The constitution states the country is a secular state, provides for equality before the law for all citizens regardless of religion, protects all religious beliefs, and prohibits religious discrimination. The constitution also provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship; free exercise of religious belief; and the right of religious groups to organize themselves and carry out their activities consistent with the law, the rights of others, and public order.
The law requires all religious groups, including indigenous groups, to register as religious associations, except for Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims. Some Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic holidays are observed as national holidays. Official recognition as a religious association provides other groups the same rights as those afforded to Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims, including import duty exemptions for humanitarian and development projects. Registering is not obligatory, but registration entitles religious groups to receive government benefits such as government-provided teachers for private schools and special assistance in case of natural disasters.
Organizations apply for registration with the DRA, which is part of the MTA. A religious group must submit its statutes, statement of doctrine, bylaws, names and addresses of executive board members, leaders’ religious credentials, a site-use agreement, map for religious facilities, and description of its finances. It must also pay a registration fee of 150,000 CFA francs ($280). Criteria for recognition include authenticity of the religious leader’s diploma and the government’s assessment of the ethical behavior of the group, which must not cause a breach of public order. The DRA issues a receipt that serves as temporary recognition for religious groups applying for registration. The investigation and issuance of formal written authorization usually takes several years.
By law, religious groups must request permission to conduct large nighttime celebrations, particularly those likely to block city streets or involve loud ceremonies in residential areas.
The public school curriculum does not include religion classes. There are many Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic schools, to which the government assigns its own paid employees as additional teachers and staff. Other registered religious groups have the right to establish schools as long as they meet accreditation standards.
The constitution prohibits the establishment of political parties based on religion. The law forbids private religious radio stations from broadcasting political material.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government continued to meet with religious leaders throughout the year. The MTA said it met with religious leaders prior to the February 22 presidential election to discuss their role in a peaceful election process. They also met to discuss the suspension and later partial resumption of religious services during the state of emergency imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar to previous years, the government did not act on approximately 900 pending registration applications from religious groups or accept new applications. According to the DRA, however, the government did not prevent these groups from opening new religious institutions and carrying out their activities informally. The cabinet did not act on a bill submitted to it by the MTA in July 2019 and pending since 2018 detailing the process for opening places of worship and regulating hours of operation and levels of noise allowed during worship. According to the MTA, registrations and passage of the bill were delayed due to the presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government said it received 10 noise complaints, all prior to the April state of emergency restricting large gatherings.
The government imposed city-wide curfews in a few Muslim-majority cities due to outbreaks of COVID-19 linked to Eid-al-Adha celebrations in late July.
In response to concerns expressed by a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in 2019 regarding increased police presence in Muslim majority areas of Lome, the Vice President of the Muslim Union said Muslims were not unfairly targeted by increased police presence and that it prevented vandalism and crime.