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.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.8 million (July 2018 estimate). According to the most recent census in 2011, 26 percent of the population belongs to various branches of the Church of God; 12 percent is Seventh-day Adventist; 11 percent Pentecostal; 7 percent Baptist; 3 percent Anglican; 2 percent Roman Catholic; 2 percent United Church of Christ; 2 percent Methodist; 2 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses; 1 percent Moravian; and 1 percent Brethren. Two percent maintain some other form of spiritual practice. Other religious groups constitute 8 percent of the population, including approximately 29,000 Rastafarians, 5,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1,500 Muslims (Muslim groups estimate their numbers at 6,500), 1,800 Hindus, 500 Jews, and 270 Baha’is. The census reports 21 percent have no religious affiliation. There is no census data on adherents of Obeah and Myalism.