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Lesotho


International Religious Freedom Report 2007
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice.

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 11,720 square miles and a population of 1.8 million.

Christianity is the dominant religion. The Christian Council of Lesotho, made up of representatives of all major Christian churches in the country, estimates that approximately 90 percent of the population is Christian. Roman Catholics represent 45 percent of the population, Lesotho Evangelicals 26 percent, and Anglican and other Christian groups an additional 19 percent. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'i, and members of traditional indigenous religions comprise the remaining 10 percent of the population.

While Christians can be found throughout the country, Muslims live primarily in the northeast. Most practitioners of Islam are of Asian origin, while the majority of Christians are members of the indigenous Basotho. Many Christians practice their traditional cultural beliefs and rituals along with Christianity. The Catholic and Anglican Churches have fused some aspects of local culture into their services; for example, the singing of hymns during services has developed into a traditional call and response in Sesotho--the indigenous language--as well as English. Indigenous religious beliefs also influence Songoma, a form of traditional medicine.

Missionaries are active in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The Government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did 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 holy days that are also national holidays: Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, and Christmas.

The Government has no established requirements for religious group recognition. Generally, the Government does not provide benefits to 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, 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 eligible for any government benefits, such as duty-free import permits for donated items or tax relief on donated funds. There are no penalties for not registering, and it is common for informal church groups not to register.

According to immigration and labor officials, they scrutinize visas for Nigerian missionaries coming to work in the country due to reports of past questionable business dealings by some Nigerian missionaries.

The strong Catholic presence led to the establishment of Catholic schools in the last century and to their influence on education policy. However, the influence of the Catholic Church has decreased in recent years, and it now owns less than 40 percent of all primary and secondary schools. The Evangelical Church, the Anglican Church, and to a lesser extent the Methodist Church, also have schools. The Ministry of Education pays and certifies all teachers, and it requires a standard curriculum for both secular and parochial schools. Parents are free to send their children to parochial schools of their choice; however, in practice this choice is constrained in many parts of the country by a lack of schools.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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

With the assistance of the Libyan Embassy, the Muslim community tried to build a larger mosque, training center, and madrassah; however, the community claimed it was hindered by bureaucratic delays. While the Muslim community and the Libyan Embassy spoke publicly about the planned mosque, a formal request to the Government to identify a location for the mosque was not filed. The bureaucratic delays cited reflect the Muslim community's perception that the Government is not eager to enter into negotiations concerning a prospective site.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

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 Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice. Mutual understanding and cooperation between Christians and Muslims is the norm. There were ecumenical efforts to promote tolerance and cooperation on social matters. In addition to their traditional antipoverty initiatives, the Christian Council of Lesotho, a nongovernmental organization composed of various Christian denominations, sponsored ecumenical election monitoring groups in 2005 and 2007 to promote peaceful elections and tolerance of diverse political ideals.

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 local religious leaders discussed their roles in maintaining political peace and assisting with the consolidation of democracy. Just prior to the February 2007 general elections, leaders of the country's major religious groups held a prayer session to support a peaceful and fair election. Senior government officials, community leaders, and diplomats participated, including representatives from the U.S. mission.



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