Trinidad and Tobago

International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

The status of religious freedom improved with the passage of a bill that removes criminal offenses relating to certain religious practices.

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 1,980 square miles, and its population is approximately 1.3 million.

There is no dominant faith among the multiethnic population, which is 40 percent African and 40 percent East Indian; the remainder are of European, Syrian, Lebanese, and Chinese descent.  According to the latest official statistics (1990), about 29 percent of the population are practicing or nominally Roman Catholic; 24 percent are Hindu; 6 percent are Muslim; and 31 percent are Protestant (including 11 percent Anglican,

7 percent Pentecostal, 4 percent Seventh-Day Adventist, 3 percent Presbyterian/Congregational, and 3 percent Baptist).  A small number of individuals follow Obeah and other traditional Caribbean religions with African roots; sometimes these are practiced together with other faiths.

Foreign missionaries present include members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Baptists, Mennonites, and Muslims.  The Mormons maintain the maximum total allowed (30) of foreign missionaries per religious denomination in the country, while other denominations maintain between 5 and 10 foreign missionaries.

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 generally protects this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

To receive tax-exempt donations or gifts of land, religious groups must register with the Government, which requires them to demonstrate that they are nonprofit.  Religious groups have the same rights and obligations as most legal entities, whether or not they are registered.  They can own land but must pay property taxes, and they can hire employees but must pay for government-mandated employee benefits.

The 1999 Orisa Marriage Act allows registered marriage officers of Orisa faith to conduct marriages, which are recognized as legally binding by the Government.  Previously only Christian, Hindu, and Moslem prelates could be licensed marriage officers.

There is a limit of 30 foreign missionaries per religious denomination.

The Government subsidizes religious and public schools.  It also permits religious instruction in public schools, setting aside a time each week when any religious organization that has an adherent in the school can provide an instructor in its faith.  Attendance at these classes is voluntary.

Following national elections in December 2000, Prime Minister Basdeo Panday reorganized several ministries and added to the Ministry of Education the portfolio of moral, ethical, and spiritual values.

Government officials routinely speak out against religious intolerance and generally take care not to favor any one religion publicly.  The Government has set aside public holidays for every religion with significant followings, including Christians, Hindus, and Muslims, as well as for the relatively small number of Baptists.

The Government does not formally sponsor programs that promote interfaith dialog; however, it supports the activities of the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO), which brings together representatives from most of the country's religions.  The IRO, which was formed about 30 years ago by several religious leaders, is called upon routinely to provide the prayer leader for several official events, such as the opening of parliament and of the annual court term.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted practice of religion.  Foreign missionaries operate relatively freely in the country; however, the Government limits the number of foreign missionaries allowed to enter the country to 30 per religious denomination.  Missionaries must meet standard requirements for an entry visa, must represent a registered religious group, and cannot remain in the country for more than 3 years.

The Government is known to monitor closely only one religiously affiliated group, a radical Muslim organization called the Jamaat al Muslimeen, some members of which attempted a coup in 1990.  The Government's surveillance has focused on the group's repeated attempts to seize control of state-owned property adjoining its central mosque and on any actions intended to incite revolt.  In January 2001, a court ordered the Jamaat to pay the Government more than $3 million for damage done to public buildings during the 1990 coup attempt.  In May 2001, the court ruled on a counter-suit and awarded the Jamaat approximately $350,000 for destruction of its facilities during the same coup.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

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 Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

In October 2000, the legislature passed a Government-sponsored Equal Opportunities Bill, which prohibits acts that offend or insult another person or group on the grounds of race, origin, or religion, or which incite racial or religious hatred.  Previously the law, a legacy of British colonialism, protected only Christian groups from blasphemous libel.

In November 2000, Parliament passed a separate bill, the Miscellaneous Laws Act, that amended certain provisions of existing legislation that had discriminated against the religious practices of the Spiritual Shouter Baptist and Orisa faiths.  This Act removes references to "church" and "chapel" and replaces them with the term "buildings set apart for religious worship."  Similarly, the terms "clergyman or minister" are replaced by "religious head or official."  Criminal statutes also have been amended to remove references to Obeah and to "beating drums, blowing horns, and dancing in a street, highway or other place," which discriminated against certain religious practices.  The Act also repeals the authority given to police to enter any location to investigate and arrest persons practicing Orisa or Shouter Baptist worship rituals, protects all religions against blasphemy, and provides for prosecution of the desecration of any place of worship.

Section III.  Societal Attitudes

The country's various religious groups peacefully coexist and generally respect each other's beliefs and practices.  Followers of one faith often participate in public celebrations of another faith, most notably in the Hindu celebration of Divali.  The IRO, which is composed of leaders from all faiths with significant followings except for the Pentecostals, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Mormons (who have not expressed an interest in membership because of doctrinal differences), promotes interfaith dialog and tolerance through study groups, publications, and cultural and religious shows and exhibitions.  No group is excluded from membership in the IRO.

Complaints occasionally are made about the efforts of some groups to proselytize in neighborhoods where another religion is dominant.  The most frequent public complaints have been lodged by Hindu religious leaders against evangelical and Pentecostal Christians.  Such clashes mirror the racial tensions that at times arise between the Afro-Trinidadian and Indo-Trinidadian communities.

Section III.  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.