The constitution provides for freedom of thought and of religion. This includes the freedom for individuals to change religion or belief and to worship, teach, practice, and observe one’s religion in public or in private, either alone or with others. It also provides for the freedom to establish noncompulsory religious instruction. These provisions may be restricted by laws “reasonably required” to protect the rights of others, for defense, or for public safety, order, morality, or health.
All religious groups must register with the government. Religious groups are required to apply in writing to the Registrar of Companies for a certificate of registration. Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations may register as charitable organizations. To register, a group must submit the required paperwork to the Registrar of Companies; the application fee of 1,250 Solomon Islands dollars (SBD) ($150) is waived for religious groups. Documentation required for the application process includes a description of the group, a list of board members, and a constitution that states how the group is governed and how members are chosen. The registrar issues a certificate when satisfied that the requirements have been met and that the nature, extent, objectives, and circumstances of the applicant are noncommercial.
The public school curriculum includes an hour of weekly religious instruction, the content of which is agreed upon by the member churches of SICA, an ecumenical nongovernmental organization comprising the county’s five largest churches. Parents may have their children excused from religious education. Government-subsidized church schools are required to align their nonreligious curricula with governmental criteria. Non-Christian religious instruction is provided in the schools upon request. Ministers or other representatives of the religion provide these classes. Anyone found to be preventing religious instruction faces imprisonment of up to one year or a fine of up to SBD 500 ($62).
The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
As of year’s end, the Constitutional Review Committee had not finalized draft constitutional changes intended to implement a 2017 parliamentary motion to explore the possibility of amending the preamble of the constitution to declare the country a Christian nation. Committee representatives said the changes would recognize Christianity as the main religion of the country without limiting religious freedom. In December a member of the Church of Jesus Christ in Honiara said the government should focus on economic development in Solomon Islands instead of religion, commenting that religious groups in the country did not pose a threat to civil liberties.
In September, amid a political standoff and public tension over the government’s decision to cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan in favor of China, Malaita Province Premier (Governor) Daniel Suidani encouraged Solomon Islanders to maintain their Christian and democratic values by supporting relations with Taiwan instead of China. Christians were present in large numbers at the airport to welcome and express sadness to Taiwanese officials arriving in the country to close down their embassy.
Three new groups, two subsidiaries of the Anglican Church of Melanesia and one local church affiliated with the Christian Fellowship Church, were registered during the year. There were no reports of religious groups being denied registration.
The government continued to interact with religious groups through the Ministry of Home Affairs. The ministry characterized its role as maintaining a balance between constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom, free speech, and free expression, and maintaining public order. The ministry also again granted a small amount of funding to churches to carry out social programs, such as a Christian care center for victims of domestic violence administrated by the Anglican Church of Melanesia. The maximum amount of these grants was SBD 15,000 ($1,900). Some churches also received funding from local members of parliament through their constituent development funds. According to informal guidelines on how constituent development funds should be allocated, no more than SBD 250,000 ($31,000) per year per district could be given to religious groups. Groups needed to apply directly to members of parliament to receive these funds.
Religious groups operated several schools and health services. The government subsidized most of the schools and health centers administered by the Catholic Church, Anglican Church of Melanesia, United Methodist Church, South Seas Evangelical Church, and Seventh-day Adventist Church. Subsidies were allocated proportionally based on the number of students at the schools and the size of the health centers. There were no reports of discrimination among groups in receiving these subsidies.
Government oaths of office customarily continued to be taken on the Bible, but this was not a compulsory practice.