in an attempt to prove their innocence.