The constitution states, “Every person shall have the freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice” subject to laws that may impose such “reasonable restrictions” as necessary for national security, public order, decency, or morality. The constitution also states that such freedom “not impinge on the rights and freedoms of others or on the national interest, especially unity.” The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, the establishment of a state religion, and religiously based political parties. It provides for the establishment of qadi courts, with judges trained in the Islamic legal tradition. The courts are located in each of the country’s seven regions, and their jurisdiction applies only to marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance where the involved parties are Muslims. Citizens may choose to use either the civil or qadi courts.
There are no formal guidelines for registration of religious groups. Religious groups that do not provide social services are not legally required to register. Faith-based groups that provide social services as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must meet the same eligibility criteria as other NGOs. By law, all NGOs are required to register with the NGO Affairs Agency and register as charities at the attorney general’s chambers under the Companies Act. They are required to have governing boards of directors of at least seven members responsible for policy and major administrative decisions, including internal control. The NGO decree requires that all NGOs submit to the NGO Affairs Agency a detailed annual work program and budget, a detailed annual report highlighting progress on activities undertaken during the year, work plans for the following year, and financial statements audited by NGO Affairs Agency-approved auditors. The government has stated the submissions help the NGO Affairs Agency monitor NGO activities.
The law does not require public or private schools to include religious instruction in their curricula. The government, through the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, provides religious education teachers to public schools to teach an academic course on major world religions. The majority of public schools offer this course and most students take the class. Some private schools also offer classes in religious education and tolerance and provide an overview of major world religions.
The constitution bans political parties organized on the basis of religion.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
President Barrow met separately throughout the year with leaders of the Muslim and Christian communities and stressed his administration’s commitment to promoting religious tolerance, according to media reports. The president called for the “preservation of the admirable mutual respect, trust, and unity among different religious groups” during a January meeting with the Christian Council. The president attended religious celebrations with Muslim and Christian leaders, including prayers at the country’s central mosque to mark the Islamic holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The president gave a televised statement at Christmas.
On October 19, Minister of Information and Communications Sillah represented the government at the 2nd Annual Ahmadiyya Peace Conference Africa 2019. He congratulated the Ahmadiyya for “standing for and by the people and the Government of the Gambia.”
The Ministry of Lands and Regional Affairs continued to oversee the portfolio of religious affairs.