The constitution states the country is a secular state and provides for equality before the law of all citizens, regardless of religion, respects all religious beliefs, and prohibits religious discrimination. It also provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship; free exercise of religious belief; and the right of religious groups to organize themselves and carry out their activities consistent with the law, the rights of others, and public order.
The law requires all religious groups, including indigenous groups, to register as religious associations, except for Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims. Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim holidays are observed as national holidays. Official recognition as a religious association provides other groups the same rights as those afforded to Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims, including import duty exemptions for humanitarian and development projects. Registering is not obligatory, but registration entitles religious groups to receive government benefits, such as government-provided teachers for private schools and special assistance in case of natural disasters.
Organizations apply for registration with the Directorate of Religious Affairs in the MTA. A religious group must submit its statutes, statement of doctrine, bylaws, names, and addresses of executive board members, its leaders’ religious credentials, a site use agreement and map for religious facilities, and description of its finances. It must also pay a registration fee of 150,000 CFA francs ($260). Criteria for recognition include authenticity of the religious leader’s diploma and the government’s assessment of the ethical behavior of the group, which must not cause a breach of public order. The Directorate of Religious Affairs issues a receipt that serves as temporary recognition for religious groups applying for registration. The investigation and issuance of formal written authorization usually takes several years.
By law, religious groups must request permission to conduct large nighttime celebrations, particularly those likely to block city streets or involve loud ceremonies in residential areas.
The public school curriculum does not include religion classes. There are many Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic schools, to which the government assigns its own paid employees as additional teachers and staff. Other registered religious groups have the right to establish schools as long as they meet accreditation standards.
The constitution prohibits the establishment of political parties based on religion. The law forbids private religious radio stations from broadcasting political material.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Unknown assailants vandalized four mosques in July and August in different neighborhoods in Lome. The minister of security immediately denounced the attacks and called on the public to help find the perpetrators. The government subsequently posted security forces to guard mosques throughout the country and promised to conduct investigations to find the perpetrators and prosecute them in accordance with the country’s laws. There were no further attacks after August; by year’s end, the authorities had not identified the attackers.
Similar to previous years, the MTA stated it did not approve any pending applications nor accept new applications for registration from religious groups because the government was still considering new legislation regarding religious freedom. The government amended a previous draft religious freedom bill during the year and submitted it to the Council of Ministers for review. The new bill details the processes for opening places of worship and regulates the hours of operation and levels of noise allowed during worship in neighborhoods. The MTA continued to organize meetings with religious leaders and communities to discuss the draft legislation, with the last meeting held in August. As of year’s end, there were approximately 900 applications pending at the MTA.
Although unregistered religious groups continued to be able to conduct religious activities while awaiting registration, the MTA reported that religious groups faced obstacles in obtaining building permits to construct new places of worship. The ministry continued to state, however, this was not because they were religious groups but because applying for a building permit required at least a six-month waiting period for any applicant. NGOs reported that officials routinely granted religious groups’ requests for permission to conduct nighttime celebrations.
The government invited only Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim religious leaders to government events and observed as national holidays only religious holidays of these groups. The government invited the three groups to conduct worship at important national events, such as the independence celebration on April 27.