The constitution recognizes Buddhism as the state’s “spiritual heritage,” and states it is “the responsibility of all religious institutions and personalities to promote the spiritual heritage of the country.” The constitution states every citizen has “the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion” and bans discrimination based on religion. The constitution states the king must be Buddhist and requires the king to be the “protector of all religions.”
The constitution states “no person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.” The penal code criminalizes coercion or inducement to convert as a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years imprisonment.
The law prohibits oral or written communication promoting enmity between religious groups and provides for sentences of up to three years imprisonment for violations. There were no reports of prosecutions.
The penal code states individuals found guilty of promoting civil unrest by advocating religious abhorrence, disturbing public tranquility, or committing an act prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between religious groups shall be subject to punishment of five to nine years’ imprisonment. There were no reports of prosecutions.
The law requires religious groups to register with the Commission for Religious Organizations (CRO). In order to register, a religious group must submit an application demonstrating its leaders are citizens and disclosing their educational background and financial assets. The law also specifies the organizational structure, bylaws, and procedural rules registered religious organizations must follow. The law says no religious organization shall violate the spiritual heritage of the country. The law also states no religious organization shall do anything to impair the sovereignty, security, unity, or territorial integrity of the country. The law mandates the CRO certify religious groups applying for registration meet the requirements specified in the law.
Registered religious groups may raise funds for religious activities and are exempt from taxes. Registered groups require permission from local government authorities to hold public meetings and permission from the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs to invite foreign speakers or receive foreign funds.
The government does not recognize unregistered religious groups, and they may not organize publicly, own property, raise funds, conduct outreach activities, or import literature. According to the law, illegal activities of this kind are subject to penalties prescribed by the penal code, which specifies punishments ranging from fines to prison terms, depending upon the offense. Unregistered religious groups may hold private worship services in homes.
The law specifies a number of offenses related to religious groups, including providing false or misleading information, misuse of investments, and illegal fundraising, which the law defines as a misdemeanor resulting in a fine or suspension or cancellation of the group’s registration.
The law states the CRO shall consist of an eight-member board to oversee the structure of religious institutions, enforce the constitutional separation between the government and religious organizations, and monitor religious fundraising activities. The law requires the CRO to “ensure that religious institutions and personalities promote the spiritual heritage of the country” by developing a society “rooted in Buddhist ethos.”
The constitution states the king shall appoint the chief abbot of the central monastic body on the advice of the five masters of the monastic body. Those individuals, and a civil servant administrative secretary, make up the Commission for Monastic Affairs, which is responsible for matters relating to Buddhist doctrine. The constitution says the state will provide funds and “facilities” to the central monastic body.
The law permits the government to “avoid breaches of the peace” by requiring licenses for public assembly, prohibiting assembly in designated areas, and imposing curfews.
Government approval is required to construct religious buildings. All religious buildings are subject to legal requirements to adhere to traditional Bhutanese architectural standards.
The constitution states it is the responsibility of religious institutions to ensure religion remains separate from the state. It says “religious institutions and personalities shall remain above politics.”
The law prohibits religious organizations from involvement in political activity. Ordained members of the clergy of any religion are prohibited from engaging in political activities, including running for office or voting.