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Jamaica


International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There were improvements in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. The Government recognized the Rastafarian religion in the settlement of a lawsuit, which allowed clergy of the Church of Haile Selassie I to visit and worship with prisoners. Marijuana, which is used as part of Rastafarian religious practice, remains prohibited. Members of the Rastafarian community have complained that law enforcement officials unfairly target them; however, it is not clear whether such complaints reflect discrimination on the basis of religious belief or are due to the group's illegal use of marijuana.

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 4,243 square miles, and its population is approximately 2,652,700.

According to official government statistics compiled during the 2001 census, 24 percent of the population identify themselves as members of the Church of God, 11 percent as Seventh-day Adventist, 7 percent as Baptist, 10 percent as Pentecostal, 4 percent as Anglican, 2 percent as Roman Catholic, 2 percent as United Church, 2 percent as Methodist, 2 percent as members of Jehovah's Witnesses, 1 percent as Moravian, 1 percent as Brethren, 3 percent unstated, and 10 percent as "other." The category "other" includes Hindus, Jews (of whom there are approximately 350), and Rastafarians. There are an estimated 5,000 Muslims. Of those surveyed, 21 percent stated that they had no religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. There is no state religion.

Legal recognition of a religion is facilitated by an act of Parliament, which may act freely to recognize a religious group. Recognized religious groups receive tax-exempt status and other attendant rights, such as the right of prison visits by clergy.

In February, the Government recognized Rastafarianism as a religion. An out-of-court settlement following a suit brought by the Public Defender gave Rastafarian prisoners the right to have clergy visit and worship with them. However, smoking marijuana as a sacrament of worship remains prohibited.

There are religious schools; they are not subject to any special restrictions and do not receive any special treatment from the Government. Foreign missionaries are subject to no restrictions other than the same immigration laws that govern other foreign visitors.

Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Christmas are national holidays. These holidays do not adversely affect any religious groups.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

Members of the Rastafarian community have complained that law enforcement officials unfairly target them; however, it is not clear whether such complaints reflect discrimination on the basis of religious belief or are due to the group's illegal use of marijuana, which is used as part of Rastafarian religious practice. It is alleged that the police force Rastafarian detainees to cut their hair and surreptitiously give them food that they are forbidden to eat.

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.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect For Religious Freedom

In August 2001, the Public Defender's Office filed a lawsuit against the Government on behalf of a Rastafarian prisoner who charged that he was denied the right to worship. The prisoner claimed that he had no rights to the ministrations by clergy afforded to prisoners of other religions, and that he was denied use of the prison chapel for a Rastafarian baptism. The Church of Haile Selassie I also was named as an applicant on the grounds that its right to minister to a congregation was denied. The Commissioner of Corrections and Attorney General were named as respondents in the suit. In February, an out-of-court settlement was reached, which gave government recognition to the religion. The agreement stated that Rastafarian prisoners are entitled under the Constitution to have their church conduct acts of worship with them.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The country has a well-established tradition of religious tolerance and diversity. Relations among the various religious communities are generally amicable. However, members of the Rastafarian community reported isolated incidents of discrimination against them in schools and the workplace.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.



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