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Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The 2008 constitution, drafted by the military junta in control at that time, states that every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice his or her religious beliefs.  The constitution limits those rights if they threaten public order, health, morality, or other provisions of the constitution.  It further provides to all citizens the right to profess and practice their religion if not contrary to laws on security, law and order, community peace, or public order and morality.

The law prohibits deliberate and malicious speech or acts intended to outrage or wound the religious feelings “of any class” by insulting or defaming its religion or religious beliefs.  The law also prohibits injuring, defiling, or trespassing on any place of worship or burial grounds with the intent to insult religion.

All organizations, whether secular or religious, must register with the government to obtain official status.  This official status is required for organizations to gain title to land, obtain construction permits, and conduct religious activities.  The law on registering organizations specifies voluntary registration for local NGOs, whether religious in nature or not, and removes punishments for noncompliance for both local and international NGOs.

The law bars members of religious orders, such as priests, monks, and nuns of any religious group, from running for public office, and the constitution bars members of religious orders from voting.  The government restricts by law the political activities and expression of the Buddhist clergy (sangha).  The constitution forbids “the abuse of religion for political purposes.”  The election law states that a candidate’s parents must be citizens at the time of the candidate’s birth; authorities have denied citizenship to most Rohingya, thus precluding most Rohingya from running for office.

Although there is no official state religion, the constitution notes that the government “recognizes the special position of Buddhism as the faith professed by the great majority of the citizens of the Union.”  The constitution “also recognizes Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Animism as the religions existing in the Union at the day of the coming into operation of this Constitution.”

The law bans any organization of Buddhist monks other than the nine state-recognized monastic orders.  Violations of this ban are punishable by immediate public defrocking and criminal penalties.  The nine recognized orders submit to the authority of the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (SSMNC or Ma Ha Na), whose members are elected by monks.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture’s Department for the Perpetuation and Propagation of the Sasana (Buddhist teaching) oversees the government’s relations with Buddhist monks and schools.  Religious education is not included in public schools; however, some schools with Buddhist-majority student bodies may start the school day with a Buddhist prayer.

Monastic schools, run by monasteries and nunneries in all states and regions of the country, serve approximately 320,000 students.  Those that are officially registered use the official state primary and middle school curricula but also teach about Buddhist culture and ways of life.

Four laws passed in 2015 for the “protection of race and religion” remain in effect.  One of the laws bans polygamy, making it a criminal offense to have more than one spouse, which observers say targets the country’s Muslim population.  A marriage law specifically for Buddhist women stipulates notification and registration requirements for marriages between non-Buddhist men and Buddhist women, obligations that non-Buddhist husbands must observe, and penalties for noncompliance.  A religious conversion law regulates conversion through an extensive application and approval process through a township-level Religious Board for Religious Conversion; however, the law is rarely applied, and many townships do not have conversion boards.  The applicant must be older than 18 and must undergo a waiting period of up to 180 days; if the applicant still wishes to convert, the board issues a certificate of religious conversion.  A population control law allows for the designation of special zones where population control measures may be applied, including authorizing local authorities to implement three-year birth spacing

To register a Buddhist marriage, a couple must appear in court with their national identity card (which identifies their religion as Buddhist) and attest that they are married.  Buddhist marriages may be registered at any court with relevant jurisdiction.  Christian marriages are regulated under a Christian marriage act dating from 1872, and to be recognized, must be officiated by a Christian religious figure registered with the Supreme Court.  There are only a handful of ministers or priests registered in the country.  The officiating church must submit details of a marriage from its registry to the Supreme Court within three months of the marriage ceremony solemnization, and only the Supreme Court is permitted to recognize Christian marriages, making it nearly impossible for a Christian marriage to be legally recognized.  Muslim marriages officiated by a mullah are recognized under the law with no court filing requirements.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future