Religious discrimination continues in disguise

Published on Oct 28 2009 // Main News

October 28, 2009: “While subtle pressure on non-Buddhists to observe the traditional Drukpa values and some limitations on constructing non-Buddhist religious buildings remained, the Government took steps to improve religious freedom in the country.”

This is what a new report on religious freedom published by the US Department of States for 2009 mentions in its Bhutan section.

The report includes no societal abuse or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. However, societal pressures toward non-Buddhists were reflected in official and unofficial efforts to uphold the “spiritual heritage” (Buddhism) of the country.

Christians are present throughout the country in very small numbers. There is reportedly one building dedicated to Christian worship in the South, the only area with a sufficiently large congregation to sustain a church; elsewhere, Christian families and individuals practice their religious beliefs at home. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claimed the Government discouraged open worship by both large and small gatherings. International Christian relief organizations and Catholic Jesuit priests engaged in education and humanitarian activities.

While the Constitution does not restrict the right to convert or proselytize, the Government limited this right in practice by restricting the construction of non-Buddhist religious buildings and the celebration of some non-Buddhist religious festivals.

The National Security Act (NSA) prohibits “words either spoken or written, or by other means whatsoever, that promote or attempt to promote, on grounds of religion, race, language, caste, or community, or on any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity or hatred between different religious, racial or language groups or castes and communities.” Violating the NSA is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, although it is not clear that the Government has enforced this provision of the act. There are no laws against publishing religious material.

Government provides financial assistance to Monastic Body of 3,500 monks. Other religions receive no annuities from the state.

Some Christian groups reported that religious meetings must be held discreetly, especially in rural areas, for fear of the authorities. They also alleged that the official government record does not allow them to note their religious affiliation as Christianity.

No new buildings, including places of worship, can be constructed without government licenses. Reports by ethnic Nepalese citizens suggested that this process favored Buddhist temples over Hindu ones. The Government provided financial assistance for the construction of Buddhist temples and shrines and funding for monks and monasteries. NGOs alleged that the Government rarely granted permission to build Hindu temples; the last report of such construction was in the early 1990s, when the Government authorized the construction and renovation of Hindu temples and centers of Sanskrit and Hindu learning and provided state funds to help finance the projects.

Certain senior civil servants, regardless of religious identity, are required to take an oath of allegiance to the king, the country, and the people. The oath does not have religious content, but a Buddhist lama administers it. Dissidents alleged that applicants have been asked their religious identity before receiving government services.

Some NGOs claimed that no Hindu temple or Christian church was allowed to be built in the country. Conversions to Christianity take place, but Christians are not allowed to openly pray or to build churches. They are restricted to practice within the confines of their homes.