There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.
The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has a total area of approximately 6,700 square miles, and its population is approximately 1.1 million. Christianity is the dominant religion. Zionism, a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship, is the predominant religion in rural areas. A large Roman Catholic presence, including churches, schools, and other infrastructure, continues to flourish. It is estimated that the population is 40 percent Zionist, 20 percent Roman Catholic, and 1 percent Islamic. The remainder of the population is divided between the Anglican Church, Methodist Church, Bahai Faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jewish faith, and other religious groups. Followers of Islam and the Baha'i Faith generally are located in urban areas. There are few atheists in the country.
Missionaries inspired much of the country's early development and still play a role in rural development. Missionaries mostly are western Christians, including Baptists, Mormons, evangelicals, and other Christians. The Baha'i Faith is one of the most active non-Christian groups in the country.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
There are no formal constitutional provisions for freedom of religion; however, the Government generally respects freedom of religion in practice, although authorities on occasion disrupted or cancelled prayer meetings that were considered to have political implications.
New religious groups or churches are expected to register with the Government upon organizing in the country. In order to be considered organized, a religious group must demonstrate either possession of substantial cash reserves or financial support from outside religious groups with established ties to western or eastern religions. For indigenous religious groups, authorities consider demonstration of a proper building, a pastor or religious leader, and a congregation as sufficient to grant organized status. However, there is no law describing the organizational requirements of a religious group. While organized religious groups are exempt from paying taxes, they are not considered tax-deductible charities. All religions are recognized unofficially.
Portions of the capital city are zoned specifically for places of worship of all denominations. Government permission is required for the construction of new religious buildings in urban areas, and permission is required from chiefs in rural areas. Those religious groups that wish to construct new buildings may purchase a plot of land and apply for the required building permits. The Government has not restricted any religion with financial means from building a place of worship; however, non-Christian groups sometimes experience minor delays in obtaining permits from the Government to build residences for clergy.
While the Government primarily observes Christian holidays, the monarchy (and by extension the Government) supports many religious activities in addition to Easter and Christmas. For example, the royal family occasionally attends evangelical programs.
The Government neither restricts nor formally promotes interfaith dialog, and it does not provide formal mechanisms for religions to reconcile differences. Religious groups have access to the courts as private entities.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Followers of all religious faiths generally are free to worship without government interference or restriction. However, the government-owned television and radio stations do not permit non-Christian religions to broadcast messages.
On February 12, Lucas Maseko of Nyakeni was fined five cattle by the traditional chief's court for failure to instruct his children to heed the king's call for all females to put on the wooden tassel ("umcwasho"). Maseko had refused to comply because of his religious beliefs. The case was still pending at the High Court at the end of the period covered by this report.
Police disrupted planned prayer services organized by residents of Macetjeni and KaMkhaweli on October 12, 2002. The services were planned in connection with the eviction of local residents by the royal family. In addition, the police cancelled another church service in Manzini on November 12, 2002, because members of banned political parties allegedly planned to attend the service.
During the period covered by this report, a dispute was resolved regarding the High Court reinstatement of six children who had been expelled from a primary school in 2002 for not obeying school rules and regulations because of their beliefs as members of Jehovah's Witnesses. The case was withdrawn from the High Court and transferred to the traditional court system, which concluded that the children should be allowed to return to school.
Non-Christian groups sometimes experienced minor delays in obtaining residence and building permits from the Government.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Five different denominations maintain adjoining properties peacefully. There was no public conflict among faiths during the period covered by this report.
Christian churches are well organized and are divided into three groups: The Council of Churches, the League of Churches, and the Conference of Churches. Each group is open to members of all denominations; however, in practice Zionists and all African traditional churches belong to the League of Churches, most evangelical churches associate with the Conference of Churches, and Anglican, Roman Catholic, United Christian, Mennonite, Episcopal, and Methodist churches generally belong to the Council of Churches. These groups primarily engage in producing common statements on political issues and sharing radio production facilities, or engage in common rural development and missionary strategies. Each organization has strong public opinions, which sometimes differ from one another; however, on several occasions, they have come together to address common issues, such as a constitutional amendment allowing for freedom of religion.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The Embassy maintains contact and good relations with the various religious organizations.