Marshall Islands

Last Updated 10 August 2021

Located in the Pacific ocean and officially renamed in 1982 the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is an independent island nation (70 sq. miles of land spread out over 750,000 sq. miles of ocean) that is part of the larger island group of Micronesia.

Micronesian colonists occupied the islands some 4,000 years ago. Since the First World War, the nation has been colonized by a range of nations, among them Japan, the United States of America and Spain. The Marshallese left the Congress of Micronesia in 1973 resulting in their full independence, which was recognized by the US in 1979. In 1991 they joined the United Nations.

The RMI is a parliamentary republic with an executive presidency in a compact of free association with the US providing defense, subsidies, and access to U.S.-based agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the US postal service. This current compact ends in 2023.

As of July 2021, the estimated population was 78,000. More than 95% of the population are members of a protestant sect e.g. United Church of Christ 55% or the Assembly of God 25%. Approximately 1.5% claim no religious affiliation. Many foreign-born residents and workers are also Christian, and the majority of non-Christians are foreign born.1The U.S. government estimates the total population at 78,000 (midyear 2020

Constitution and government Education and children’s rights Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values
Constitution and government
Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

A preamble to the Constitution2 states:

“WE, THE PEOPLE OF THE REPUBLIC OF THE MARSHALL ISLANDS, trusting in God, the Giver of our life, liberty, identity and our inherent rights……”

Although there is no official state religion, Christianity is the dominant social and cultural influence. Governmental functions, by continuing custom, often begin and end with a minister or church official delivering a Christian prayer. According to local residents, prayers before and after events are a longstanding cultural practice and part of the widely accepted tradition of the country.3

Section 1 of the Constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of religion or belief, as well as freedom of opinion and expression. These rights are generally respected in practice. Restrictions to these rights may be applied provided they are “necessary to preserve public peace, order, health, or security or the rights or freedoms of others”, however, such restrictions must “not penalize conduct on the basis of disagreement with the ideas or beliefs expressed” (Section 1, Subsection 2(c)).

The Constitution provides for the free exercise of religion and equal protection under the law, regardless of religious beliefs. There are no legislative restrictions on religious practices.

The Constitution expressly permits the government to extend financial aid to religious groups to provide non-profit services (educational, medical, or social). Such services may not discriminate between “religious groups”.

There are no requirements for the registration of religious groups, but if religious groups register as a non-profit corporation or a cooperative, they may qualify for tax exemptions.

Education and children’s rights

There is no religious education in public schools and no opening or closing prayers during the school day. However, most extracurricular school events begin and end with an interdenominational Christian prayer delivered by a minister.

The State provides funding to private schools, including those with a religious affiliation; funding for private schools is only distributed once the State has ensured that the basic needs of the public school system have been met. In 2020, this amounted to $795,000 shared across all private schools, based on a combination of enrolment, test results, and accreditation.4

Family, community and society

A highly religious society, with most of the native population belonging to a variety of Christian groups, the US State Department reports that protestant parishioners have felt pressured to give substantial amounts of money to their church or face the threat of severe penalties from church leaders, such as being demoted within the hierarchy of the church or excommunication. There were reports of devout church members giving so much of their income to the church to meet the requirements and stay in good standing with the church that their families would occasionally go without basic food essentials.

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community representatives reported some low-level harassment stemming from harmful preconceptions of Islam, which Ahmadi leaders are working to dispel. Some such harassment has included encouraging them to leave the country.5

LGBTQ+ rights

While homosexuality is legal in the RMI, same-sex marriage remains unrecognized.6;

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedoms of expression and association are protected by law and respected in practice.7

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