Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
May 29, 2018

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Executive SummaryShare    

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion. The government prohibits the use of marijuana, including for religious reasons. Rastafarians continued to state they disagreed with the government’s ban on marijuana, stating it was integral to their religious rituals. Vaccinations as a requirement for school enrollment remained under discussion between Ministry of Health officials and Rastafarians with school-age children. Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information officials stated accommodations permitted dreadlocks at some workplaces, such as construction sites, with appropriate headgear, called a Tam or Rastacap.

Rastafarians stated they continued to face societal discrimination because of their religious practices, in particular their use of marijuana. Some Rastafarian activists stated, however, they believed Rastafarians were increasingly accepted in society, and society was becoming more tolerant of their way of life. They cited a perceived reduction in police harassment as proof of increased societal acceptance.

Embassy officials discussed the prohibition of Rastafarian dreadlocks with the Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information and with the Ministry of National Mobilization, Social Development, Family, Gender Affairs, Persons with Disabilities, and Youth. Embassy officials met with representatives of religious communities, in particular Rastafarians and Muslim leaders. The embassy also used Facebook to promote messages about the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean.

Section I. Religious DemographyShare    

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 102,000 (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2012 government census, 82.3 percent of the population identifies as Christian, among them Pentecostals composing 27.6 percent, Anglicans 13.9 percent, Seventh-day Adventists 11.6 percent, Baptists 8.9 percent, Methodists 8.7 percent, and Roman Catholics 6.3 percent. Rastafarians account for 1.1 percent of the population. Those with no religious affiliation account for 7.5 percent of the population; those listed as “no religion stated” constitute 4.7 percent; and those listed as “other religion” constitute 4.3 percent. Groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Muslims and Hindus, the latter primarily East Indian in origin. There is no organized Jewish community.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

Legal Framework

The constitution affirms the country “is founded on the belief in the supremacy of God.” A person has the right to freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and of religion and freedom to change his or her religion or belief. In addition, he or she has the freedom to practice his religion, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private.

The constitution grants religious groups the right to establish schools and provide religious instruction to those wishing to receive it. Students in public schools receive nondenominational religious instruction based on Christianity. Christian prayers are recited at school assemblies; attendance and participation are not mandatory. Students wishing to opt out of Christian prayer or religious education classes are excused from participation.

An antiblasphemy law is not enforced.

The law prohibits the use of marijuana, including for religious purposes.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Rastafarian activists continued to state they remained in disagreement with the government’s prohibition of marijuana use, which they described as integral to their religious rituals. The Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information said accommodations permitted dreadlocks for Rastafarians at some workplaces, including construction sites, with appropriate headgear, called a Tam or Rastacap (similar to an elongated ski cap); however, Rastafarians cited the continued prohibition of dreadlocks in certain work areas and in some, mostly private, schools. Vaccinations as a requirement for school enrollment continued to remain under discussion between Ministry of Health officials and Rastafarians with school-age children. Rastafarians said they continued to face scrutiny from police and immigration officials due to their use of marijuana.

Some, mostly private faith-based schools, occasionally invited representatives from varied religious groups, especially Anglican and Catholic, to speak with students.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

Rastafarian community leaders stated they continued to face societal discrimination because of their use of marijuana; however, they also said Rastafarians were increasingly accepted in society, and society was becoming more tolerant of their way of life.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and EngagementShare    

Embassy officials raised Rastafarian concerns about the prohibition of their dreadlocks with the Ministry of National Mobilization, Social Development, Family, Gender Affairs, Persons with Disabilities, and Youth, as well as with the Ministry of Education, Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information. By year’s end, there was no further easing of restrictions on the use of dreadlocks without acceptable headgear in the workplace.

Embassy officials met with representatives of religious communities, in particular Rastafarian and Muslim leaders. The embassy also used Facebook to promote messages about the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean.