Under its broader protections of freedom of conscience, the constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, the right to change religion or belief, and the right to manifest and propagate religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. The constitution permits the government to restrict these rights in the interest of protecting the rights of other persons, national defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health when the restrictions are deemed “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.” The government has never exercised this provision. The constitution’s provision of rights also prohibits discrimination based on creed.
The constitution permits every religious group to establish places for religious instruction at the group’s expense. The constitution prohibits requiring religious instruction or participation in religious ceremonies in a religion other than one’s own. The constitution also prohibits compelling an individual to take an oath contrary to that individual’s religious beliefs. The penal code criminalizes “hate speech” towards any person or group based on “race, tribe, place of origin, color or creed” and imposes a maximum fine of 500 pula ($47) per violation.
All organizations, including religious groups, must register with the government. To register, a group must submit its constitution to the Registrar of Societies section of the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration, and Gender Affairs. A group must register to conduct business, sign contracts, or open an account at a local bank. In order to register, new religious groups must have a minimum of 150 members. For previously registered religious groups, the membership threshold is 10. Any person who manages, assists in the management of, or holds an official position in an unregistered group is subject to a fine of up to 1,000 pula ($95) and up to seven years in prison. Any member of an unregistered group is subject to penalties, including fines up to 500 pula ($47) and up to three years in prison. According to a 2019 data from the Registrar of Societies, there are 2,318 registered religious organizations.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Optional religious education remained part of the curriculum in public schools; this curriculum continued to emphasize Christianity but also discussed other religious groups in the country. Government regulation of private schools did not distinguish among Christian, Muslim, or secular schools.
In general, religious groups reported little difficulty or delay in the registration process.
The government continued to pursue court cases involving unregistered churches (sometimes called “fire churches”) coming into the country to “take advantage of” local citizens by demanding tithes and donations for routine services or special prayers. The government required pastors of some of those churches to apply for visas, even those from countries whose nationals were normally allowed visa-free entry. The government permitted the Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) in March to continue operations while awaiting a court decision on the group’s appeal of the December 2017 cancellation of its registration for not submitting required audited financial results. The ECG, founded by a Malawian pastor, has 14 branches in the country. The government stated in June that it was reviewing visa restrictions on EGC two pastors. One of the pastors reported on social media that he returned to Botswana in late October, thanking the government for lifting the restrictions.
Although it was common for government meetings to begin with a Christian prayer, members of non-Christian groups occasionally led prayers as well.