The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom – either alone or in community with others – to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. It states that no one may be compelled to take an oath contrary to one’s religion or belief. The constitution stipulates that religious groups may establish places of education and states that “no such community shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community.” Discrimination on religious grounds is illegal.
The preamble to the constitution acknowledges “the supremacy of God.”
An unenforced law limits speech that is “blasphemous or indecent.”
By law, the Council of Churches, a board including representatives from several major Christian denominations, and the BAEC together appoint one individual, called the “church senator,” to the Senate with the governor general’s concurrence. The two groups together include the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches, Salvation Army, Chinese Christian Mission, Church of Christ, Assembly of God Church, Seventh-day Adventists, and other evangelical Protestant groups. They do not include the National Evangelical Association of Belize), which separated from the BAEC in 2015 due to political differences, or any non-Christian denominations.
By law, the church senator provides advice on public policy affecting the political positions of religious groups. This senatorial seat places the political interests of religious leaders on par with the three other senators appointed to represent labor unions, the business community, and the NGO community. The Senate is the upper chamber of the country’s two-part National Assembly; members of the House of Representatives run for election, while senators are appointed.
The law requires all religious groups to register with the official Companies Registry in the Ministry of the Attorney General in a process similar to that of a business. Registration permits the religious organization to operate legally in the country; receive state recognition; negotiate, sue, and be sued; own property; hire employees; and lend or borrow money. There is a one-time registration fee of 295 Belize dollars ($150) and a yearly fee of five Belize dollars ($3). Requirements for registration include a memorandum of association with the government delineating the group’s objective and mission, an article of association, and a letter from the central bank if the organization has foreign financial contributors. The government may shut down the facilities of groups that fail to register.
The government does not levy property taxes on churches and other places of worship. Other church-owned buildings occupied on a regular basis, such as clergy residences, are not tax-exempt. Religious organizations may also partner with the state to operate schools, hospitals, and other charity organizations and, depending on funding availability, receive financial assistance from the government.
The public school curriculum includes weekly nondenominational “spirituality” classes incorporating morals and values. Government-aided church-run schools may teach lessons on world religions for students from kindergarten through eighth grade as part of their social studies curriculum. These church-run schools also offer separate religious education classes that are specific to their own faith. While there is no official rule governing a student’s ability to opt out of either of these sessions, parents may decide their children will not attend. The constitution prohibits any educational institution from obligating a child to attend any religious ceremonies or observances. Due to insufficient government funds, Christian churches manage most public elementary schools, high schools, and some colleges. Schools routinely observe Catholic and other Christian holidays at the schools’ discretion. Non-Christian religious groups run a few schools, such as the Muslim Community Primary School in Belize City. All schools, public and private, must adhere to government regulations; the Ministry of Education monitors their compliance.
The law grants respect for inmates’ religious beliefs, and inmates may participate in religious activities in prison. Religious leaders may request use of the chapel inside the facility and offer religious services to inmates. Prison authorities avoid requiring unnecessary work by prisoners on Sunday and other major Christian religious holidays (Christmas and Good Friday) and by prisoners recorded as belonging to other religions on their recognized day of religious observance. The law allows the provision of religious scriptures and other books of religious observance to prisoners.
To enter the country and proselytize, foreign religious workers need a multi-entry visa, which costs 100 Belize dollars ($50) and is valid for one year. Applicants must also purchase a religious worker’s permit, costing 50 Belize dollars ($25). The visas are renewable on an annual basis. Visa requirements include information on intended length of stay, location, funding for activity, and specific purpose. Members of all religious groups are eligible to obtain visas. While a group does not need to be locally registered, recommendation by a locally registered religious group lends more credibility to the visa request, according to local authorities.
The Belize Defense Force retains a nondenominational chaplain and space for religious observance. With the prior consent of authorities, any religious group may use the space for worship.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government continued to engage religious groups in discussions to foster tolerance for religious minorities, protect religious freedom, and ensure equal protection under the law.
The government held discussions with the Council of Churches, Church Senator Ashley Rocke, who is a Baptist pastor, and several other religious leaders to keep them abreast of government plans of interest to them, including the education budget. According to the head of the Council of Churches, while by law the church senator represents all religions, there was little response from non-Christian religious groups to the church senator’s efforts to seek their political perspectives.
The government continued to permit religious leaders from varying denominations to visit the government-owned and -financed central prison to hold services at the prison’s nondenominational chapel. A representative of the Kolbe Foundation, the Catholic organization running the prison, said prison officials continued to respect dietary restrictions for prisoners of diverse religious backgrounds. Several religious groups, including Anglicans, Methodists, Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Seventh-day Adventists, Nazarenes, Mennonites, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Baptists, and the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to make frequent use of the access to clergy granted by the prison administration.