The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions. Under the law, the MFA is responsible for registering religious organizations, clergy, and missionaries of all denominations.
Religious institutions must register with the Bureau of Worship to receive government benefits, but there is no penalty for nonregistration. Even though registration would grant them standing in legal disputes and tax-exempt status, many religious groups do not comply. The Ministry of Justice authorizes registered religious leaders to issue official civil documents, such as marriage and baptismal certificates. To obtain government recognition, a religious group must provide information on its leaders’ qualifications, a membership directory, and a list of the group’s social projects. Registered religious groups must submit annual updates to the MFA.
To obtain a government-issued license, the prospective leader of a religious group must submit documents to the MFA, such as a religious studies diploma and a police certificate. Once the MFA confirms the applicant’s eligibility for a license, a Ministry of Justice official authorizes 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 a specific number of bishops in the country with government consent. Under the accord, through the MFA’s Bureau of Worship, the government provides a monthly stipend to Catholic priests. Catholic and Episcopalian bishops and the Protestant Federation’s head have official license plates and carry diplomatic passports.
A 2003 government directive establishes Vodou as an official religion and accords the right to the Vodou community to issue official documents.
Foreign missionaries operating in the country are subject to the same legal and administrative requirements as their domestic counterparts.
The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The three Muslim communities in the country – Sunni, Shia, and Ahmadiyya – individually continued to seek official recognition. According to the National Council for Haitian Muslims President, Landy Mathurin, MFA officials did not act on the Sunni and Shia community requests for registration pending since 2018. The MFA Religious Affairs director said only the Ahmadiyya followed official registration procedures, adding their application was still under review. To reach other Muslim groups, the MFA director said he would conduct registration drives outside Port au Prince instead of requiring applicants to come to the bureau’s headquarters to complete the registration. No registration drives, however, occurred during the year.
The government continued to recognize only wedding ceremonies and baptisms conducted by government-certified officials. According to the MFA, there were 9,195 certified Protestant pastors, 704 certified Catholic priests, and two certified Vodou clergy at year’s end. By year’s end, the government still did not certify any Muslim clergy. Some Protestant leaders continued to call for more government regulation of unregistered churches and pastors.
According to media reports, starting in September, the government required all religious organizations to request a formal customs exemption when importing goods. According to local media, the decision was made to prevent widespread misuse of the government’s customs exemption program.
During the 2020-21 school year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) disbursed 100 million gourdes ($1.4 million) to religious schools: 50 million ($698,000) to Catholic schools, 40 million to Protestant schools ($559,000), and 10 million ($140,000) to Anglican schools. On October 14, the MOE signed a three-year agreement with the Catholic Church, providing annual financial assistance for Catholic schools, especially in vulnerable areas identified by the government and civil society leaders.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended all gatherings of more than five persons, including religious services, from March to July. According to news reports, police took 30 individuals into custody on March 22, including four Protestant pastors, for holding religious services in violation of government orders. The same day, police detained two individuals in Gressier, near Port au Prince, at a Vodou ceremony. In both instances, authorities released the individuals and did not formally charge them. In May, Minister for Foreign and Religious Affairs Claude Joseph urged religious leaders in the southern part of the country to convince followers to wear face masks and practice social distancing. After initial compliance, Christian groups, primarily Protestant, objected to the COVID-19 measures, stating that several factories and government agencies were allowed to reopen.
Vodou and Muslim groups said government officials excluded them as implementing partners for COVID-19 relief and other donor-financed projects. KNVA said the government dismissed local Vodou herbal remedies as COVID-19 preventive measures but explored cooperation with Madagascar’s government to use an alleged herbal remedy, which Vodou practitioners said was a slight.
The Office of Citizen Protection (OPC) continued to advocate for students’ religious freedom. As a result, the MOE rescheduled exams on weekdays instead of Saturdays, allowing full participation by Seventh-day Adventist students, according to the Church.
Some Muslim leaders said the government gave preference to Christian groups in its funding of development projects.
On September 22, the government, continuing past practices, installed religious representatives from the Vodou and Protestant communities on the Provisional Electoral Council, the country’s elections administrative body. Unlike in previous years, a Catholic representative did not participate.
Although many religious leaders reported the government promoted tolerance and societal respect for religious freedom, non-Catholic religious leaders called for an end of government preference for the Catholic Church.
In July, the government adopted a new penal code that included significant protections for LGBTI persons, the decriminalization of abortion, and the lowering of the age of sexual consent from 16 to 15; the code was scheduled to enter into force after a two-year transition period. Christian group leaders, primarily from Protestant organizations, said the measures countered their beliefs and would require all clergy to perform same-sex marriages. According to the government, the new criminal code did not change the civil code that codified marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In July, the Haitian Protestant Federation and other Christian groups throughout the country launched petitions and peacefully marched, asking the government to repeal penal code articles related to LGBTI protections and the age of sexual consent. According to media, on July 26, approximately 6,000 citizens, predominately Christian, participated in a peaceful march in Port au Prince against the new penal code. According to the Haitian Protestant Federation, the government did not consult religious groups before establishing the new penal code. In July, the Catholic Church released a statement against the measures. Representatives of the LGBTI community said they were concerned Christian groups would convince the government to reverse the new protections.