The constitution states the country is a secular state, provides for equality before the law for all citizens regardless of religion, protects all religious beliefs, and prohibits religious discrimination. The constitution also provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship; free exercise of religious belief; and the right of religious groups to organize themselves and carry out their activities consistent with the law, the rights of others, and public order.
The law requires all religious groups, including indigenous groups, to register as religious associations. Some Christian and Islamic holidays are observed as national holidays. Official recognition as a religious association provides other groups the same rights as those afforded to Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims, including import duty exemptions for humanitarian and development projects. Registration entitles religious groups to receive government benefits such as government-provided teachers for faith-based schools and special assistance in case of natural disasters.
Organizations apply for registration with the DRA. A religious group must submit its statutes, statement of doctrine, bylaws, names and addresses of executive board members, leaders’ religious credentials, a site-use agreement, map for religious facilities, and description of its finances. It must also pay a registration fee of 150,000 CFA francs ($244). Criteria for recognition include authenticity of the religious leader’s diploma and the government’s assessment of the ethical behavior of the group, which must not cause a breach of public order. The DRA issues a receipt that serves as temporary recognition for religious groups applying for registration. The investigation and issuance of formal written authorization usually takes several years.
By law, religious groups must request permission to conduct large nighttime celebrations, particularly those likely to block city streets or involve loud ceremonies in residential areas.
The public school curriculum does not include religion classes. The government assigns its own paid employees as additional teachers and staff to many Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic schools; UNESCO estimates 13 percent of religiously affiliated schools receive such assistance. Other registered religious groups have the right to establish schools if they meet accreditation standards.
The constitution prohibits the establishment of political parties based on religion. The law forbids private religious radio stations from broadcasting political material.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In June, the MTA requested prefects and mayors to no longer authorize new places of worship. The central government transmitted this request to mayors and prefects via a ministerial stop-order and the media. The DRA released a statement in July about several thousand complaints concerning the high level of volume of worship services and religious observances and announced that sanctions would follow efforts to warn religious leaders about the noise. Although there was no law or regulation prescribing a permissible volume, the MTA and mayors recommended acceptable decibel levels through their notes to religious leaders. According to the Director of the DRA, Colonel Bediani Belei, the DRA would seize the audiovisual equipment and shut down places of worship that exceed a threshold of 55 decibels.
Similar to previous years, the government did not act on pending registration applications from religious groups and has not accepted new applications since 2013. Most pending registration applications came from Christian evangelical religious movements. The government did not provide a clear explanation for the delay. According to Christian religious organizations, the government returned the application files of some Christian groups without acting on them. They also stated that the government applied the ministerial stop order only to Christians. In years prior, when COVID-19 restrictions were in force until mid-2021, the government cited those restrictions as justification for preventing religious groups from opening new places of worship and limited public gatherings. The cabinet did not act on a bill submitted to it by the MTA in July 2019 that had been pending since 2018 detailing the process for opening places of worship and regulating hours of operation and noise levels allowed during worship.
As in 2021, the MTA met with religious leaders to discuss the management of religious services in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the DRA convened a series of meetings with religious contacts throughout August to discuss initiatives to reduce the number of COVID-19 infections. During these meetings and in response to a spike in cases, the government requested religious establishments check for proof of vaccination prior to permitting members entrance to the religious premises.
In June and August after recurring complaints concerning noise levels, the government announced it had closed nine neo-charismatic churches: the Church of God in Christ, the Christian Church of the Redeemed of God, the Chapel Church of the Conquerors, the International Church of Mount Armenia, the Church of Power of Redemption, Missionary Church of Christ’s Abundant Grace, Church of Christ’s Awakening, Church of Christ’s International Zoe Life Ministry, and the Almighty Mission Evangelical Ministry. The closed churches and the religious associations to which they belonged asked the government for clemency to resume religious services. The Christian community called for dialogue to solve problems of noise nuisance instead of punishment, arguing that muezzins calling Muslims to prayer and bars make noise freely at similar or greater decibel levels in the hours of sleep and that the government should not uphold a double standard. As of year’s end, the churches remained closed.
On February 28 in the Grand-Lome region, the Ministry of Security and a Fulbe Community-based Organization organized a sensitization workshop on social cohesion for the leaders of the primarily Muslim Fulbe (Fulani) communities, religious leaders, and security and defense forces. The participants discussed transhumance (grazing) conflicts between primarily Muslim herders and primarily Christian farmers, religious and ethnic tolerance, and peaceful conflict resolution strategies. In August and September, the High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication and the High Commission for Reconciliation and Strengthening National Unity participated in sensitization campaigns and workshops on the role of journalists in fostering social cohesion, preventing violent extremism, and advancing peace and security.