Antigua and Barbuda
The constitution provides for freedom of worship as well as the right to practice and change one’s religion. The government decriminalized marijuana and publicly apologized to the Rastafarian community for previous discrimination. During the year the government started subsidizing private Rastafarian-run schools not requiring vaccinations for school entry.
There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.
U.S. embassy officials engaged representatives of the government and civil society on religious freedom issues, including the importance of respect for religious diversity. They discussed issues involving government facilitation of religious diversity and tolerance and equal treatment under the law and the required vaccination of children entering the public school system.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom to change one’s religion or belief, and freedom to express one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion. Nondenominational “spirituality” classes, including morals, values, and world religions, are taught in public schools; opt-outs are possible. The government continued to engage religious groups in the country on its stated commitment to fostering tolerance for religious minorities and for protecting religious freedom and equal protection under the law.
Religious groups routinely collaborated with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to carry out missionary work in the country. Thirteen religious radio stations continued to operate countrywide. The interfaith Belize Chaplain Service (BCS) continued to promote several initiatives, such as counseling services for relatives of crime victims and for police officers, with the stated objective to provide professional, multifaith, compassionate pastoral care to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of the public.
Embassy representatives met with government officials to emphasize the importance of the government’s continued engagement with a wide spectrum of religious groups in the country, including with Christians and non-Christian religious minorities. The embassy invited representatives of religious groups to participate in embassy programming and outreach and to reinforce the role of religious groups in promoting respect for religious diversity and tolerance. The embassy also used social media to promote broad messages of religious tolerance.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of thought, freedom to practice one’s religion, and freedom from oaths contrary to one’s beliefs. Rastafarians said they continued to press the government to legalize marijuana use. Representatives of the Rastafarian community reported authorities did not enforce the law against using marijuana when they used it in their religious rites. Members of the Rastafarian community stated their relationship with the government had improved significantly.
Interdenominational organizations worked to advance respect for religious freedom and diversity regardless of denominational affiliation. Members of the Dominica Christian Council and the resident Roman Catholic bishop said they did not consider religious freedom to be an issue for Christians or to their knowledge for other religious groups.
Embassy officials raised religious freedom with the government, including with the chief welfare officer of the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, Family, and Gender Affairs. They discussed Rastafarian allegations of extra scrutiny by police and immigration officials due to Rastafarians’ use of marijuana in their religious rites. U.S. embassy representatives engaged civil society leaders, including members of the Rastafarian community, members of the Dominica Christian Council, and the resident Catholic bishop, on religious freedom issues, including freedom of religious expression and societal discrimination based on religion.
The constitution protects freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and religion. The criminal code prohibits the publishing and sale of blasphemous language; however, the code is not enforced. The government continued to fund public schools administered by long-established Christian groups, including the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Seventh-day Adventists, and Mennonite communities. Denominational and ecumenical Christian worship services continued to form part of official festivities on national holidays. In March the government moved its Religious Affairs Unit to the Ministry of Education.
The Conference of Churches, an ecumenical body, continued to serve as a forum to promote mutual understanding among religious organizations.
The Ambassador and the Principal Officer engaged the government on the importance of respect for religious freedom, diversity, and tolerance and participated in government events that promoted respect for these values. Embassy officials also met with members of the various religious communities to discuss their views on respect for religious diversity and tolerance in the country. The Principal Officer participated in denominational, ecumenical, Muslim, and Jewish community events to emphasize U.S. government commitment to these issues.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, including the right to choose and change one’s religion. The government continued its policy to limit the number of visas for foreign representatives of religious groups based on historical trends, the relative size of the group, and the president’s discretion. Religious groups with foreign missionaries continued to report, however, that the government’s visa quotas allotted to them did not adversely affect their activities because the government did not apply the visa limitation rule.
Continued interfaith efforts conducted by the Inter-Religious Organization of Guyana again led to oral pledges to promote social cohesion and respect for ethnic and religious diversity.
Embassy officials joined the Ministry of Social Cohesion on several occasions throughout the year at interfaith and religious events. To promote religious tolerance, U.S. embassy officials attended events hosted by Muslim and Hindu communities, including Eid and Diwali celebrations. Embassy officials used these activities to speak about acceptance, tolerance, and harmony in a multi-faith cultural context. The embassy amplified its activities through discussions about religious tolerance on social media.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom to worship and to change religion. It prohibits discrimination based on belief. A colonial-era law criminalizing the practices of Obeah and Myalism remains in effect, but it is not enforced. In August the Supreme Court ruled that a five-year-old girl with dreadlocks could attend a Kingston primary school until the court could hear her case, overriding the school’s policy of preventing her attendance until she cut off her dreadlocks. Religious rights advocates viewed the case as a significant development toward removing discrimination against Rastafarians seeking government services. The government reviewed private religiously-based schools receiving public funding with the aim of ensuring the schools’ practices did not contravene government policies on individual rights. The government mandated a nondenominational religious curriculum in schools and sponsored public events to promote interfaith engagement and respect for religious diversity.
Rastafarians stated that while prejudice against their religion continued, there was increasing acceptance of their practices and more societal respect. They cited their continued progress in achieving higher positions in both the private and public sectors. Seventh-day Adventists welcomed an April pronouncement from the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) that the PSOJ would criticize and possibly expel members of the organization who adopted policies limiting Seventh-day Adventists’ ability to gain employment because of their observance of a Saturday Sabbath. Local media outlets continued to provide a forum for religious dialogue open to participants from all religious groups. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Jamaica Council for Interfaith Fellowship, which includes representatives from Christian, Rastafarian, Hindu, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church), Baha’i, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist organizations, continued to hold events to promote religious tolerance and diversity.
U.S. embassy officials met regularly with leaders of religious groups, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Rastafarians. In January the Charge d’Affaires hosted an interfaith dialogue with leaders from 10 religious groups in recognition of Religious Freedom Day. Participants discussed religious pluralism, tolerance, and the role of religion in addressing social issues. Embassy officials promoted religious tolerance through official remarks, press releases, social media venues, and public engagements.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and individuals’ right to change, manifest, and propagate the religion of their choosing. Rastafarian community representatives reported their reluctance to use marijuana for religious purposes because marijuana use was illegal and subject to punitive fines. Rastafarians said they continued to face discrimination in the school system because the Ministry of Education required vaccinations for all children attending school; Rastafarians continued to oppose vaccination, which they stated was part of their religious beliefs. Government officials and Rastafarian community members said some Rastafarian families decided to vaccinate their children or to homeschool. They also reported national insurance plans did not cover traditional doctors used by the Rastafarian community. Rastafarians said the number of targeted searches by police and immigration officers decreased during the year. They also reported that officials from the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government engaged in constructive dialogue and outreach with the Rastafarian community.
According to the Islamic Association, some male and female members of the Muslim community continued to experience occasional harassment when they wore head coverings and clothing that identified them as Muslim. The Catholic Church and the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean continued to hold interfaith meetings to promote respect for religious diversity and tolerance.
U.S. embassy officials discussed respect for religious minorities with officials of the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government, which is responsible for ecclesiastical affairs. Embassy officials also met and discussed issues related to religious freedom with leaders of the Rastafarian, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion. Rastafarians continued to disagree with the government’s ban on marijuana, stating it was integral to their religious rituals. They said, however, that draft legislation introduced in September allowing marijuana use for religious purposes, if passed, would positively affect their community. The possibility of exemption from vaccinations currently required 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 continued to permit dreadlocks at some workplaces, such as construction sites, provided they were covered with appropriate headgear when health and safety considerations required it.
Rastafarians said they still faced societal discrimination because of their religious practices, in particular their marijuana use. Some Rastafarians stated, however, that they believed societal acceptance of and tolerance for Rastafarians continued to increase, noting the draft legislation on marijuana use and cultivation introduced in parliament as an example of a positive change in societal attitudes.
Embassy officials continued to raise the issue 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 also met with individuals from the Christian, Muslim, and Rastafarian communities to discuss governmental and societal support for religious freedom, including respect for religious minorities. The embassy used Facebook to promote messages about the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean.