The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, including the right to choose and change one’s religion. An unenforced law prescribes a prison term of one year for a blasphemous libel conviction; however, the law exempts religious expression made in “good faith and decent language.”
There is no official system for formal registration of a religious group, but to receive government recognition, all places of worship must register through the deeds registry. The deeds registry requires an organization to submit a proposed name and address for the place of worship, as well as the names of executive group members or congregation leaders. Once formally recognized, a place of worship falls under legislation governing nonprofit organizations, allowing the organization to conduct financial operations, buy property, and receive tax benefits in its name.
Foreign religious workers require a visa from the Ministry of Citizenship. Religious groups seeking to enter an indigenous village for the purpose of proselytizing must apply for and obtain permission from the village council. Application to a village council must include the name of the group, the names of its members who will be going to the village, their purpose, and estimated date of arrival.
There are both public and private religiously affiliated schools. Private schools are operated entirely by private groups and are not funded by the state. All students attending a private religious school must participate in religious education, regardless of a student’s religious beliefs. There is no religious education in public schools, regardless of whether the school is religiously affiliated. Most public schools’ religious affiliations are Anglican or Methodist.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Representatives of the Rastafarian community continued to state that a law criminalizing the possession of 15 grams or more of marijuana infringed on their religious practices. The Guyana Rastafari Council continued to petition the government to legalize the use of small amounts of marijuana for religious purposes, but according to the council, authorities again would not consider the proposal, stating that reviewing drug legislation remained a low priority for the government.
The government continued to maintain regulations limiting the number of visas for foreign representatives of religious groups based on historical trends, the relative size of the group, and the president’s discretion; however, the government and religious groups with foreign missionaries continued to state the visa limitation rule was not applied. Religious groups also said the visa quotas the government allotted to them were sufficient and did not adversely affect their activities.
The Guyana Defense Force (GDF) continued to coordinate with civilian religious groups to provide military personnel with access to religious services. Leaders of the country’s three major religious groups – Christian, Hindu, and Muslim – continued to conduct prayer services and counseling on GDF bases.
The Ministry of Social Cohesion continued to promote interfaith harmony and respect for diversity. In February the ministry hosted an interfaith sensitization exercise in Bartica, a small town located in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni interior region of the country. The government reported that the exercise was held in Bartica to promote religion and social cohesion to mitigate crimes and gender-based violence in Bartica. The exercise also promoted tolerance of various ethnic and religious identities and led to the formation of a social cohesion committee for Bartica. The committee’s stated objectives were to promote social cohesion as well as address the town’s concerns about small crimes and other social issues. Government officials, including Minister of Social Cohesion George Norton, and representatives from religious groups and organizations, among them the Central Islamic Organization of Guyana (CIOG) and the Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religious core groups, participated in the exercise. Formed in 2017, the four core groups comprise one representative each from the Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Rastafarian communities.
Government representatives continued to meet with leaders of various religious groups to promote social cohesion and discuss tolerance of diversity, including Muslim, Hindu and Christian groups. Government officials also participated regularly in the observance of Christian, Hindu, and Muslim religious holidays throughout the year.
In February members of parliament and government ministers participated in an annual interfaith ceremony whose stated purpose was to celebrate the country’s religious freedom and diversity. The ceremony included the participation of representatives of Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Faithist, and Baha’i faiths, as well as followers of the Areruya indigenous faith system.
The government continued to declare some holy days of the country’s three major religious groups as national holidays, including the Eid al-Adha, Easter, and Diwali. In March the Ministry of Social Cohesion hosted a cultural program to celebrate Phagwah, the Hindu spring festival. In August the Ethnic Relations Commission, a quasi-government organization that promotes cohesion, encouraged all citizens to “embrace the message of Eid al-Adha in Guyana’s multireligious society.”