The constitution provides for the separation of religion and state and states that all people are entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion except where required by law to protect public safety, order, health, morals or rights to protect others. It also provides equal protection under the law and prohibits religious examinations for office and the establishment of a state religion. Muslim groups continued to urge lawmakers to pass legislation recognizing Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as national holidays. In May, Bomi County Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe introduced three bills to make the two Islamic holidays and Easter Monday public holidays. The bills had the support of the Muslim community in general, but Christian organizations and leaders, some of whom called Senator Snowe's actions "imprudent and hypocritical," spoke out. However, some Muslim organizations noted improvements in the government's attitude towards Muslims, citing adjustments in school examination schedules to accommodate Islamic holidays and the government's plans to include Islamic teachings in the curriculum of public schools. However, these organizations pointed to the low percentage of Muslim chaplains in relation to their percentage of the population and what the groups described as disproportionately low government subsidies for schools affiliated with Muslim organizations. Religious leaders called on the government to engage religious communities in a proactive dialogue about contentious social issues, rather than turning to religious organizations as a last resort when problems arise. Religious leaders continued to express their willingness to mediate in conflict situations as an extension of their proactive dialogue on social issues.
In October, leaders of the clandestine traditional Poro society arrested 11 members of the Saint Assembly Ministries International Church in Gbartala, Bong County. According to the Interior Ministry (MIA), local residents had expressed their anger when church members, who had traveled to Gbartala from the capital Monrovia to proselytize, criticized the community's culture and traditions as "demonic". The 11 men were released after allegedly being forcibly inducted into society. In March, the Tyneceploh Education Foundation school reportedly expelled a six-year-old student accused of being a witch because she would initiate other students into witchcraft. In July, a man in Sinoe County was subjected to a traditional "sassywood" practice - a process of torture banned by the government in 2009 - after he was accused of witchcraft in a video widely shared on social media.
US Embassy officials worked with government officials, including the President's religious advisors, to promote interfaith dialogue and emphasize the US government's support for religious freedom and tolerance on issues related to historical accountability, land disputes and ethnic tensions. In addition, embassy officials promoted religious freedom and tolerance through outreach and consultation with various religious leaders and communities.
Section I. Religious Demographics
The US government estimates the population at 5.2 million (mid-2021). According to the 2008 National Population and Housing Census, which remains the most recent available, the population is 85.6 percent Christian, 12.2 percent Muslim, and 1.5 percent non-religious , 0.6 percent from adherents of indigenous religious beliefs and less than 1 percent from members of other religious groups, including the Bahai faith, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. Muslim organizations continued to question these official statistics, stating that Muslims make up up to 20 percent of the population and calling on the government to conduct a new census.
Christian denominations include African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Baptist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Episcopal, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Seventh-Day Adventist, United Methodist, and a variety of others Pentecostal Churches. Many members of religious groups also incorporate elements of indigenous traditional beliefs and customs into their religious practices.
Christians live all over the country. Muslims belonging to the Mandingo and Fula ethnic groups live throughout the country, while Muslims from the Vai ethnic group predominantly live in the west. The Poro (for men) and Sande (for women) societies - often referred to as secret societies - combine traditional religious and cultural practices and are present in the northern, western and central regions of the country. Other traditional cultural and religious societies, including the Kui Society and the Bodio, or priests, of the Gleebo people exist in the Southeast.
Section II. Status of State Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for the separation of religion and state and states that all people have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It states that no one shall be prevented from exercising these rights, except where required by law to protect public safety, order, health, morals or the rights of others. It provides equal protection under the law and bans political parties that exclude citizens from membership because of their religion. It also states that no religious group may have exclusive privileges or preferences, and that the country may not establish a state religion.
The government requires all religious groups, with the exception of indigenous groups, which generally operate under customary law, to register their statutes and the purpose of their organizations.
Local religious organizations register with the Department of State and pay a one-time fee of 7,500 Liberian dollars ($52) to file their articles of association and an annual fee of 3,500 Liberian dollars ($24) for registration. Foreign religious organizations pay 78,000 Liberian dollars ($540) annually for registration and a one-time fee of 96,000 Liberian dollars ($670) to file their charter of incorporation. Religious organizations also pay 1,500 to 2,250 Liberian dollars (US$10 to 16) for notarization of articles of incorporation to be filed with the Department of State and an additional 1,500 Liberian dollars (US$10) for a registered copy of the Articles of Incorporation receive. The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning issues a certificate of authenticity for the Articles of Incorporation. There is also an option to perform the same process at the Liberia Business Registry. Some religious organizations report that under a government regulation issued three years ago, they are being charged annual registration fees for each of their individual locations across the country.
Registered religious organizations, including missionary programs, religious charities, and religious groups, are granted income tax exemptions and duty-free privileges on goods entering the country, privileges not afforded to unregistered groups. Registered groups can be sued as a single entity, separate from claims against individual owners.
The law requires senior government officials to take an oath ending with the phrase "So help me God" upon taking office. It is customary for Christians to kiss the Bible and Muslims to kiss the Koran on these occasions.
Public schools offer nonsectarian religious and moral instruction as part of the standard curriculum, which includes an overview and history of various religious traditions and an emphasis on moral values.
The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In the wake of calls by Muslim groups and clergy since 1995 for the government to recognize Islamic holidays, Senator Snowe introduced three bills on May 25 that would make Easter Monday, Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr public holidays. Snowe, who represents the predominantly Muslim Bomi county in the west of the country, publicly stated that the introduction of the bills was not intended to provoke conflict or win favor from any segment of society, but rather to express his belief in equality and religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution and law.
The bills found support from the Muslim community in general, but some Christian organizations and leaders have spoken out against it, with some calling Senator Snowe's actions "imprudent and hypocritical". After the bills were introduced, a local radio station reported that unidentified gunmen attacked the home of a pastor who had opposed the bills.
In May, Liberia's chief imam, Sheikh Ali Krayee, again called on the government to recognize Islamic holidays, stating that the country will never be at peace until Islamic holidays are granted. In July, Krayee expressed support for Senator Snowe's religious holiday bills, saying opposition to the bills from the broader Christian community was not surprising given that there had long been "prejudices against Muslims" on a variety of issues. In a July 20 Eid al-Adha address to the Muslim community, Krayee said denial of official recognition of Islamic holidays and discrimination against Muslims would "provoke a revolution in this country." He demanded that the problem of the Islamic holidays be solved by Ramadan 2022, saying that by then "there will be freedom for all or freedom for no one". The next day, Krayee said the Interreligious Council of Liberia (IRCL), a civil society organization that included representatives from the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC) and the National Muslim Council of Liberia (NMCL), among others, had lost the essence, for which it was founded in the early 1990s. He said that Muslims are oppressed because they are not given Islamic holidays and that IRCL does not talk about it. He said: “They should be dissolved because they are not working towards it … they are a council of hustlers in the name of God; they are no longer an interfaith council.” He also said that some bishops and pastors were trying to elevate their own prominence through the religious holiday debate at the expense of others.
Some Muslim leaders publicly condemned Krayee's remarks. In a July 27 statement, NMCL Chairman Imam Abdullai Mansaray - in his capacity as IRCL President - said Krayee's remarks tended to incite hatred and confusion. The NMCL released a statement saying: "While many Muslims see this as a genuine call, we believe the approach taken by the Imam [Krayee] tends to create acrimony in society and therefore does not reflect the views." and position of the Muslim community in Liberia.” The Council stated that Krayee's “outbreak” must be viewed as an act of provocation and must be condemned.
On June 8, Bishop Kortu Brown, the president of the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), which includes Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and Episcopalians, opposed the proposed religious holiday legislation, saying the LCC's primary objective was to help maintain the peace in the country and that the introduction of Islamic religious holidays could spark further interfaith conflict, as did a land dispute in 2004 in Paynesville, a suburb of Monrovia, when it escalated into a religious uprising that same year. Brown went on to say that Senator Snowe brought the bills "in bad faith" and that the senator was trying to politically ingratiate himself with the Muslim community at the expense of peace.
On June 15, more than 20 bishops and pastors, who described themselves as "leaders of the Christian church in Liberia," submitted a petition to Senate President Pro-Tempore Albert Chie, urging the Senate not to legislate on religious national holidays to adopt. Bishop Isaac Winker of the Dominion Christian Fellowship read the petition aloud and said the bills are detrimental to peace and a product of a religious crisis in the country. Winker went on to say that Senator Snowe's actions were misplaced because the constitution does not discriminate against any religion. Bishop Winker called Chief Imam Krayee's May statement a "national security threat" that the country would never have peace until the Islamic holidays were recognized by law.
In July, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abubakar Sumaworo criticized some imams for calling for the "use of force" to demand that the government grant Islamic holidays, although Sumaworo expressed support for the bills that would grant the holidays. Sumaworo said if the bills don't pass, Muslim students should at least continue to be exempted from exams during Islamic holidays, which he says were already a regular occurrence. For example, he pointed out that on July 20, which coincided with Eid al-Adha, the Interior Office of the West African Examination Council (WAEC) was supposed to conduct the public school examinations; WAEC postponed the exams after being made aware of the scheduling issue. Sumaworo expressed his appreciation for President George M. Weah's proclamation to exempt Muslims from working in public institutions on Eid al-Adha, but noted that this proclamation did not extend to schools and private organizations.
In a statement published in the newspaper on Aug. 16FrontPage Afrika, the Liberia Islamic Network Incorporated (LNI) defended Krayee and criticized the NMCL, calling its July statement against the chief imam disrespectful and likely to create divisions among Muslims. The LNI said it saw nothing wrong with Krayee's sermon and said it intended to guide Muslims to constructively channel their advocacy.
Muslim leaders indicated that the community has long experienced unequal treatment by the government compared to Christians, including but not limited to the issue of religious holidays. They said, for example, that state institutions employed disproportionately few Muslim chaplains in relation to the Muslim percentage of the population. Each of the government's 19 departments reportedly had a Christian minister, while the Senate had five and the House of Representatives had two. In practice and by tradition, Christian clergymen led a Christian invocation, ending with an Islamic prayer, before beginning public events or official business. However, with the exception of the Supreme Court, the Armed Forces, and the Office of the President, few, if any, other institutions had Muslim clerics leading such prayer.
Muslims also reported that the government gave disproportionately more subsidies to schools affiliated with Christian organizations than to those affiliated with Muslim organizations, although the government said it granted these subsidies to schools as needed through an application process.
However, some Muslim organizations noted some improvements in government practice. The National Muslim Council of Liberia publicly congratulated the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the WAEC Secretariat for adapting the national exams to take the exams on a different day for the 3. The National Council of Imams also stated that the MOE plans to include basic Islamic teachings in the curriculum of public schools across the country.
Religious leaders also recommended that the government engage religious communities in a proactive dialogue on social and other issues such as COVID-19 awareness and vaccinations, political violence and disputes, and economic development, rather than using religious organizations as mediators only after problems arise. As in previous years, IRCL has throughout the year encouraged and encouraged dialogue between the government and some opposition figures. Religious leaders continued to express their willingness to mediate in conflict situations as an extension of their proactive dialogue on social issues.
In March, the LCC condemned what it described as a "growing wave of violence" in the country and called on the government to investigate the incidents and bring perpetrators to justice. The LCC cited petrol bomb (Molotov cocktail) attacks on the home of Deputy Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nagbe on March 10 and on the headquarters of the National Electoral Commission on March 15, as well as a reported exchange of fire between national police and suspected gunmen that Bushrod Island area of Monrovia. The LCC said these developments are detrimental to the promotion of peace, security and stability.
Human rights organizations continued to call on the government to intervene and investigate cases of people injured or killed by exorcisms and torture allegations of witchcraft.
Section III. Status of social respect for religious freedom
Human rights organizations continued to see an increase in reports of harmful traditional practices, including allegations of witchcraft and ritual killings, as well as other violent practices - such as female genital mutilation - within traditional secret societies such as the Sande Society. Religious and human rights organizations also stressed the need to clearly define the boundaries between traditional beliefs and religion, so that religion would not be used to justify harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation.
Religious organizations said that in some parts of the country, residents clung to traditional practices and Christian evangelists were not welcome.
On October 25, local media reported that the leaders of the secret Poro society arrested 11 members of the Saint Assembly Ministries International Church in Gbartala, Bong County on October 5. According to Deputy MIA Joseph Jangar, residents there had expressed anger when members of the church, who had traveled from Monrovia to Gbartala to evangelise, criticized the community's culture and traditions as "demonic". Community leaders said villagers arrested the members of Saint Assembly Ministries in a nearby town with the intention of handing them over to local authorities for violating traditional culture. The MIA confirmed the release of all 11 church members on October 7 after a sit-in protest by church members at the Monrovia ministry demanding their release. However, the MIA said the church members were allegedly forcibly inducted into Poro society prior to their release.
On March 16, the Tyneceploh Education Foundation school in Monrovia reportedly expelled six-year-old student Catherine Karma, who they accused of being a witch, because she would initiate other students into witchcraft. An unidentified school source told media that the school administration ordered the student's parents to take her to pastors, who described them as "deliverance prayers," after which the parents should provide a note from the church or pastor confirming will require that the child be free from witchcraft practices as a condition of her being accepted back into private school. The parents called on the MOE, the MIA, child rights advocacy groups and civil society groups to investigate the situation. Liberia's humanists, with support from the civil society organization Advocacy for Alleged Witches, have issued a statement calling for a "quick, publicly written apology" to Catherine and her family. The statement said: "We are also calling on the government to help counsel Catherine and her family and take punitive action against the school to strongly deter others who falsely accuse their compatriots of witchcraft. The subject of witchcraft is a long-standing dogma that has alienated many and stifled development. It's time to tackle it head on!”
On July 31, individuals in Sinoe County's Jeadeapo Legislative District subjected a man identified only as Wesseh to a traditional "sassywood" practice -- a trial of torture that includes violence to extract confessions from the defendant -- after he was killed in a Video of witchcraft being accused had been widely shared on social media. The practice was banned by the government in 2009. Traditional witch doctors also accused Wesseh of causing the deaths of two people and the disappearance of a teenager. National Police were investigating the matter and said the trial by ordeal against Wesseh, if proven, could lead to charges against the perpetrators ranging from aggravated assault to attempted murder. However, by the end of the year the authorities had not brought any charges and made no arrests in the case. Some Sinoe County residents said they were concerned by what they said some traditionalists were practicing mob justice in the area and appealed to the head of the National Traditional Council of Liberia as well as the MIA to intervene urgently.
During a meeting on Oct. 25, the NMCL said traditional leaders in Bong County forcibly inducted two men belonging to the Mandingo ethnic group into Poro society in October.
The Bahá'í Spiritual Council said that in March members of the local community in Grand Gedeh County accused 12 Bahá'ís of witchcraft. The men were stripped naked and forced to undergo a "cleansing," although the congregation appealed to the local MIA office to intervene. Local leaders fined the 12 men, which reportedly led some of them to sell their goods and belongings to pay the fines. Members of the Baha'i community said the enforced "cleansing process" was totally against their teachings.
In October, IRCL helped resolve an ethno-religious conflict in Palala, Bong County. The incident concerned the death of a 15-year-old boy from the predominantly Christian Kpelle ethnic group who was an apprentice in a car repair shop owned and operated by a male guardian from the predominantly Muslim Mandingo ethnic group. An IRCL investigation concluded the boy likely died from internal injuries sustained in an accidental car airbag explosion. In addition, the city chief appointed a 15-member jury composed of local Muslims, Christians, medical professionals and city elders to investigate the incident. The jury also concluded that the death was an accident. However, suspicions about the death remained as bruises from possible beatings appeared on the body of the deceased, according to testimonies given to IRCL investigators and the media. A member of IRCL said that statements by some members of the Mandingo community that Mandingos had died at the hands of Kpelle guards in the past had raised suspicions about the incident. Members of the Kpelle community then threatened to burn down mosques in the area, leading to a counter-threat by members of the Mandingo ethnic group to burn down Kpelle churches. According to the IRCL member, IRCL eased tensions by meeting with the victim's family and guardian, in coordination with police, and stressing the importance of keeping calm.
According to its chairman, IRCL also eased tensions with the National Imam Council of Liberia (NICOL), led by Chief Imam Krayee, after he called for IRCL to be dissolved during his Eid al-Adha message to the Muslim community and a national radio show in July. IRCL said that after a conflict mitigation discussion with Krayee, NICOL pledged to join IRCL to improve interfaith dialogue in the country.
In October, IRCL said it intended to amend its charter to allow membership for excluded groups such as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and the Baha'i Faith. However, by the end of the year, IRCL had not taken any action on the matter. IRCL's existing charter granted membership only to those it defined as traditionally Muslim and Christian principal organizations. IRCL said it would encourage these and other groups to join; several had expressed interest in joining but were unaware of IRCL's constitutional limitations.
Christian, Muslim and interfaith organizations promoted tolerance, dialogue and conflict resolution through training, workshops and community meetings. In addition, the LCC hosted several workshops and outreach events on social issues with government agencies and international partners.
In January, the LCC condemned the government's allegedly unsuccessful attempt to pass eight constitutional amendments during the December 2020 Senate midterm elections and a national referendum that would have shortened the term of office of the President, Senate and House of Representatives; amended the constitution to change the date of the general election; and reduced the time the Electoral Commission had to investigate complaints.
On August 4, in an attempt to revitalize discussion of the recommendations in the 2009 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, the LCC held a one-day meeting with stakeholders to discuss the results of the LCC's 2021 perception survey on the report . According to LCC Secretary General Christopher Toe, 2,000 people in five counties were involved in the survey: Bong, Grand Bassa, Margibi, Montserrado and Nimba. Without specifying methodology, the LCC said the poll showed that more than half of respondents agreed that warlords and leaders of fighting factions should be punished under the law during the country's two civil wars (1989-2003), while almost three quarters agreed that 58 of the worst offenders should be tried by a domestic court for committing serious crimes.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
Embassy officials worked with government officials, including the President's religious advisors, to promote interfaith dialogue and emphasize the US government's support for religious freedom and tolerance on issues related to historical accountability, land disputes and ethnic tensions.
During May and June, the US ambassador met with leaders and members of a number of religious groups, large and small. During the meetings, LCC and IRCL representatives discussed issues relating to corruption, impunity and religious tolerance, including proposed religious holiday legislation. The Ambassador stressed the need for religious organizations to continue their efforts to keep the peace in the country and stressed that the United States remains committed to and supports religious freedom.
Embassy officials met regularly with a wide range of civil society and religious figures, including representatives from Christian, Muslim, Bahai and traditional religious groups, to discuss tolerance and the importance of religious leaders and followers working to bring communities together.
The embassy worked with influential religious leaders to emphasize peaceful practices of reconciliation as the country continued to grapple with the lingering effects of its civil wars.
Office of African AffairsLiberiaOffice for International Religious Freedomfreedom of religion