The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom.
The constitution protects the rights of individuals to choose or change their religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion, which by law is punishable by one month to one year in prison and fines up to 5,000 Rwandan francs ($8.30). The government does not permit individuals to express their religious identity through headdress in official photos for passports, driver’s licenses, or other official documents.
Government officials presiding over wedding ceremonies generally require couples to take an oath while touching the national flag, a customary practice stated in government instructions but not in the law. Jehovah’s Witnesses often object to this practice on religious grounds.
The penal code establishes fines of 100 to 10,000 Rwandan francs ($0.15 to $16.65) and imprisonment of eight days to five years for anyone who interferes with a religious ceremony or with a religious minister in the exercise of professional duties.
All nonprofit organizations, including churches and religious organizations, must register with the Ministry of Local Government and the Ministry of Justice to acquire legal status. The government generally imposes difficult and burdensome registration and renewal requirements for organizations, including religious organizations, as well as time-consuming requirements to submit annual financial and activity reports. Although authorities have not granted official legal status to any religious groups pending passage of a religious communities law, under consideration in parliament since 2008, religious organizations may receive “provisional authorization” by presenting their objectives and plans of action to local and district authorities. Therefore, some religious organizations operate as nongovernmental organizations or as provisional local churches without full legal protection. As a result, some religious organizations are not authorized to proselytize, are subject to different visa requirements, and are subject to a significant degree of government scrutiny of their activities.
The law regulates public meetings and establishes fines of up to one million Rwandan francs ($1,665) and imprisonment of up to two months for unauthorized public meetings, including assemblies for religious reasons. If a group is registered, no prior authorization for its meetings is required, although authorities legally may require advance notice for outdoor rallies, demonstrations, and meetings.
For night meetings, including religious meetings, local authorities often require advance notification, particularly for ceremonies involving amplified music and boisterous celebrations.
Every foreign missionary must have a Class I Approved Religious Activities temporary resident permit and a foreign identity card. Specific requirements to obtain the permit, valid for two years and renewable, include a signed curriculum vitae, an original police clearance from the country of residence, an authorization letter from the parent organization, and a fee of 100,000 Rwandan francs ($165).
The government requires all students in primary school and the first three years of secondary education in public schools to take a religion class, which covers various religions. The law neither includes opt-out provisions nor penalties for not taking part in the class. The law allows parents to enroll their children in private religious schools.
The constitution prohibits the formation of political organizations based on religion or other identifying factors that could give rise to discrimination.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Good Friday, Easter, Assumption, Eid al-Fitr, and Christmas.