The constitution states that everyone has freedom of religion, and individuals may not be discriminated against on the grounds of religion. Individuals may choose to change their religion. Any violation of religious freedom may be brought before a court of justice.
The penal code provides punishment for those who instigate hate or discrimination against persons based on religion or creed in any way; however, the law was not enforced. Those found guilty may be sentenced to a prison term of no longer than one year and a fine of up to 25,000 Surinamese dollars (SRD) ($1,700). In cases where an insult or act of hatred is instigated by more than one person, as part of an organization, or by a person who makes such statements habitually or as part of work, the punishment may include imprisonment of up to two years and fines of up to SRD 50,000 ($3,500).
Religious groups must register with the Ministry of Home Affairs only if they seek financial support, including stipends for clergy, from the government. To register, religious groups must supply contact information, a history of their group, and addresses for houses of worship. Most religious groups are officially registered.
The law does not permit religious instruction in public schools. Private schools managed by religious groups include religious instruction in the curriculum. All students attending schools run by religious groups must take part in religious instruction, regardless of their religious background. Parents are not permitted to homeschool children for religious reasons.
The government funds salaries for all teachers and support staff in primary and junior secondary schools established and managed by various religious groups. Additionally, the schools receive a subsidy for their operational costs based on the number of students. The government also provides 90 percent of funding for books and other materials. Religious groups must provide the remaining funding, which includes construction costs, funding for school furniture, supplies, and additional maintenance expenses. Religious organizations manage approximately 50 percent of primary (ages 4-12) and junior secondary (ages 12-16) schools in the country. Religious organizations do not manage higher secondary schools (ages 16-19). The Catholic Diocese, Moravian Church, and Hindu community manage the majority of private schools. Through the Ministries of Education and Finance, the government provides a fee per registered child and pays teacher salaries to the religious organizations managing these schools.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Different religious organizations, including the Sanatan Dhram, the Suriname Islamic Association, Arya Dewaker, and the Moravian Church, reported delays in the government’s payment of subsidies to children’s and elderly homes managed by these organizations. According to the government, the delays were due to shortfalls in the government’s budget. The government, through the Ministry of Education, agreed to continue its subsides in two tranches to schools managed by religious organizations for the 2020-21 school year at the same level as the 2019-20 school year.
Government officials at the highest levels continued to raise the importance of religious freedom, respect for religious diversity, and their commitment to protecting religious minorities. President Chandrikapersad Santokhi noted the country’s cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity in his July 16 inaugural speech. He also discussed the importance of policies that promote respect for each individual group as well as harmony among groups.
Schools, including public schools, generally recognized various religious holidays that were also national holidays, including Christmas, Easter, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, and Holi. None of these celebrations took place during the year due to precautionary measures implemented to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. The government continued to prohibit prayer groups in public schools.
The armed forces continued to maintain a staff chaplaincy with Hindu, Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic clergy available to military personnel.
While public celebrations of different religious holidays did not occur due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government continued to make statements throughout the year in support of religious harmony and inclusion ahead of various religious holidays. For example, in July, before Eid al-Adha, Home Affairs Minister Bronto Somohardjo noted in his remarks that the country’s religious diversity was its greatest power because, “In that diversity, solutions are found and devised for problems that arise on the journey to a full-fledged and prosperous Surinamese nation.” In his Christmas message, the Minister stated that citizens “draw power and wisdom” from the Christmas atmosphere to create a better country, adding, “Darkness makes place for light, sorrow for joy and happiness, and fear makes place for joy and happiness. In a society with a diversity of religions, this is an important condition: to live together in harmony.”
In July, during swearing-in ceremonies for the new government that included the President and Vice President, their new cabinet, and the national assembly, clergy of different religious groups, including Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Moravian, Evangelical Christian, as well as an indigenous piaiman and a wintie priest, participated in the ceremonies to mark the occasion.