The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions and establishes laws to regulate the registration of religious groups. The constitution protects against being compelled to belong to a religious group contrary to one’s beliefs. The MFA is responsible for monitoring and administering laws relating to religious groups. Within the MFA, the Bureau of Worship is responsible for registering religious organizations, clergy, and missionaries of various religious denominations.
By law, religious institutions must register with the MFA to receive government benefits; however, there is no penalty for operating without registration, and many religious groups continue to do so. Registration affords religious groups standing in legal disputes and provides tax-exempt status. The Ministry of Justice allows registered religious groups to issue civil documents, such as marriage and baptismal certificates. The government recognizes these certificates as legal documents only when prepared by government-licensed clergy. Baptismal certificates are identifying documents with the same legal authority as birth certificates. To obtain official government recognition, a religious group must provide information on the qualifications of its leaders, a membership directory, and a list of the group’s social projects. Registered religious groups must submit annual updates of their membership, projects, and leadership to the MFA.
A 2003 government directive established Vodou as an official religion and accords the right to the Vodou community to issue official documents.
By law, the licensing of members of clergy is a government prerogative. To obtain a license, the prospective religious leader must submit a dossier of 14 documents to the MFA, including a diploma of theology or religious studies, a certificate of moral conduct, and a recommendation letter signed by a registered religious institution. Once the MFA confirms the applicant’s eligibility for a license, a Ministry of Justice official administers an oath, which qualifies the applicant to perform civil ceremonies, such as marriages and baptisms.
A concordat between the Holy See and the government provides the Vatican authority to approve and select a specific number of bishops in the country with government consent. Under the concordat, the government provides a monthly stipend to Catholic priests. The government does not provide stipends to other religious leaders. Catholic and Episcopalian bishops and the head of the Protestant Federation have official license plates and carry diplomatic passports.
Foreign missionaries operating in the country are subject to the same legal and administrative requirements as their domestic counterparts.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The MFA and law enforcement authorities at times intervened in cases of violence against Vodou practitioners. According to the MFA’s director general of the Bureau of Worship, in September the MFA facilitated the arrest of a Christian pastor who burned down the house of a Vodou practitioner in Aquin, South Department who had refused to convert to Christianity. MFA officials helped the victim file a criminal complaint and relocate to a different neighborhood.
According to the MFA, as of the end of the year, there were 9,195 certified Protestant pastors, 704 certified Catholic priests, and two certified Vodou clergy. Certification allowed clergy to conduct official marriages, baptisms, and other sacraments. In 2018 the MFA approved the applications of 20 Vodou clergy and submitted their files to the Justice Ministry for final oath-taking, as legally required. The Ministry of Justice granted only two Vodou clergy final authorization that year. During 2019, however, no additional Vodou clergy achieved full official status. According to KNVA representatives, authorities did not approve the other 18 candidates because they were perceived as not supporting the administration of President Jovenel Moise.
The three Muslim communities residing in the country – Sunni, Shia, and Ahmadiyya – individually sought official recognition. According to the president of the National Council for Haitian Muslims, Landy Mathurin, the MFA did not act upon their requests during the year. MFA officials indicated they were continuing to review the Ahmadiyya application, after granting the community a registration number in 2018. All Muslims, regardless of group affiliation, were required to go through a civil ceremony for events such as marriages.
The MFA continued to honor its obligations, such as tax exemptions and diplomatic privileges, to the Catholic Church under the terms of the concordat.
While the government did not tax registered religious groups and traditionally exempted their imports from customs duties, on October 23, the government announced it would end all customs exemptions, including for clergy. The legality and scope of the government’s decision remained unclear through the end of year.
In August the government, through the MOE, granted 50 million gourdes ($570,000) to Catholics; 40 million gourdes ($456,000) to Protestants; and 20 million gourdes ($228,000) to Anglicans to support their respective schools. The allocations reflected the concordat between the government and the Catholic Church, and the large number of Protestant and Anglican schools in the country. The government did not allocate funds to other religious groups. According to the National Council for Haitian Muslims, the four registered Muslim primary schools, all registered in 2010, did not receive any funding. The Bureau of Worship had no discretionary funds during the year to support social programming by religious groups, such as youth conferences, as it had in previous years.
During the year, the MOE accommodated some students’ religious practices by scheduling certain exams on weekdays. The decision was made in response to an August 2018 letter from the Office of Citizen Protection (OPC), which serves as the country’s human rights ombudsman, to the Senate and Chamber of Deputies education commissions. The OPC stated it objected to the practice of holding public university admissions exams on weekends, after it received a complaint from the Seventh-day Adventist Church that requiring exams on Saturdays violated the religious freedom of its adherents.
The Protestant Federation advocated for more authority over the process that determines which individuals the government certifies as Protestant clergy. The organization stated that with more authority, it could stop unlicensed pastors and churches from acting as agents of Protestants churches and spreading “dangerous messages.” The federation cited the example of a self-proclaimed Protestant prophet, Makenson Dorillas, who made headlines in October when he led an antigovernment protest calling for President Moise’s resignation, although Dorillas had no legal status as a clergyman. Following the protest, the Office of Worship began consulting with Protestant groups to address self-appointed religious leaders who lack official recognition.