The constitution defines the state as secular and establishes separation of religion and state. It prohibits religious discrimination and holds all citizens equal before the law, regardless of religion. The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, the free practice of religion, and the right to form religious communities that may govern and manage their affairs independently, consistent with public order. The constitution stipulates religious communities whose activities are contrary to laws of the country or promote conflict among ethnic groups may be banned.
The law requires all associations to register, including religious groups. Registered groups are eligible for exemptions from fees for land use and construction permits. To register, a group must present to the MOI copies of its founding statutes and internal rules, a letter attesting to publication of these documents in the applicable local administrative bulletin, a formal letter of request for registration addressed to the minister of interior, a property lease, the police records of the group’s leaders, and the group’s bank statements. The registration fee is 10,000 CFA francs ($17). Registered religious groups must also provide the MOI with proof of nonprofit status to receive exemptions from local taxes and customs duties on imports. The MOI maintains an official registry of religious groups.
The constitution states parents have the right to choose their children’s religious education. The state provides for public education based on “religious neutrality.” Public schools are secular and do not provide religious instruction. Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant groups operate primary and secondary schools, in which representatives of religious groups provide religious instruction. These schools must register with the Ministry of Education, which ensures they meet the same standards as public schools. The government does not fund private schools, religious or secular.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The MOI reported it generally processed registration requests from religious groups within one month. Their difficulty with registration usually concerned gathering the appropriate documents, according to ministry officials. In addition, there was anecdotal evidence of an increase in “fake pastors” seeking to defraud their followers. Unregistered groups charged with fraud or other illegal activity were most likely to be sanctioned. Ministry of Interior officials indicated an effort was underway to update the regulations governing associations and religious groups, which are currently treated the same.
On June 8, government authorities organized an interfaith religious service to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of former president Omar Bongo Ondimba. Four religious faiths were represented at the service and led the ceremony: an imam, the Catholic archbishop, the president of the Evangelical Church, and a representative of New Awakening Church. On August 16, government authorities organized an interfaith service to commemorate the 59th anniversary of independence.