726 Km2Area

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Legal framework on freedom of religion and actual application

Kiribati is a group of 33 coral atolls and one raised coral island in the Pacific Ocean. The capital, Tarawa, is about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. With a population of a little over 110,000, Kiribati is a small nation with a total land area of 726 square kilometres.

Under the constitution no person’s enjoyment of freedom of religion shall be hindered. Religious groups are entitled “both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate [their] religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance”.[1] The right to fre- edom of religion may be curtailed by law if that is “reasonably required in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health”, provided that the curtailment is “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society”.[2] Every religious community is entitled to establish and maintain places of education and to manage any place of education which it wholly maintains. Religious instruction is not compulsory in schools and parents may withdraw their children from it.

There is a registration system for religious communities with memberships of 2 percent of the population or more. A request must be submitted to the Ministry of Women, Youth and Social Affairs, together with evidence of the number of members of the community. However, organisations which fail to register are not penalised in practice.

Many citizens in the northern islands converted to Christianity under the influence of the British and American missionaries who travelled there in the late 1800s. With the arrival of Europeans, Christianity became indigenised and is now an integral part of Kiribati culture. In 2015, the census showed that just over 57 percent of the population were Catholic,[3] with the majority living in the northern islands. The Kiribati Protestant Church dominates in the southern islands. There are also small numbers of Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as adherents to Islam and the Bahai faith.

The Preamble to the Constitution acknowledges “God as the Almighty Father in whom we put our trust”, [4] and most government and other official functions begin with a Christian prayer. The country’s public schools allow various religious communities to provide religious education, including Catholics, Methodists and Mormons. Students may opt out of religious education. The government administers grants to registered religious organisations.

Everything suggests that the government does not interfere with the constitutional right to freedom of religion.


Few significant incidents have been reported since 2016. According to virtually every source, the government upholds its commitment to religious freedom and reports of social tensions arising from religious belief are scarce. The residents of two islands (Arorae and Tamana) maintain a “one church only” policy. [5] Residents who are not Protestant worship in their own homes and are discouraged by villagers from proselytising or holding meetings. This tradition has not given rise to any complaints. The Kiribati Protestant Church collaborates with the Roman Catholic Church in a mission to seamen.[6]

Prospects for freedom of religion

There is nothing to suggest that the situation of religious freedom in Kiribati will change any time soon.

Endnotes / Sources

[1] Kiribati’s Constitution of 1979 with Amendments through 2013,,, (accessed 17th February 2018).

[2] Ibid.

[3] National Statistics Office, 2015 Population and Housing Census, Ministry of Finance, 1st September 2016,
nal_211016.pdf, (accessed 8th March 2018).

[4] Kiribati Constitution…, op. cit.

[5] Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, ‘Kiribati’, International Religious Freedom Report for 2016, U.S. Department of State,, (accessed 17th February 2018).

[6] ‘Kiribati’, World Council of Churches, churches/kiribati-protestant-church, (accessed 17th February 2018).

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