Belize

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
October 14, 2015

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Executive SummaryShare    

There were no reports of government actions affecting the constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and belief including both public and private observance.

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

U.S. embassy officials spoke regularly with the government about human rights issues, including the promotion of religious freedom.

Section I. Religious DemographyShare    

The U.S. government estimates the population at 340,840 (July 2014 estimate). According to the 2010 census, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest religious group, accounting for 40 percent of the population. Pentecostals constitute 8 percent, Seventh-day Adventists 5 percent, Anglicans 5 percent, Mennonites 4 percent, Baptists 4 percent, Methodists 3 percent, members of the Church of the Nazarene 3 percent, and Jehovah’s Witnesses 2 percent. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Rastafarians, the Salvation Army, and Bahais. The census lists 9 percent as “other” and 15 percent of the population does not belong to any religious group.

No religious group is a majority in any of the country’s six districts. Catholics live throughout the country. Mennonites and Pentecostals live mostly in the rural areas of the Cayo and Orange Walk districts, and members of other religious groups tend to be concentrated in Belize City.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom – either alone or in community with others – to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. It provides that no one can be compelled to take an oath contrary to one’s religion or belief. The constitution stipulates that religious groups may establish “places of education” and states that “no such community shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community.”

The preamble to the constitution acknowledges “the supremacy of God.” The governor general appoints one of the 13 members of the senate in accordance with the advice of the Council of Churches and the Evangelical Association of Churches. The membership of these organizations includes the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches, and the Salvation Army, the Chinese Christian Mission, the Chinese Christian Church, and the Seventh-day Adventists.

An unenforced law limits speech that is “blasphemous or indecent.” Discrimination on religious grounds is illegal.

Religious groups, like all other non-profit organizations, must register with the official Companies Registry and pay a fee. Property taxes are not levied on churches and other places of worship, but other church-owned buildings occupied on a regular basis, such as clergy residences, are not exempt.

Foreign religious workers may enter the country and proselytize, but they must apply for a religious worker visa and purchase a religious worker’s permit.

The public school curriculum includes mandatory religious instruction. Most courses cover Christian religious history and traditions. Students in both public and church-run schools from kindergarten through sixth grade must receive a weekly class of religious instruction, and some schools offer religion classes daily. The constitution prohibits any educational institution from compelling a child to receive religious instruction or attend any religious ceremony or observance, although there is no system in place to allow students to opt out of the religious elements of the curriculum. Students can abstain from attending school-sponsored religious observances if their parents object.

Most primary and elementary schools, high schools, and colleges are church-affiliated. Catholic holy days are routinely observed as school holidays. Instances where school administrators do not allow students to opt out of religious observances with parental consent or where the law is misapplied are usually remedied through parent-school consultations.

The constitution stipulates that no one shall be required to receive religious instruction or attend services without his or her consent while serving in the armed forces or while detained in prison. The defense force retains a Christian chaplain but does not restrict the practice of other religions.

Government Practices

The country maintained a single central prison owned by the government and managed by the Kolbe Foundation, a Christian nongovernmental organization. A chaplain and missionary were responsible for coordinating religious instruction. Religious conversion was not mandatory, but religion itself functioned as a basis of the prisoner rehabilitation program. Pastors from varying denominations occasionally visited the prison to hold services. Prisoners could request religious instruction in other faiths, and this was granted. The prison respected dietary restrictions for prisoners from various religious backgrounds.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

Section IV. U.S. Government PolicyShare    

U.S. embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, spoke regularly with the government and a range of human rights groups and faith-based organizations about promoting religious freedom and tolerance throughout the country.