The constitution provides for individual freedom of “religious or traditional beliefs,” including the freedoms of conscience and worship, subject “to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and to the legitimate public interest in defense, safety, public order, welfare, and health.” Any individual who believes these rights have been violated may apply “independently of any other possible legal remedy… to the Supreme Court to enforce that right.” The Supreme Court may issue orders it considers appropriate to enforce these rights if it finds they have been violated and to pay compensation. The preamble of the constitution refers to a commitment to “traditional Melanesian values, faith in God, and Christian principles,” but there is no state religion.
The law requires every religious body to apply to the government for a certificate of registration, pay 1,000 vatu ($9), and obtain final approval of the Minister for Internal Affairs to operate. Registration allows the religious group to maintain a bank account. The penalty for not registering is a fine not exceeding 50,000 vatu ($470); however, the law is not enforced.
According to law, children may not be refused admission to government and nongovernment schools or be treated unfavorably because of their religion.
The Department of Education prohibits religious discrimination. Government schools schedule time each week for religious education conducted by VCC representatives using their own materials. The government provides grants to church-operated schools and pays the salaries of teachers at church-operated schools in existence since independence in 1980. There is no uniform standard amount of time dedicated to religious instruction across all schools; however, the standard curriculum requires that students in grades seven through 12 receive one hour of religious instruction per week. Parents may request that students be excused from religious education classes in both private and public schools.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In July, the Daily Post reported that Minister of Finance and Economic Management Johnny Koanapo requested the VCC organize prayer sessions for all government ministries. Prime Minister Loughman told VVC Chairman Pastor Allan Nafuki the government would appoint a chaplain to work with the VCC to facilitate the prayer sessions. Sources said the government planned to give new Bibles to all members of parliament. As of year’s end, however, neither action had been taken.
The government continued to interact with religious groups through the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the VCC, the latter composed of the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Presbyterian Church, Church of Christ, and the Apostolic Church, with Seventh-day Adventists and the Assemblies of God having observer status. Government officials said they respected religious minorities but that these groups each had different expectations and protocols. The officials said the government preferred to work with a coordinated body like the VCC, which represented the majority of churches.
The Ministry of Health continued to cooperate with six churches, including Seventh-day Adventists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, the Church of Christ, Assemblies of God, and the Church of Jesus Christ, to provide health, educational, economic, and disaster response assistance to needy local communities. In October, the government, community organizations, and partner churches provided free training on basic health awareness to combat noncommunicable diseases such as tuberculosis in their communities.
The VCC received a 10 million vatu ($94,100) annual grant from the government. The VCC said that as in years past it would use the funds for the administration of the VCC and to support the intertwined social, political awareness, and religious activities of the churches in the country, including evangelism and public outreach activities of member churches.
Churches were eligible to apply for a one-time stimulus package that was part of the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At year’s end, the funds had not been disbursed.
Government oaths of office customarily were taken on the Bible.
Ceremonial prayers at national events were organized through the VCC. Religious minorities criticized the government for not including non-Christian faith groups in celebrations of national events.