The constitution provides for freedom of belief and religious worship, provided such freedom neither interferes with others’ beliefs and religions nor violates public order and security. The law requires that religious groups refrain from openly criticizing other religious groups, although this provision is rarely tested. The constitution establishes Buddhism as the state religion and provides for state support of Buddhist education; it also prohibits discrimination based on religion.
The law requires all religious groups, including Buddhist groups, to apply to the MCR if they wish to conduct religious activities. In their registration applications, groups must state clearly their religious purposes and activities, provide the biographical information of religious leaders, describe funding sources, commit to submitting annual reports detailing the year’s religious activities, and agree to comply with provisions forbidding religious groups from insulting other religious groups, fomenting disputes, or undermining national security. Registration requires approvals from numerous local, provincial, and national government offices, a process which can take up to 90 days. The MCR, however, has no authority to punish religious groups for failing to register and there are no associated penalties for failing to register. Registered religious groups receive tax exemptions from the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
The law requires separate registration of all places of worship and religious schools. Unregistered places of worship and religious schools may be shut down temporarily until they are registered, although the MCR reports it has not taken such action. The law’s implementing regulations also make a legal distinction between “places of worship” and “offices of prayer.” The establishment of a place of worship requires that the founders own the building and the land on which it is located. The facility must have a minimum capacity of 200 persons, and the permit application requires the support of at least 100 congregants. By contrast, an office of prayer can be located in rented property and does not require a minimum capacity. The permit application for an office of prayer requires the support of 20 congregants. Religious schools must be registered with the MCR and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MOEYS).
Places of worship must be located at least two kilometers (1.2 miles) from each other and may not be used for political purposes or to house criminals or fugitives. The distance requirement applies only to the construction of new places of worship and not to offices of religious organizations or prayer.