The constitution states that everyone has freedom of religion, and individuals may not be discriminated against on the grounds of religion. Individuals may choose to change their religion. Any violation may be brought before a court of justice.
The penal code provides punishment for those who instigate hate or discrimination of persons based on religion or creed in any way; however, the law has not been enforced. Those found guilty may be sentenced to a prison term of no longer than one year and a fine of up to 25,000 Surinamese dollars (SRD) ($3,300). In cases where an insult or act of hatred is instigated by more than one person, as part of an organization, or by a person who makes such statements habitually or as part of work, the punishment can include imprisonment of up to two years and fines of up to SRD 50,000 ($6,600).
Religious groups must register with the Ministry of Home Affairs only if they seek financial support, including stipends for clergy, from the government. To register, religious groups must supply contact information, a history of their group, and addresses for houses of worship. Most religious groups are officially registered.
The law does not permit religious instruction in public schools. The government funds teacher salaries and provides a stipend that partially covers maintenance costs to all elementary and secondary schools established and managed by various religious groups. Religious groups must provide the remaining funding, which includes construction costs, funding for school furniture, supplies, and additional maintenance expenses. Religious organizations manage approximately 50 percent of primary and secondary schools in the country. The Catholic diocese, Moravian Church, and Hindu community manage the majority of private schools. Through the Ministries of Education and Finance, the government provides a fee per registered child and pays teacher salaries to the religious organizations managing these schools.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government continued to emphasize in government-hosted events and in the media its commitment to protecting religious freedom, including of religious minorities, and to fostering respect for religious diversity and promoting tolerance. In a Washington Times article, religious tolerance was commonly referred to as a national strength by the country’s citizens and a frequent subject of speeches and articles from leading government, religious, and academic leaders, notably President Bouterse. The article quoted President Bouterse stating, “Diversity is normal for us; it is simply the way things are here.” Bouterse also said, “We eat, work, and celebrate together. Muslims celebrate Christmas with their Christian friends, Jewish people share dinner with Muslims at the end of Ramadan, and all Surinamese traditionally celebrate the Hindu national holiday of Phagwa. We are multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and singularly peaceful.” On October 1, Bouterse again noted religious freedom in his annual State of the Republic speech: “Our colorful ethnically and religiously structured society … live peacefully together and make our country an example … The World Justice Project states that Suriname … is also prominently mentioned as a country where religious freedoms are largely recognized.”
Government officials continued to raise these themes at the highest levels, including during government events celebrating the country’s various national heritage days. The president, vice president, and minister of home affairs, whose portfolio includes religion, publicly emphasized the government’s support for religious freedom and tolerance during different events throughout the year. President Bouterse reiterated the country’s commitment to religious plurality, freedom, and tolerance in a speech during a farewell event for the U.S. Ambassador.
All schools, including public schools, celebrated various religious holidays that are also national holidays, including Christmas, Easter, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, and Phagwa, but the government continued to ban public schools from allowing prayer groups during breaks. Schools managed by religious groups included religious instruction in the curriculum. All students attending schools run by religious groups were required to take part in religious instruction, regardless of their religious background. Parents were not permitted to homeschool children for religious reasons.
According to the Federal Institute for Special Education in Suriname, the government continued to pay wages for teachers managed by religious organizations; however, its other subsidies for operational expenses of these schools were either late or not paid. To cover the budgetary shortfall, all schools managed by religious organizations introduced a school fee for the 2018-19 school year. Starting with the 2018-19 school year, religious primary school tuition cost approximately SRD 250 ($33) per year, while public primary-level education cost approximately SRD 35 ($5). At the lower secondary level (ages 12-16), tuition at private religious schools cost SRD 275 ($37), compared with SRD 70 ($9) per year at public schools. Religious organizations did not run manage higher secondary schools (ages 16-19).
The armed forces continued to maintain a staff chaplaincy with Hindu, Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic clergy available to military personnel.
On January 23, the government cosponsored a seminar in honor of World Religion Day, focusing on the principles guiding religious freedom and tolerance in the country to resolve other societal issues such as domestic violence, sexual violence, child neglect, and poverty.
Minister of Home Affairs Mike Noersalim issued statements on behalf of the government in honor of World Prayer Day in March and throughout the year ahead of different religious holidays such as Phagwa, Divali, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Christmas. The statements emphasized the importance of religious harmony for a prosperous society.