The constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change one’s religion. This right may be subject to “reasonable restrictions” by law in the interests of national security or public order, health, or morals, or protecting the rights of others. Legal protections cover discrimination or persecution by private citizens as well as government officials. The preamble to the constitution describes the country as “an independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions.” In 2017 the parliament added the following clause to the first article of the constitution: “Samoa is a Christian nation founded on God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
The government does not require religious groups to register, but groups have the option to register as a charitable trust with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor. Registration is free, with a simple application. Becoming a charitable trust entitles groups to receive tax exemptions and legal status. Unregistered religious groups may not formally buy property or pay employees. Individuals or groups may establish a place of worship on community or private land. Groups wishing to establish a place of worship on communal land may face significant obstacles obtaining the customary approvals from the extended family with claims to said land and the village council.
The constitution provides that no one may be forced to take religious instruction in a religion other than his or her own and gives each religious group the right to establish its own schools. The government enforces an education policy making Christian instruction compulsory in public primary schools and optional in public secondary schools. There is no opt-out provision. Most children of other religions attend private schools.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
An amended income tax law, passed in 2017 and including the taxing of ministers of religion, became effective in 2018. At least 39 CCCS pastors were charged for not filing their tax returns and paying taxes. The cases were dismissed by the district courts or withdrawn by the Ministry for Revenue in July and August. According to media reports, the Office of the Attorney General, with assistance from the ministry, will file charges in the future against the pastors. According to a press statement from the ministry, the CCCS was the only denomination that opposed the tax law.
Reportedly, matai councils, the traditional governing body of villages, frequently continued to resist attempts to introduce new religious groups into their communities on the ground of “maintaining harmony within the village” – a duty prescribed in legislation. Sources stated that it was also common in many villages throughout the country for leaders to forbid individuals to belong to churches outside of the village or to exercise their right not to worship. Villagers in violation of such rules faced fines, banishment from the village, or both.
Traditionally, villages have tended to have one primary Christian church. Village chiefs often have chosen the religious denomination of their extended families. Sources stated, however, that many larger villages have had multiple churches serving different denominations and coexisting peacefully.
Ten or more chaplains continued to be available to prisoners on a rotational basis, covering the majority of Christian denominations in the country. Prisoners of non-Christian faiths have access to counselors from their religion.
Public ceremonies typically began with a Christian prayer.