Trinidad and Tobago

International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

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 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), approximately 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 traditional Caribbean religions with African roots. Sometimes these are practiced together with other faiths.

Afro-Trinidadians are predominantly Christian, with a small Muslim community, and are historically concentrated in the area of Port-of-Spain and the east-west corridor of Trinidad. The population of Trinidad's sister island, Tobago, is overwhelmingly of African descent and predominantly Christian. Indo-Trinidadians are historically concentrated in central and southern Trinidad and are divided among those of Hindu and Muslim faiths along with some representative Presbyterians. Ethnic divisions in political life are reflected in the messages and ceremonies of political parties, which sometimes carry religious overtones. For example, the United National Congress (UNC) party, whose supporters are predominantly of Indian descent, occasionally incorporates Hindu references and cultural expressions in its public events.

Foreign missionaries present include members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Baptists, Mennonites, and Muslims. The Mormons maintain 34 foreign missionaries, 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 strives to protect 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, regardless of 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 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.

In the Government, the portfolio of ecclesiastical affairs falls under the Office of the Prime Minister-Social Service Delivery, which administers annual financial grants to religious organizations, and issues recommendations on land use by such organizations.

The law 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, and provides for prosecution for the desecration of any place of worship. Government officials routinely speak out against religious intolerance and generally do not favor any one religion publicly. In recent years, the Government has strengthened legal prohibitions against religious discrimination by amending legislation to remove certain discriminatory religious references. The process of judicial review is available to those who are victims of religious discrimination. For example, in the 1995 case of Sumayyah Mohammed vs. Moraine and Another, a Muslim student who had been prohibited from modifying her school uniform to conform with religious requirements was granted redress on constitutional grounds.

The Government has set aside public holidays for every religious group with significant followings, including Christians, Hindus, and Muslims. The Government grants financial and technical assistance to various organizations for religious festivals and celebrations.

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, and provides the prayer leader for several official events, such as the opening of Parliament and the annual court term.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free 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 35 per religious denomination. Missionaries must meet standard requirements for an entry visa, must represent a registered religious group, and may not remain in the country for more than 3 years.

Citizens are not denied the opportunity to serve in the military because of religious beliefs. The military service is predominantly Afro-Trinidadian and Christian, and the military maintains a part-time chaplain to provide Christian religious services. Military personnel also have access to other religious services in their local communities.

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 $2.5 million (TTD 15.3 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 (TTD 2.1 million) for destruction of its facilities during the same coup. In connection with its efforts to prevent terrorist acts, the Government also monitors the rhetoric of certain independent mosques for any incitement to religiously motivated violence.

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.

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 virtually all faiths with significant followings in the country, promotes interfaith dialog and tolerance through study groups, publications, and cultural and religious exhibitions. The bylaws of the IRO do not exclude any specific groups from membership; however the Pentecostals and Seventh-day Adventists do not participate because of doctrinal differences, and in 1993, the Mormons applied for IRO membership, but was not accepted.

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 objections may reflect racial tensions that at times arise between the Afro-Trinidadian and Indo-Trinidadian communities.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

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