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. The Ministry of Traditional Governance, Peace, and Ecclesiastical Affairs (MTGPEA) delivers ecclesiastical programs in partnership with faith-based organizations, engages with religious leaders to support peace initiatives, and manages government grants to churches.
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 (NGOs) may register as charitable organizations. To register, a group must submit the required documentation to the Registrar of Companies; the application fee of 1,250 Solomon Islands dollars (SBD) ($160) 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 NGO 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 ($65).
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. Ministry of Justice officials said the proposal had not moved from the constitutional review committee in parliament. According to these officials, parliamentarians had not taken up the proposal since its original submission and had determined the proposal was unlikely to be reviewed during the year. Members of minority faiths said that most citizens, who are predominantly Christian and Protestant, would likely support the proposed amendment.
Multiple religious groups, including Christian, Jewish, and Islamic groups, were registered in the country. There were no pending registrations for other groups. Officials said that some groups may register as NGOs or charities without being required to reveal any religious affiliation.
The government continued to interact with religious groups through the Ministry of Home Affairs and the MTGPEA. The Ministry of Home Affairs characterized its role as maintaining a balance between constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom, free speech, and free expression, and maintaining public order. The MTGPEA provided 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, and for the maintenance of church buildings. The total budget was SBD 14.5 million ($1.87 million). According to the MTGPEA, SBD 12.5 million ($1.62 million) was divided among the 50 constituencies that comprise the country, with the remaining SBD two million ($259,000) allocated to the ministry for miscellaneous religious activities throughout the year. Some churches also received funding from local members of parliament through their constituent development funds. Groups were required to apply directly to members of parliament to receive these funds. The MTGPEA distributed an additional SBD five million ($646,000) to SICA and the Solomon Islands Full Gospel Association (SIFGA), an umbrella organization made up of smaller Pentecostal churches, as part of a one-time stimulus package in response to pandemic-related consequences. SICA and SIFGA had the responsibility to disburse the stimulus funds to member churches.
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 receiving these subsidies.
Government oaths of office customarily continued to be taken on the Bible, but this was not a compulsory practice.