The constitution prohibits discrimination based on creed and provides for freedom of thought and religion, including the right of individuals to change, manifest, and propagate their religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance, alone or in community, in private or in public. These rights may be subject to limitations to protect public order, safety, morality, health, or the rights of others. The constitution also bars requiring oaths contrary to an individual’s religious belief and bars compulsory religious education or attendance at religious ceremonies in schools. It gives religious groups the right to establish schools and provide religious instruction to members of that group. The schools are open to the population of other religious groups as well. Citizens may file religious discrimination complaints with the Equal Opportunities Commission, which may open an investigation if it determines a citizen’s rights may have been infringed.
The constitution states that legislative candidates must identify themselves as belonging to one of the four national communities cited in the constitution: Hindu, Muslim, Sino-Mauritian, or General Population.
The criminal code prohibits inciting racial or religious hatred through words, actions, or publication.
Parliamentary decrees recognize the six main religious groups present prior to independence in 1968 (Hindus, Catholics, Muslims, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Seventh-day Adventists) as well as the Church of Jesus Christ, which was recognized in 1985. These groups receive annual lump sum payments from the finance ministry based on the number of members who identified as such during the last census. The registrar of associations registers other religious groups, which must have a minimum of seven members with designated leadership responsibilities. The finance ministry may grant these other groups tax-exempt privileges. Although registration of religious groups is required, the law does not prescribe penalties for unregistered groups.
Religious groups must obtain both residence and work permits for each foreign missionary. The Prime Minister’s Office is the final authority on the issuance of these documents. The government grants residence permits to missionaries for a maximum of three years, with no extensions.
Religious education is allowed in public and private schools at both the primary and secondary levels. The Catholic catechism is taught in all Catholic schools, and, on demand, in public schools, generally by lay members of the staff. Students may opt out. Catholic schools offer civic education classes for non-Catholic students. Nonreligious classes about Islam and Hinduism are offered in private and public high schools. Religious classes in those faiths take place outside the school system.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
On November 2, a group of Rastafarians held a peaceful protest to bring awareness to the fact that they are not allowed to freely practice their religion because the use of marijuana in their religious ceremonies is considered illegal under the Dangerous Drugs Act. Police arrested 12 members, who were later released on bail.
During the year, the government again did not take action to recognize the Assembly of God as a religion. The denomination has petitioned the government for such recognition for more than 20 years. As of year’s end, the group was still considered an association. The government has not provided a reason for its inaction. A pastor from the Assembly of God said that because the group was not considered an association, newborns could not be registered as Assembly of God members and that its pastors had limited access to hospitals and prisons. The government failed to offer a reason for not legally recognizing a religious group since 1985, when it extended recognition to the Church of Jesus Christ. Consequently, other religious groups continued to have status only as associations. Religious and civil society sources said they believed the government did not want to add to the list of recognized religions because it would reduce the number of citizens considered Hindu.
Some Christians and Muslims continued to state that the predominance of Hindus in the civil service favored Hindus in government recruitment and promotion, preventing Christians and Muslims from reaching higher level positions in the civil service. In general, and dating back years, non-Hindus have stated they were underrepresented in government. In its 2018 response to the periodic reports of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the government stated that it will not provide any disaggregated data by ethnicity pertaining to recruitment in the public service, or any information on “racial discrimination against people of African descent,” “as it goes against National Unity.”