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Lesotho


International Religious Freedom Report 2004
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 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 as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 11,720 square miles, and its population is approximately 2.2 million.

Christianity is the dominant religion. Approximately 90 percent of the population is Christian, of which 70 percent is Roman Catholic and 20 percent is Lesotho Evangelical, Anglican, and other Christian denominations. Muslims, Hindus, and members of traditional indigenous religions, comprise the remaining 10 percent of the population.

While Christians can be found throughout the country, Muslims live mainly in the northeastern part of the country. Most practitioners of Islam are of Asian origin, while the majority of Christians are the indigenous Basotho. Many devout Christians still practice their traditional cultural beliefs and rituals along with Christianity. The Catholic Church has fused some aspects of local culture into its services; for example, the singing of hymns during services has developed into a local and traditional way of singing (a repetitive call and response style) in Sesotho--the indigenous language--as well as English. Priests dress in traditional local attire during services.

Missionaries active in the country are evangelical, traditional Protestant, and Catholic groups from North America, Europe, and South Africa.

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. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no state religion and no evidence that the Government favors any particular religion.

There are four religious holidays that are also national holidays: Christmas; Good Friday; Easter Monday; and Ascension Day. The observance of these holidays does not negatively affect any religious group.

The Government does not establish requirements for religious recognition. Generally the Government does not provide benefits to any religious groups. Any religious group may apply for a waiver of taxes on charitable donations from outside the country; however, in practice few, if any, waivers are given. Under the Societies Act of 1966, any group may register with the Government, regardless of the purpose of the organization. The only requirements are a constitution and a leadership committee. Unregistered groups are not recognized as official for any government benefits, such as duty-free import permits for donated items or tax relief on donated funds. There are no punishments for not registering, and it is common for informal church groups not to register.

The strong Catholic presence in the country led to the establishment of Catholic schools in the last century and their influence over education policy. However, the influence of the Catholic Church has decreased in recent years, and the Catholic Church now owns less than 40 percent of all primary and secondary schools in the country. The Ministry of Education paid and certified all teachers, and required a standard curriculum for both secular and parochial schools.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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

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.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. There generally was mutual understanding and cooperation between Christians and Muslims. There were efforts within the ecumenical community to promote tolerance and cooperation on social issues. Although there were some tensions between Christians and Muslims in the past, there were no reports of such tensions during the period covered by this report.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

The U.S. Embassy and religious leaders of the country discuss their roles in the fight against HIV/AIDS and in maintaining political peace and the consolidation of democracy.



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