Religious Freedom in Kazakhstan
Although its constitution proclaims the country a secular state and guarantees all citizens freedom of religion, Kazakhstan maintains legal and government restrictions on religious organizations and practice. All religious groups must register with both the central government and any local government presiding over areas where members intend to organize. Although the government may deny an organization’s registration should it fail to have enough adherents, a significant increase in registered minority religious groups since 1999 attests to the government’s relative willingness to accept various religious groups. The government also reserves the right to suspend the activities of unregistered religious groups and to fine group leaders. Issues of registration and compliance are handled by the Religious Issues Committee (RIC), which serves as a liaison between registered groups and the government. Local and foreign missionaries must annually register with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), and their activities face high levels of government scrutiny. Leaders of Kazakhstan’s largest religious groups, namely Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish communities, report high degrees of acceptance and autonomy. Protestant Christian groups are an exception, and the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians and Baptists, which claims about 1,000 members, refuses to register to protest the law. Religious education is banned in public schools, and religiously motivated home schooling is illegal. Children may enroll in after-school religious education offered by registered religious organizations, which must clear their programs with the Ministry of Education.