Legal framework on freedom of religion and actual application
The constitution of Ethiopia of 1993 enshrines, in article 11, the principle of separation between the state and religion. It further adds that no religion shall be considered as official and that the state shall not interfere in religious matters nor will any religious denomination interfere in state affairs. Article 27 acknowledges the freedom of conscience and religion of all Ethiopian citizens, including the freedom, “either individually or in community with others, in public or in private, to manifest one’s religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching” (section 1). The constitution also asserts the individual’s right to disseminate their beliefs and to convert to another faith, as well as the right of parents to educate their children in the religion they practise.
The preamble of the constitution expresses the conviction that the “even development of the various cultures and religions” is one of the indispensable conditions to “ensure a lasting peace, an irreversible and thriving democracy and an accelerated economic and social development for our country, Ethiopia”.
The constitution prohibits religious teaching in all schools, both public and private. Article 90, section 2, states: “Education shall be provided in a manner which is, in all respects, free from religion, [as well as] political or cultural influences.” Religious instruction is permitted in churches and mosques.
The law prohibits the formation of political parties based on religion.
Under a law introduced in February 2009 called the Charities and Societies Proclamation, all Churches and religious groups are considered “charity organisations”, and, as such, are required, in order to be recognised as a juridical body, to submit a request for registration with the Ministry of Justice. They must renew this application every three years. In the absence of such registration, they cannot engage in activities such as opening a bank account or obtaining legal representation. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) and the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC) are exempt from this three-yearly renewal process. Churches and other agencies specialising in charitable and development work are required to register with the Charities and Societies Agency, separately from the religious body to which they belong, and are thus subject to existing legislation on NGOs. There is a limit of 10 percent on funding received from abroad.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which is the largest single religious denomination, is particularly dominant in the Tigray and Amhara regions and in some parts of Oromia. Meanwhile Sunni Muslims, who represent about a third of all Ethiopians, are dominant in the Oromia, Somali and Afar regions. Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians represent around 9 percent of the population and are most strongly concentrated in the south-west.
A 2008 law makes it a criminal offence to incite hostility between religions by means of the media, as well as to engage in blasphemy and the defamation of religious leaders. Various government and civil society initiatives have sought to promote harmonious coexistence between religions and to prevent and solve conflicts related to religion. The government has created the National Interfaith Peace Council, which works with regional governments to foster religious coexistence.
The government does not grant permanent visas to foreign religious workers unless they are involved in development projects managed by registered NGOs affiliated to the Church to which they belong. This policy is not normally applied in the case of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Since the Catholic Church is considered a charity, foreign religious personnel are not allowed to retire in Ethiopia and usually continue to work beyond the age of 65. At the start of 2018, the authorities stopped renewing work permits for anyone over 65. As a consequence, there are serious concerns about the fate of 37 elderly foreign priests and religious who, in theory, have been staying illegally in the country. Although similar situations have always been solved successfully in the past, some sources in the Catholic Church have expressed uneasiness about what they see as a lack of a clear policy regarding this issue.
The government officially recognises both Christian and Muslim holy days and mandates a two-hour lunch break for Muslims to go to the mosque for Friday prayer. Official holidays include: Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, Meskel, Eid al-Adha, the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, and Eid al-Fitr.
Endnotes / Sources
 Ethiopian Constitution, University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center, http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Hornet/Ethiopian_Constitution.html (accessed 8th February 2018).
 G. Prunier & Elio Ficquet. Understanding Contemporary Ethiopia. Hurst &Company. London. Nairobi 2015.
 Conversation on 24th January 2018 with an expatriate priest working in Ethiopia for more than 30 years.
 Aaaron Maasho, “Weekend clashes during Ethiopia religious festival leave seven dead”, 22nd January 2018, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-ethiopia-violence/weekend-clashes-during-ethiopia-religious-festival-leave-seven-dead-idUKKBN1FB253 (accessed 8th February 2018).
 Ethiomedia, 22nd January 2018