The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of conscience, religion, and worship and its public manifestation even when the government declares a state of emergency. The constitution also bars political parties based on religious affiliation. The penal code stipulates religious discrimination is punishable by five to seven years in prison and fines of 100,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($145 to $1,450).
The government grants legal recognition only to civil marriages. New public servants are required to take an oath of loyalty “in the name of God almighty.” Touching the flag while reciting the oath is traditional but not mandated by law.
The law establishes fines of 20,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($29 to $1,450) and imprisonment from eight days to five years for anyone who hinders the free practice of religion; publicly humiliates rites, symbols, or objects of religion; or insults, threatens, or physically assaults a religious leader.
Under the law governing religious groups, all groups “whose members share the same beliefs, cult, and practice” must register with the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) to acquire legal status. According to the law, a religious-based organization must submit the following in order to register: an application letter addressed to the chief executive of the RGB; authenticated statutes governing its organization, including provisions stipulating its activities; general information including the location of its head office and the names of its legal representatives, his/her deputy, their duties, full address, curriculum vitae, and criminal records; a document certifying the legal representative and his/her deputy were appointed in accordance with its statutes; a brief statement describing its major doctrines; the minutes of the group’s general assembly which approved the statutes of the organization; an action plan for the fiscal year; and an Original District Collaboration Letter, issued by the mayor.
The law covers religious groups, but not nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) associated with religious groups. Domestic NGOs associated with religious groups are also required to register with the RGB, but under a different law governing NGOs. The law imposes, and government policy exacerbates, burdensome registration requirements, as well as time consuming requirements for annual financial and activity reports and action plans.
Unregistered religious groups may congregate after informing local authorities and may be granted a temporary registration certificate while the legal application process, which may last well over a year, is ongoing. Unregistered religious groups may not proselytize, are subject to different visa requirements, and receive a significant degree of government scrutiny until they register as religious-based organizations under the law. In practice, small religious congregations sometimes affiliate with larger registered organizations in order to operate temporarily.
The law regulates public meetings and establishes fines of 100,000 to five million Rwandan francs ($145 to $7,250) and imprisonment of eight days to three years for unauthorized public meetings, including assemblies for religious reasons. Competent authorities are required to respond within 15 days to requests by religious-based organizations to hold special meetings in public.
For night meetings, including religious meetings, local authorities often require advance notification, particularly for ceremonies involving amplified music and boisterous celebrations. Laws prohibit excessive noise that disrupts neighborhoods and undermines property values and impose fines for violations ranging from 10,000 to 100,000 Rwandan francs ($15 to $145). Nighttime noise disturbances can be punished by imprisonment of eight days to two months and/or a fine of 50,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($73 to $1450). Religious organizations are required to conform to laws protecting public security, public health, good morals, and human rights.
Every foreign missionary must have a 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 ($145).
All students in public primary school and the first three years of secondary education must take a religion class that discusses various religions. The law does not specify either opt-out provisions or penalties for not taking part in the class. The law allows parents to enroll their children in private religious schools.
The religious-based organizations law prohibits religious groups from engaging in activities designed to achieve political power, defined as supporting political organizations or candidates for public office.