(June 14, 2017) The Samoan Parliament reportedly unanimously passed the Constitution Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2016 (the Bill) during the week of May 29, 2017, and it is now awaiting assent from the Head of State. (Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu, Freedom of Religion Not Threatened: A.G., SAMOA OBSERVER (June 9, 2017); Parliament of Samoa, Daily Progress in the Maota 3 (May 30, 2017).) The Explanatory Memorandum that accompanied the Bill states that ”[t]he object of the Bill is to insert in the Constitution that Samoa is a Christian nation to declare the dominance of Christianity in Samoa.” (Constitution Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2016 Explanatory Memorandum, Parliament of Samoa website.) It refers to the addition of a new subarticle (3) to article 1 of the Constitution. Article 1 currently defines the Independent State of Samoa in terms of its geographic limits and states that it shall be “free and sovereign.” (Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa, arts. 109 & 102, CONSOLIDATED ACTS OF SAMOA 2016, PacLII website.)
Under the Constitution, provisions of the Constitution may be amended or repealed and new provisions may be added by an Act of Parliament where the relevant bill has received the support of at least two-thirds of the members of Parliament at its third reading, provided that more than 90 days have elapsed between the second and third reading. The only exception relates to a provision on the alienation of customary land, for which amendments must be submitted to a referendum. (Id. art. 1(1) & (2).)
Current Constitutional Reference to Christianity and Rationale for Change
Currently, Christianity is referenced in the preamble to the Constitution, which states:
IN THE HOLY NAME OF GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, THE EVER LOVING
WHEREAS sovereignty over the Universe belongs to the Omnipresent God alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Samoa within the limits prescribed by God’s commandments is a sacred heritage
WHEREAS the Leaders of Samoa have declared that Samoa should be an Independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and tradition (Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa, Preamble.)
The Prime Minister of Samoa, who introduced the Bill in December 2016, has argued that reference to Samoa as a Christian country should be “included in the body of the Constitution” because having it in the preamble only “does not stand in Court,” and the Attorney-General similarly opined that the amendment “will enshrine Christianity from within the body of the Constitution which effectively provides a legal definition of the State’s religion.” (Bal Kama, Christianising Samoa’s Constitution and Religious Freedom in the Pacific, DEVPOLICY BLOG (Apr. 27, 2017).) In addition, the Prime Minister explained that the amendment is aimed at avoiding religious tensions in the future, as such tensions had resulted in civil wars in other countries. (Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu, supra.) He was also reported as saying last year that “the country’s leaders are monitoring global developments and they are alarmed at the amount of bloodshed by religions that encourage this as a form of worship.” (Lanuola Tusani Tupufia, P.M. Pushes Ahead with Constitution Amendment, SAMOA OBSERVER (May 21, 2016).)
In response to concerns that the constitutional amendment will endanger freedom of religion in Samoa, the Attorney-General stated:
The amendment did not amend, alter or change the rights of individuals within Samoa, to exercise their religious beliefs as they deem fit … .
This individual right is outlined in Article 11 of the Constitution, ‘Freedom of Religion’ and it remains untouched.
So while the national religion is now confirmed as Christianity, the individual freedom of religion of all citizens within our nation; remains intact. (Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu, supra; see also Lanuola Tupufia, Govt. Amends Constitution to Reflect Christian State, SAMOA OBSERVER (Dec. 21, 2016).)
Article 11 of the Constitution provides:
(1) Every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his or her religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in a community with others, and, in public or private, to manifest and propagate his or her religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
(2) Nothing in clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law in so far as that existing law or the law so made imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred under the provisions of that clause in the interests of national security or of public order, health or morals, or for protecting the rights and freedom of others, including their rights and freedom to observe and practice their religion without the unsolicited interference of members of other religions. (Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa, art. 11.)
Samoa’s Religious Profile
According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2015 report on religious freedom in Samoa, over 90% of the total population of 198,000 people in the country are Christian, including 32% Congressional Christian, 19% Roman Catholic, 15% Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints (Mormons), and 14% Methodist. Although there is no official estimate, “there are small numbers of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews, primarily in Apia.” (U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, International Religious Freedom Report for 2015: Samoa.)