State Approval to Practice the Religion of Your Choice

Religious-freedom-part-four     The country of Kazakhstan has always held itself out as a county, which does not recognize a specific religion. This fact is evidenced by the country’s constitution, which provides all citizens with the freedom to practice the religion of their choice. Of course every freedom comes with its list of restrictions. Throughout the country, public schools are not allowed to educate children on religious aspects and home schooling on religion is also considered illegal. Furthermore, children may enroll in after school religious activity, however the religious organization offering the activity must first have their program approved by the Ministry of Education. Although the country is considered secular, the actions taken seem to prove otherwise.

In 2011, the freedom of religion within Kazakhstan took a whole new turn. The government of Kazakhstan established a new Law on Religious Associations. This law required that “all religious communities in Kazakhstan to obtain registration status to exercise collective religious functions.” The law was also established numerical requirements, which must be fulfilled. To register at the local level, a group needs to have 50 adult members; 500 at the regional level; and 5,000 at the national level. Groups were required to register with both central and local governments in areas where members intended to meet. The government is also given the authority to suspend the activities of a group that fails or refuses to register. This law put the fate of religious communities in the hands of the government, who has the power to deny organizations registration.

Although the larger religious groups of the country, such as Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Jewish, have complied with the registration requirements other groups have refused to register.  Protestant Christian Groups and the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians and Baptists have decided to fight the law and refuse to register, facing threats of suspension of their activities. The UN urges the government of Kazakhstan to end the mandatory registration requirement, finding that it provides insecurity to those religious groups who fail to meet the required threshold in order to be registered.  Furthermore, this new law creates a barrier to the Kazakhstan citizen’s right to practice and express their faith freely.

What do you think of this new law imposed by the government? Are the numerical requirements of the law unreasonable? Should religious groups be required to register their organization with the government?



Berkley Center

Freedom House




  1. This registration law completely contradicts the Kazakhstan constitution, which provides all citizens with the freedom to practice the religion of their choice. The registration requirement puts a restriction on the constitution by only allowing citizens to practice religions that are registered. As the UN suggests, and I agree this law hampers the citizens’ ability to practice religion freely. The numerical requirements alone are evidence that religion may not be practiced freely in Kazakhstan, because there has to be a “quorum-like” membership to the religion or it is not eligible for registration. There should not be any numerical requirement and moreover, there should not be any registration requirement. If registration is required, citizens ultimately do not have a free choice of which religion to practice, they simply have an option only to practice those religions that are registered. If a citizen wanted to practice an unregistered religion, pursuant to the Kazakhstan constitution, this practice should not be forbidden or be at risk of suspension by the government.

  2. Kazakhastan’s historical position on religion and its shift in 2011 requiring religious registration is definitely an interesting situation to examine. It makes me wonder why the country decided to make the registration requirement and what governmental purpose, if any, does it serve? While it does not mandate a national religion and encourages its citizens to practice the religion of their choice, the registry may make that difficult for smaller religions as well as hindering its citizens’ religious freedoms.

    This registration requirement also strikes me as being discriminatory. While 50 local members of a religion may seem reasonable, different localities most likely will differ in population size. And to those who cannot reach the population size, the government puts their right to practice at jeopardy. This control defeats the purpose of “religious freedom”. If a nation wishes to require religions to register their organization with the government, they should not put a numerical requirement on the ability to register.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *