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Guyana


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.

Despite ethnic tensions, 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 an area of 83,000 square miles, and its population is approximately 749,000. The country is religiously and ethnically diverse. Nearly half of the population traces its ancestry to the Indian subcontinent, and more than one-third of the population is of African descent. These two ethnicities, along with smaller groups of native South Americans and persons of European and Chinese descent, practice a wide range of religions.

Approximately 50 percent of the population is either practicing or nominally Christian; of this group, roughly one-third is Anglican, one-quarter Roman Catholic, one-quarter Pentecostal and Baptist, and one-fifth Seventh-day Adventist. There are approximately 42 Presbyterian congregations, each ranging from 30 to 80 members. There are an estimated 3,000 Methodists in the country, and smaller numbers of Lutherans, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and members of Jehovah's Witnesses. Practicing or nominal Hindus comprise approximately 35 percent of the population, and Muslims (both Sunni and Shi'a) constitute an estimated 10 percent. There is a small number of Baha'is. Although not included in official figures, many persons practice Rastafarianism or a traditional Caribbean religion known locally as "Obeah," either apart from or in conjunction with the practice of other faiths. The country has a small Jewish population. Approximately 2 percent of the population do not belong to any religion.

Members of all ethnic groups are well represented in all religious groups, with two exceptions: almost all Hindus are Indo-Guyanese, while nearly all Rastafarians are Afro-Guyanese. Foreign missionaries from a wide range of denominations are present.

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.

Members of all faiths are allowed to worship freely. There is no state or otherwise dominant religion, and the Government practices no form of religious favoritism or discrimination.

Beginning in 2003, the Government has required missionaries to pay income taxes, even if that income was derived from abroad. Exemptions from taxation were granted for maintenance stipends paid by churches. Missionaries who produced evidence of previously granted income tax exemptions were not required to pay back taxes. It appears that enforcement of this tax requirement was motivated as a revenue measure,was not intended to limit missionary activity, and was not applied in a discriminatory manner.

The Government recognizes religious groups of all faiths present. All churches are required to register with the Government in order to be formally recognized. Currently, such registration is done under the Companies Act, although some groups were previously registered under the Friendly and Benevolent Society Act. Religious groups seeking to establish operations require permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs before commencing their activities. This permission does not allow access to the interior; for such access, all nonofficial persons not resident in the interior require special permission from the Ministries of Home Affairs and Amerindian Affairs. The ministries review the scope of activities submitted by the religious body and grant approval on a case-by-case basis. There is no formal monitoring of religious groups.

The following religious holy days are national holidays: Christian: Good Friday, Easter, Christmas; Hindu: Phagwah, Diwali; Muslim: Youman Nabi, and Eid-ul-Adha. None of these holidays negatively affect any other religious group.

Both public and religiously affiliated schools exist, and parents are free to send their children to the school of their choice without sanction or restriction. The Government imposes no requirements regarding religion for any official or nonofficial purposes.

The Government has promoted cooperation among religious communities to address long-standing racial tensions. In early 2004, the President announced that the Government would provide financial support, including no-cost spectrum on the radio frequency band,for an all-faith television station; however, no proposal from religious bodies to participate has been submitted. A nongovernmental umbrella organization for Christian, Hindu, and Muslim organizations exists, called the Inter-Religious Organization, which occasionally speaks out on religious and social issues, although its activities are limited because the groups meets infrequently, and not all denominations are included in its voluntary membership.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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

The Guyana Defence Force (GDF) does not have a chaplaincy, although efforts are made to coordinate with civilian religious groups to provide personnel with access to religious services. Leaders of all major faiths provide prayer and counseling, although generally only Christian sermons are given on GDF bases. Attendance at religious services depends on the discretion of individual commanders, although in many cases it is mandatory. Although membership in a particular religion does not confer any advantage or disadvantage, general military practice tends to be biased in favor of Christians. For example, no allowance is made for Muslim observance of Friday as a prayer day. Also, no provision is made for Hindu dietary preferences.

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. Although significant problems exist between the country's two main ethnic groups, tensions are generally racially, not religiously based. Religious leaders have frequently worked together to attempt to bridge these differences.

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 Ambassador and other Embassy officials met on numerous occasions with leaders of religious groups and with foreign missionaries. The U.S. Embassy pursues a policy of active engagement with the Islamic community. The Ambassador and other Embassy officials spoke before various religious groups promoting religious and racial harmony.



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