| Religious Freedom Ranking:
2.5 out of 5 stars: Needs Improvement
Bhutan is a kingdom. Existing as a monarchy for much of its history, Bhutan became a two-party parliamentary democracy in 2008. Both parties still support the monarchy. The state religion is Buddhism. However, the Bhutanese Constitution states, “a Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.” Furthermore, it states, “no person shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion, politics, or other status.” While the Bhutanese Constitution does not forbid proselytizing, many claim that the government limits their right to do so.
Bhutan has a population of 700,000. The majority practice one of two forms of Mahayana Buddhism: Drukpa Kagyupa or Ningmapa Buddhism. The Nepali-speaking minority population predominantly practices Hinduism. Less than one percent of the population is Christian, including Roman Catholics and other Protestant groups. According to the US State Department, there is only one building located in Southern Bhutan that is dedicated to practicing Christianity.
The government subsidizes monasteries and shrines and helps to support about one-third of the nation’s 12,000 monks. Monks are represented in the National Assembly and the Royal Advisory Council, and help determine national policy. The king has declared major Hindu festivals as national holidays. The royal family participates in these occasions. Religious organizations must obtain a license in order to build a place of worship. Only Buddhist texts can be imported into the country. Furthermore, NGO representatives living outside the country claim that schools only teach Buddhist religions. The government claims that no religious instruction is taught in schools.
Along with a mandate to protect Bhutan’s spiritual heritage, the ChhoedeyLlhentshog, a regulatory authority responsible for registering religious organizations, was created in 2009. Only one organization has been registered, the Hindu Dharma Samudaya. It represents Bhutan’s Hindu community.
About one quarter of the population, living primarily in the south are ethnic Nepalese, many of whom are Hindu. There have been some outbreaks of prejudice against ethnic Nepalese. Buddhist cultural norms and dress have been declared by the monarch to be the standard for the state. After violence broke out in the 1990’s, over 100,000 Nepali speakers living in Bhutan were forced to leave the country, fleeing to refugee camps in Nepal. A number of pro-Nepalese insurgent groups have risen from the refugee camps including the Bhutan Communist Party, the Bhutan Tiger Force, and the United Revolutionary Front of Bhutan. Little progress has been made to mend the relationship between the refugees and Bhutan. As of March 2011, approximately 70,000 refugees were still in Nepal.
Several Christian international relief agencies and Jesuit priests are active in educational and humanitarian activities, but proselytizing by foreign missionaries is forbidden. These groups claim that the government has discouraged open worship in both large and small gatherings.
The US State Department reports (see link below) that there were a few instances where religious freedom was abused. For example, in 2010 Prem Singh Gurung, a Nepali-speaking Christian, was sentenced to prison for three years for “an attempt to promote civil unrest.” Authorities arrested him for showing a Christian-themed film; an offense they claimed violated the Bhutan Information, Communication, and Media Act of 2006. The law requires films to be reviewed before being shown to the public.
2011 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report on Bhutan
Bhutan - New World Encyclopedia
Bhutan Country Profile- BBC News
"Human rights in Bhutan". Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
"Bhutan" Human Rights Watch