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Legal framework on freedom of religion and actual application

Located to the south-east of the Philippines, Palau is an archipelago of some 250 islands that form the western chain of the Caroline Islands. More than half the country’s population lives in Koror State. Once a part of the Spanish East Indies, the islands were incorporated within the American-governed Trust Territory along with other islands in the Pacific after United States’ troops liberated Palau from the Japanese during the Second World War. The country gained full sovereignty in 1994 and has a Compact of Free Association[1] with the U.S. The U.S. and Palau maintain close economic, political and security ties.

Under article 4.1 of the constitution the government shall not discriminate against any citizen on the basis of religion or belief. It shall take no action to “deny or impair the freedom […] of religious belief of any person nor take any action to compel, prohibit or hinder the exercise of religion”.[2] The constitution prohibits the creation of a state religion. The state may provide funding to “private or parochial schools on a fair and equitable basis for non-religious purposes”.[3]

The population is mainly Christian and Catholicism is the principal form of Christianity. Some estimates state that around half of the population is Catholic. Other religious groups include the Evangelical Church (around 27 percent) and Seventh Day Adventists (around 7 percent).[4] The Modekngei faith is unique to the country and, according to some sources, is professed by about 5.7 percent of the inhabitants.[5] Followers combine Christianity with ancient Palauan, animistic beliefs. Many of the followers live in the small town of Ibobang and attend daily church services. The Belua Modekngei School is located in the town.

There are also small groups of Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists and members of the Assembly of God, as well as other religious groups. There are two mosques in the country. Among the expatriate community, there are around 400 Bengali Muslims and around 7,000 Filipino Catholics.

Despite the fact that there is no state religion, Christmas is a national holiday and most national events include a Christian prayer to open and close the ceremonies. Religious groups must register as non-profit organisations. By registering as non-profit organisations, churches and missions are exempt from tax. Foreign missionaries are also required to obtain a permit from the Bureau of Immigration and Labor. Within the two-year period under review, there were no reports of the government denying permits to individuals.[6]

The law does not allow religious instruction in public schools. However, the government provides financial aid for all private religious schools.[7] The constitutional guarantees of religious freedom are respected in practice.


There were no reports of significant state-sponsored or societal infringements regarding the right to freedom of religion.

Prospects for freedom of religion

The government and society respect freedom of religion. There is no reason to believe that this is likely to change in the foreseeable future.

Endnotes / Sources

[1] Republic of Palau Compact of Free Association, US Embassy Koror,, (accessed 9th March 2018).

[2] Palau’s Constitution of 1981with Amendments through 1992,,, (accessed 17th February 2018).

[3] Ibid.

[4] ‘Palau’, The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency,, (accessed 17th February 2018).

[5] Ibid.

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

[7] Ibid.

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