Last Updated 25 July 2023

Palau, part of a former United Nations Trust territory, became independent in 1994. A population of 20,600 people inhabit an archipelago of volcanic and coral islands.

According to the 2020 Census,1 the nation is predominantly Christian: 47% of whom are Catholic; 25% Evangelical; 5% Seventh Day Adventist. In addition to that, 5% of the population is Muslim, and a further 5% is made up of adherents of Modekngei – a fusion of traditional Palauan beliefs with Christianity. It is not possible to determine how many people are non-religious in Palau owing to the data collection methodology.2All citizens were asked to complete the question, which was open ended. The answers were then coded into one of 8 recognised religious groups. Individuals indicating that they had no religious beliefs were categorized as “other.”

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

The preamble of the Constitution3 states that the people of Palau “venture into the future with full reliance on our own efforts and the divine guidance of Almighty God.”

Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution states,

“The government shall take no action to deny or impair the freedom of conscience or of philosophical or religious belief of any person nor take any action to compel, prohibit or hinder the exercise of religion. The government shall not recognize or establish a national religion, but may provide assistance to private or parochial schools on a fair and equitable basis for nonreligious purposes.”

Section five of the same article prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, among other characteristics.

The Constitution is defined as the supreme law of the land, and that no statute may conflict with the Constitution. It also makes clear that statute and traditional law hold equal authority and that, “In case of conflict between a statute and a traditional law, the statute shall prevail only to the extent it is not in conflict with the underlying principles of the traditional law.”

Since 2017, Palau has held a National Day of Prayer each January that, “welcomes all expressions of religion, no matter of his or her choosing without reservation or reproach.”4 The celebration appears to preclude non-religious and it is reasonable to suggest that these forms of symbolic deference “welcoming” religion may be seen as “unwelcoming” to the non-religious.

Education and children’s rights

The Palau National Code, Title 22, establishes compulsory education for all children between six and 17 years of age (Art. 159).5

Religious instruction in public schools is not permitted. However, representatives of any religious group may request government financial support for private religious schools. The government provides funding for non-religious purposes to all the recognized private schools operated by Modekngei, Catholic, Evangelical, and Seventh-day Adventist groups. In 2021, the government reportedly provided $947,000 to parochial schools that was equitably distributed based on the number of students attending a school, to be used for nonreligious purposes.6

Sex education

Children are taught sex education once they attend high school. However, according to the Island Times, parents must consent for their children to be taught the subject. Not all parents are reported to consent.7 As of 2022, sex education is reported to focus more heavily on abstinence as opposed to an earlier focus on safe sex and condom use.8 No reason is given for this change in approach to sex education in schools.

Family, community and society

We have recorded no reports of direct discrimination against non-religious individuals.

LGBTI+ rights

In 2014, changes to the National Code9 repealed legislation banning consensual sex between people of the same sex. However, households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex married couples. Same-sex marriage is constitutionally banned, and there are no anti-discrimination laws concerning sexual orientation and gender identity.10

Sexual health and reproductive rights

Abortion is illegal under all circumstances.11 Those who seek to assist in the procurement of an abortion are liable to serve five years in prison.12

Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values

The law provides for freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, and the government generally respects these rights. The constitution also guarantees the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, which are generally respected by the government.13

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