The constitution guarantees individual freedom of “religious or traditional beliefs,” including the freedoms of conscience and worship, subject “to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and to the legitimate public interest in defense, safety, public order, welfare, and health.” Any individual who believes these rights have been violated may apply “independently of any other possible legal remedy… to the Supreme Court to enforce that right.” The Supreme Court may issue orders it considers appropriate to enforce these rights if it finds a violation of such rights and to order payment of compensation. The preamble of the constitution refers to a commitment to “traditional Melanesian values, faith in God, and Christian principles.”
The law requires every religious body to apply to the government for a certificate of registration, pay 1,000 vatu ($9), and obtain the final approval of the minister for internal affairs to operate. Registration allows the religious group to maintain a bank account. The penalty for not registering is a fine not exceeding 50,000 vatu ($450); however, the law is not enforced.
According to law, children may not be refused school admission or be treated unfavorably because of their religion.
The Department of Education prohibits religious discrimination. Government schools schedule time each week for religious education conducted by VCC representatives using their own materials. The government provides grants to church-operated schools and pays the salaries of teachers at church-operated schools in existence since independence in 1980. There is no uniform standard amount of time dedicated to religious instruction across all schools; however, the standard curriculum requires that students in years seven through 12 receive one hour of religious instruction per week. Parents may request that students be excused from religious education classes in both private and public schools.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In October during an official visit to Jerusalem, the prime minister stated that “as a Christian country,” Vanuatu was considering the possibility of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In January the minister of internal affairs told media it was important for families to uphold Christian values for a better Vanuatu.
The government interacted with religious groups through the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the VCC, the latter composed of the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Presbyterian Church, Church of Christ, and the Apostolic Church, with the Seventh-day Adventist and Assemblies of God Churches having observer status. The VCC chairman and secretary general of the VCC were members of the Constitutional Review Committee established by the parliament in 2016. The committee considered amending the constitution to call for “respect for Christian principles and traditional Melanesian values” and “faith in God” more broadly. The VCC supported these amendments to make the country officially Christian; however, the amendments were not among those the committee proposed and parliament did not consider them.
In January the Ministry of Health signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Seventh-day Adventist Church to cooperate in the delivery of health services. Five other Churches – the Presbyterian Church, Anglican Church, Church of Christ, Assemblies of God, and the Church of Jesus Christ – already had similar arrangements.
The VCC received a 10 million vatu ($89,500) annual grant from the government. The VCC said it would use the funds to strengthen the capacity of the VCC to support member churches and provide training.
Government oaths of office customarily were taken on the Bible.
Ceremonial prayers at national events were organized through the VCC.