The constitution states that everyone has freedom of religion, and individuals may not be discriminated against on the grounds of religion. Individuals may choose to change their religion. Any violation of religious freedom may be brought before a court of justice.
The penal code provides punishment for those who instigate hate or discrimination against persons based on religion or creed in any way; however, the law has not been enforced. Those found guilty may be sentenced to a prison term of no longer than one year and a fine of up to 25,000 Surinamese dollars (SRD) ($3,300). In cases where an insult or act of hatred is instigated by more than one person, as part of an organization, or by a person who makes such statements habitually or as part of work, the punishment may include imprisonment of up to two years and fines of up to SRD 50,000 ($6,600).
Religious groups must register with the Ministry of Home Affairs only if they seek financial support, including stipends for clergy, from the government. To register, religious groups must supply contact information, a history of their group, and addresses for houses of worship. Most religious groups are officially registered.
The law does not permit religious instruction in public schools. Private schools managed by religious groups include religious instruction in the curriculum. All students attending schools run by religious groups must take part in religious instruction, regardless of their religious background. Parents are not permitted to homeschool children for religious reasons.
The government funds salaries for all teachers in primary and junior secondary schools established and managed by various religious groups and provides a stipend that partially covers maintenance costs for these institutions. Religious groups must provide the remaining funding, which includes construction costs, funding for school furniture, supplies, and additional maintenance expenses. Religious organizations manage approximately 50 percent of primary (ages 4-12) and junior secondary (ages 12-16) schools in the country. Religious organizations do not manage higher secondary schools (ages 16-19). The Catholic diocese, Moravian Church, and Hindu community manage the majority of private schools. Through the Ministries of Education and Finance, the government provides a fee per registered child and pays teacher salaries to the religious organizations managing these schools.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
According to FIBOS, the government continued to pay wages for teachers of schools managed by religious organizations; however, its other subsidies for operational expenses of these schools were either late or not paid. In September the government and FIBOS reached an agreement on payment of subsidies for attending students. Parties agreed the government would pay the school fees for the 2019-2020 school year. According to FIBOS, the government was also late in its payment of subsidies to children’s and elderly homes run by religious organizations. FIBOS attributed these delays to the government’s budget shortfall.
Government officials continued to raise the importance of religious freedom, respect for religious diversity, and its commitment to protecting religious minorities at the highest levels. President Desire Delano Bouterse underscored the country’s “rich diversity” in his September 30 budget speech, as well as the importance for different groups to uphold principles of “unity, peace, and tolerance” with each other.
All schools, including public schools, continued to recognize various religious holidays that are also national holidays, including Christmas, Easter, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, and Phagwa. The government continued to prohibit prayer groups in public schools.
The armed forces continued to maintain a staff chaplaincy with Hindu, Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic clergy available to military personnel.
Vice President Ashwin Adhin attended several religious events on behalf of the government throughout the year.
Minister of Home Affairs Mike Noersalim again issued statements on behalf of the government in honor of World Prayer Day in March and throughout the year ahead of different religious holidays such as Phagwa, Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Christmas. The statements emphasized the importance of religious harmony for a prosperous society. In the lead-up to Phagwa, Noersalim stated, “We are blessed in Suriname with a rich religious diversity, a wealth from which we can all draw, at any time. And we must cherish this social capital and make it flourish. If we want to leave a good world for our posterity, then we will have to see the sustainability of our religious diversity as a duty.”
The Department of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Home Affairs supported Interfaith Week held annually in February.