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Antigua and Barbuda

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, as well as the right to practice and change one’s religion or belief. The government completed construction on a first-ever public Rastafarian-run school, at which vaccinations are not required for school entry. The government announced that, for economic reasons, it was considering amending the law to rescind the designation of Sunday as a holiday. According to opposition leader Harold Lovell of the United Progressive Party, removing the Sunday holiday designation could infringe on citizens’ right to practice their religion.

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.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 97,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 17.6 percent of the population is Anglican, 12.4 percent Seventh-day Adventist, 12.2 percent Pentecostal, 8.3 percent Moravian, 8.2 percent Roman Catholic, and 5.6 percent Methodist. Those with unspecified or no religious beliefs account for 5.5 percent and 5.9 percent of the population, respectively. Members of the Baptist Church, the Church of God, and the Wesleyan Holiness Consortium each account for less than 5 percent. The census categorizes an additional 12.2 percent of the population as belonging to other religious groups, including Rastafarians, Muslims, Hindus, and Baha’is, without providing percentages for each group. Based on anecdotal information, these four religious groups are listed from largest to smallest.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, as well as the right to change and practice one’s religion or belief. The constitution protects individuals from taking oaths contradictory to their beliefs or participating in events and activities of religions not their own, including participating in or receiving unwanted religious education. These rights may be limited in the interests of defense or public safety, order, morality, or health, or to protect the rights of others, unless actions under such limitations can be shown “not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.” The constitution prohibits members of the clergy from running for elected office. No law may be adopted that contradicts these constitutional provisions. The government does not enforce a law outlawing blasphemous language in a public place or any other place that would “cause annoyance to the public.”

The government does not require religious groups to register; however, to receive tax- and duty-free concessions and to own, build, or renovate property, religious groups must register with the government. To register, religious groups must fill out an online tax form that describes the group’s activities. The government uses this form to determine the group’s tax status. The Inland Revenue Department reviews and approves the completed form, usually granting registration and tax concessions.

The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools. Private schools may provide religious instruction. Public schools require parents to immunize their children to attend school. Some private schools do not require immunizations for their students. The law also permits homeschooling.

The law decriminalizing marijuana for any use also recognizes the government’s responsibility to uphold the religious rights of persons of the Hindu and Rastafarian faiths. It allows these persons to apply for a special religious license to cultivate the plant within their private dwelling, use the plant for religious purposes within their private dwelling or within their approved place of worship, and transport the plant between their private dwelling and approved place of worship. The special religious license, however, does not permit any commercial or financial transaction involving any part of the cannabis plant.

Occupational health regulations require individuals with dreadlocks to cover their hair when they work with food, hazardous equipment, or in the health sector. These regulations apply to both public- and private-sector workplaces.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In the wake of decriminalization of marijuana use and cultivation for religious purposes, Rastafarian leaders continued to state publicly the government had taken steps to recognize the dignity and worth of the Rastafarian community. In January the government’s ambassador to Ethiopia and a Rastafarian elder, Ras Frank I Francis, publicly commended the government for having apologized in the past for “the atrocities that went against the movement.”

In September the government completed construction on a Rastafarian-run public school that conformed to the standards of all other government primary schools but did not require immunizations for enrollment. According to media reports, Rastafarian leaders praised the government for what they termed “the first construction of Rastafari buildings globally.” Prime Minister Gaston Browne stated, “No one in this country should be denied education because of their religious beliefs.” Also attending the event, Minister of Education Michael Browne stated, “Education is not about what you are wearing, education is not about the length of your hair. Education transcends your religious beliefs. Education is a collection not of a melting pot but of a rich salad bowl of our history.” Other Rastafarians continued to choose homeschooling for their children or private schools where vaccinations were not required.

Citing escalating costs in tourism-related services, the government announced it was considering rescinding the holiday designation for Sunday by amending the law. According to opposition leader Harold Lovell, of the United Progressive Party, removing the Sunday holiday designation could infringe on the rights of each individual to practice his or her religion.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials continued to engage government officials from the Office of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Legal Affairs, as well as police leadership, to emphasize the importance of respect for religious diversity, tolerance, and equal treatment under the law.

Embassy officials also met with civil society representatives, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Christian Council, to discuss religious freedom issues, including the importance of respect for religious diversity, freedom of religious expression, and discrimination based on religion.

Bahamas

Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of religion is a fundamental right; individuals may practice freely the religion of their choice or practice no religion at all. The law prohibits discrimination based on religion. The practice of Obeah, an Afro-Caribbean belief system with some similarities to Voodoo, is illegal. Violators may face a sentence of three months in prison; however, according to Royal Bahamas Police Force officials, this law is inconsistently enforced. Rastafarians said the government continued to discriminate against them because of their dreadlocks and their religious use of marijuana. A preliminary report by the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana, leaked to media in December, included a recommendation to grant Rastafarians the right to use marijuana for religious purposes. The government continued to meet regularly with the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC), comprising religious leaders from a wide spectrum of Christian denominations, to discuss societal, political, and economic issues.

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

U.S. embassy representatives met regularly with government officials, the president of the BCC, and representatives of the Muslim, Rastafarian, and Jewish communities to discuss religious freedom, including the importance of governmental and societal tolerance for religious diversity.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 335,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2010 census, more than 90 percent of the population professes a religion. Of those, 70 percent is Protestant (includes Baptist 35 percent, Anglican 14 percent, Pentecostal 9 percent, Seventh-day Adventist 4 percent, Methodist 4 percent, Church of God 2 percent, and Brethren 2 percent). Twelve percent is Roman Catholic. Other Christians are 13 percent, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Greek Orthodox Christians, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to the census, 5 percent is listed as other, having no religion, or unspecified. Other religious groups include Jews, Baha’is, Rastafarians, Muslims, Black Hebrew Israelites, Hindus, and followers of Obeah, practiced by a small number of citizens and some resident Haitians.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, including the freedom to practice one’s religion. It forbids infringement on an individual’s freedom to choose or change one’s religion and prohibits discrimination based on belief. Parliament may limit religious practices in the interest of defense, public safety, health, public order, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others; there were no such actions reported during the year. The constitution refers to “an abiding respect for Christian values” in its preamble; however, there is no state-established religious body or official religion.

The practice of Obeah, an Afro-Caribbean belief system with some similarities to Voodoo, is illegal. Those caught practicing it or attempting to intimidate, steal, inflict disease, or restore a person’s health through the practice of Obeah may face a sentence of three months in prison. According to Royal Bahamas Police Force officials, this law is inconsistently enforced. The publication and sale of any book, writing, or representation deemed blasphemous is punishable by up to two years in prison; however, opinions on religious issues “expressed in good faith and in decent language” are not subject to prosecution under the law. This law is traditionally unenforced.

The law does not require religious groups to register, but they must legally incorporate to purchase land. There are no legal provisions to encourage or discourage the formation of religious communities, which have the same taxation requirements as profitmaking companies if they incorporate. To incorporate, religious groups follow the regulations applicable to nonprofit entities, requiring the “undertaking” of the religious organization to be “without pecuniary gain” and to maintain a building for gathering. In accordance with value-added tax (VAT) legislation, religious organizations seeking VAT exemptions must register with the Ministry of Financial Services, Trade and Industry, and Immigration and apply on a case-by-case basis for exemptions.

The law prohibits marijuana use, including for religious rituals.

Religion is a recognized academic subject at government schools and is included in mandatory standardized achievement and certificate tests. Religion classes in government-supported schools focus on the study of Christian philosophy, Biblical texts, and, to a lesser extent, comparative and non-Christian religions. Religious groups may establish private schools. The constitution states no one shall be compelled to participate in religious instruction or observances of a religion other than his or her own. It allows students, or their guardians in the case of minors, to decline to participate in religious education and observance in private schools. Vaccinations are required to attend school. Home schooling is permitted and is regulated by the Ministry of Education.

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

Government Practices

A preliminary report by the Bahamas National Commission on Marijuana, leaked to media in December, included a recommendation to grant Rastafarians the right to use marijuana for religious purposes. A representative from the Rastafarian community participated in the commission. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, whose party had a strong legislative majority, was an outspoken advocate of reforming marijuana laws. Parliament took no legal action on the recommendation by year’s end.

During the year, Rastafarians said police continued to arrest them for possessing small quantities of marijuana used in ceremonial rituals and said prison authorities cut the dreadlocks of Rastafarian prisoners. In June a group of Rastafarians, citing articles of the constitution that provide for freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination, filed a writ in the Supreme Court seeking damages from – and the expungement from their records of – marijuana-related convictions.

In what observers termed was an effort to engage religious communities, whose members frequently commented on government social and economic policies, the government met regularly with the BCC to discuss societal, political, and economic issues. Additionally, the government engaged with the Muslim community to develop opportunities for non-Muslim students to learn about Islam by having students visit the Jamaa Ahlus mosque to speak with local Muslim leaders. A leader of the Jewish community praised the government for its general openness and solidarity, citing as an example the government’s support in allowing a nine-foot menorah to be displayed in downtown Nassau during Hanukkah.

The government continued to include Christian prayer in all significant official events. It was common for government officials and members of parliament to quote religious teachings during speeches, and senior government officials in their official capacities occasionally addressed assemblies during formal religious services.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives met regularly with government officials, the president of the BCC, representatives from the Muslim, Rastafarian, and Jewish communities, and civil society leaders to discuss religious freedom, including the importance of governmental and societal tolerance for religious diversity.

Barbados

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws provide for freedom of religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion, and prohibit discrimination based on religious belief. The government does not require religious groups to register and grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and provide religious instruction. Rastafarians expressed frustration with the government’s proposed Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, stating it did not address prohibition of marijuana use in their religious rituals, and called on the government to engage in meaningful dialogue on the broader decriminalization and legalization of cannabis. In November Attorney General Dale Marshall announced he had received cabinet approval to draft a bill permitting Rastafarians to use cannabis “for the purpose of their religion.” Some Muslims said they continued to object to a government policy requiring women to remove the hijab for identification photographs, including for passports, while noting progress in their talks with the government to revise the policy and find a mutually agreeable solution.

Rastafarians continued to report some social discrimination, specifically for their dreadlocks and particularly in hiring practices; however, they stated societal attitudes regarding Rastafarianism continued to improve.

U.S. embassy officials raised religious freedom with government ministries and offices at all levels. Embassy officials engaged with the Ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, and People Empowerment to discuss the cannabis legalization movement and its significance for the Rastafarian community. Embassy officials also engaged civil society and religious groups, including the Muslim and Rastafarian communities, on religious expression and societal or governmental discrimination based on religion or belief.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 294,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the most recent census in 2010, approximately 76 percent of the population is Christian, including Anglicans (23.9 percent of the total population), Pentecostals (19.5 percent), Seventh-day Adventists (5.9 percent), Methodists (4.2 percent), Roman Catholics (3.8 percent), Wesleyans (3.4 percent), Nazarenes (3.2 percent), and the Church of God (2.4 percent). Religious groups with 2 percent or less of the population each include Baptists, Moravians, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other religious groups, together constituting less than 3 percent of the population, include Muslims, Jews, Rastafarians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baha’is. Approximately 21 percent of respondents do not identify a religious affiliation. The Barbados Muslim Association states there are 3,000 Muslims.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion, and prohibition of discrimination based on creed. A law criminalizing “blasphemous libel” is not enforced.

The government does not require religious groups to register. To obtain duty-free import privileges and tax benefits, however, the government requires religious groups to register with the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office. A religious group must file the relevant customs and tax forms, along with a resolution passed by the majority of its board of trustees expressly authorizing the application, plus the group’s related statutory declaration.

The constitution grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and provide religious instruction. The government provides subsidies or financial assistance to some of these schools to help cover the cost of students who could not find space in a public school. The public school curriculum includes religious “values education” as part of the historic association of schools with Christian missionaries who founded many of the schools. At the primary school level, the focus is on nondenominational Christianity. At the secondary school level, all major religions are included. The constitution protects students from mandatory religious instruction, ceremony, or observance without personal consent or, if younger than age 21, consent of parents or guardians.

By law, vaccinations are required for all school-age children attending both public and private schools as well as those who are homeschooled. The vaccination program is administered through the Ministry of Health, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education. Homeschooled children must be registered with the Ministry of Education.

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

Government Practices

Rastafarians expressed objections to the government’s proposed Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, introduced in August, which would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, while remaining silent on whether other personal use, including for religious rituals, would remain prohibited.

In September Adrian Forde, a member of the Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, stated the committee would begin discussions on the use of marijuana for sacramental purposes. In November Attorney General Dale Marshall announced he had received cabinet approval to draft a bill permitting Rastafarians to use cannabis “for the purpose of their religion.”

In August the Ministry of Agriculture pledged to set aside 60 acres for Rastafarians to grow medicinal cannabis. Some Rastafarians objected to language in the draft bill because it would bar anyone with a prior drug conviction from obtaining a license to participate in the industry. Rastafarian Priest Ras Ian said many community members, including himself, had prior possession convictions and were concerned that the current language in the bill would effectively block many Rastafarians from participating in the nascent medical cannabis industry.

Rastafarians continued to state the requirement for vaccinations for all children to enroll in all schools and for homeschooling violated Rastafarian religious beliefs.

In August Rastafarian representatives praised the minister of creative economy, culture, and sports, who issued a public statement calling on all citizens to “embrace” Rastafarians as equal members of society.

Representatives from the Barbados Muslim Association continued to state their objection to a government policy requiring women to remove all head coverings for identification photographs, including for passports. The association met with the government to discuss the issue and said the continuing talks were positive and could yield a change in the policy.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Some Rastafarians again reported societal discrimination, particularly in hiring practices. Rastafarian sources, however, also said they believed public opinion of their community was improving. African Heritage Foundation founder Paul Rock commented that Rastafarians had previously experienced societal discrimination for a dietary lifestyle that was now widely adopted by vegans.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials raised freedom of religious expression discrimination issues at all levels. Embassy officials engaged with the Ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, and People Empowerment to discuss the cannabis legalization movement and its significance for the Rastafarian community.

Embassy officials engaged leaders and members of civil society and religious groups, including the Muslim and Rastafarian communities, regarding the importance of religious expression and concerns regarding societal or governmental discrimination based on religion or belief. The embassy used Facebook to promote messages on the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean, including a “Voices of Religious Freedom” video posted in August.

Belize

Executive Summary

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. By law, the Council of Churches and the Belize Association of Evangelical Churches (BAEC) together appoint a “church senator” to the Senate, with the concurrence of the governor general. The church senator provides advice on how public policy affects the political positions of religious groups. 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 on its stated commitment to fostering tolerance for religious minorities, protecting religious freedom, and ensuring equal protection under the law. The government continued to permit religious leaders from varying denominations to visit the government-owned and -financed central prison to hold services at its nondenominational chapel.

Religious groups continued collaboration with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to carry out missionary work in the country. The interfaith Belize Chaplain Service (BCS) continued to promote several initiatives, including 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. The BCS supported the government’s decision to submit the border dispute with Guatemala to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) based on council members’ religious belief in social justice.

U.S. embassy officials, including the Charge d’Affaires, met with government officials to emphasize the importance of continued government engagement with a wide spectrum of religious groups, including Christians and non-Christian religious minorities. The embassy invited representatives of religious groups, including religious minorities, to participate in embassy programs and outreach to reinforce the role of religious groups in promoting respect for religious diversity and tolerance and in addressing crime.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 393,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2010 census, members of the Roman Catholic Church are the largest religious group, accounting for 40 percent of the population. Protestants make up 32 percent, including Pentecostals (8 percent), Seventh-day Adventists (5 percent), Anglicans (5 percent), Mennonites (4 percent), Baptists (4 percent), Methodists (3 percent), and the Church of the Nazarene (3 percent). Jehovah’s Witnesses make up 2 percent of the population, while other religious groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Rastafarians, the Salvation Army, and Baha’is, together constitute 11 percent. Approximately 15 percent of the population does not affiliate with one of these listed religious organizations.

No religious group is a majority in any of the country’s six districts. Catholics reside throughout the country. Mennonites and Pentecostals reside mostly in the rural areas of the Cayo and Orange Walk Districts.

The country is also home to smaller religious communities. Soka Gakkai International-Belize (a Buddhist association) has a temple in Belize City, but there are no precise figures on its membership. The 2010 census lists 577 Muslims in the country; this number does not include the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat group, which according to its leaders, numbers fewer than 160 individuals. Indigenous groups, including the Maya and the Garifuna, also practice traditional folk religious rituals.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

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 states that no one may 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.” Discrimination on religious grounds is illegal.

The preamble to the constitution acknowledges “the supremacy of God.”

An unenforced law limits speech that is “blasphemous or indecent.”

By law, the Council of Churches, a board including representatives from several major Christian denominations, and the BAEC together appoint one individual, called the “church senator,” to the Senate with the governor general’s concurrence. The two groups together include the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches, Salvation Army, Chinese Christian Mission, Church of Christ, Assembly of God Church, Seventh-day Adventists, and other evangelical Protestant groups. They do not include the National Evangelical Association of Belize), which separated from the BAEC in 2015 due to political differences, or any non-Christian denominations.

By law, the church senator provides advice on public policy affecting the political positions of religious groups. This senatorial seat places the political interests of religious leaders on par with the three other senators appointed to represent labor unions, the business community, and the NGO community. The Senate is the upper chamber of the country’s two-part National Assembly; members of the House of Representatives run for election, while senators are appointed.

The law requires all religious groups to register with the official Companies Registry in the Ministry of the Attorney General in a process similar to that of a business. Registration permits the religious organization to operate legally in the country; receive state recognition; negotiate, sue, and be sued; own property; hire employees; and lend or borrow money. There is a one-time registration fee of 295 Belize dollars ($150) and a yearly fee of five Belize dollars ($3). Requirements for registration include a memorandum of association with the government delineating the group’s objective and mission, an article of association, and a letter from the central bank if the organization has foreign financial contributors. The government may shut down the facilities of groups that fail to register.

The government does not levy property taxes on churches and other places of worship. Other church-owned buildings occupied on a regular basis, such as clergy residences, are not tax-exempt. Religious organizations may also partner with the state to operate schools, hospitals, and other charity organizations and, depending on funding availability, receive financial assistance from the government.

The public school curriculum includes weekly nondenominational “spirituality” classes incorporating morals and values. Government-aided church-run schools may teach lessons on world religions for students from kindergarten through eighth grade as part of their social studies curriculum. These church-run schools also offer separate religious education classes that are specific to their own faith. While there is no official rule governing a student’s ability to opt out of either of these sessions, parents may decide their children will not attend. The constitution prohibits any educational institution from obligating a child to attend any religious ceremonies or observances. Due to insufficient government funds, Christian churches manage most public elementary schools, high schools, and some colleges. Schools routinely observe Catholic and other Christian holidays at the schools’ discretion. Non-Christian religious groups run a few schools, such as the Muslim Community Primary School in Belize City. All schools, public and private, must adhere to government regulations; the Ministry of Education monitors their compliance.

The law grants respect for inmates’ religious beliefs, and inmates may participate in religious activities in prison. Religious leaders may request use of the chapel inside the facility and offer religious services to inmates. Prison authorities avoid requiring unnecessary work by prisoners on Sunday and other major Christian religious holidays (Christmas and Good Friday) and by prisoners recorded as belonging to other religions on their recognized day of religious observance. The law allows the provision of religious scriptures and other books of religious observance to prisoners.

To enter the country and proselytize, foreign religious workers need a multi-entry visa, which costs 100 Belize dollars ($50) and is valid for one year. Applicants must also purchase a religious worker’s permit, costing 50 Belize dollars ($25). The visas are renewable on an annual basis. Visa requirements include information on intended length of stay, location, funding for activity, and specific purpose. Members of all religious groups are eligible to obtain visas. While a group does not need to be locally registered, recommendation by a locally registered religious group lends more credibility to the visa request, according to local authorities.

The Belize Defense Force retains a nondenominational chaplain and space for religious observance. With the prior consent of authorities, any religious group may use the space for worship.

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

Government Practices

The government continued to engage religious groups in discussions to foster tolerance for religious minorities, protect religious freedom, and ensure equal protection under the law.

The government held discussions with the Council of Churches, Church Senator Ashley Rocke, who is a Baptist pastor, and several other religious leaders to keep them abreast of government plans of interest to them, including the education budget. According to the head of the Council of Churches, while by law the church senator represents all religions, there was little response from non-Christian religious groups to the church senator’s efforts to seek their political perspectives.

The government continued to permit religious leaders from varying denominations to visit the government-owned and -financed central prison to hold services at the prison’s nondenominational chapel. A representative of the Kolbe Foundation, the Catholic organization running the prison, said prison officials continued to respect dietary restrictions for prisoners of diverse religious backgrounds. Several religious groups, including Anglicans, Methodists, Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Seventh-day Adventists, Nazarenes, Mennonites, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Baptists, and the Church of Jesus Christ, continued to make frequent use of the access to clergy granted by the prison administration.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Local religious groups, especially from evangelical Protestant denominations, continued to cooperate with international NGOs and religious partners from the United States and Canada to carry out missionary work in the country. They held joint conferences and outreach activities to address health, poverty, and education issues.

Thirteen registered religious-based radio stations continued to operate in the country. According to the Belize Broadcasting Authority, evangelical Protestant groups continued to own and operate most of the stations. Other stations included one Catholic, two Mennonite, and one Pentecostal radio station.

The interfaith BCS, which includes representatives from the Methodist, Catholic, Anglican, Salvation Army, Chinese Christian Mission, Presbyterian, and Pentecostal Churches, as well as Muslim and Baha’i leaders, continued to promote counseling services for relatives of crime victims, with the stated objective to provide professional, multifaith, compassionate pastoral care to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of the public. The BCS continued to offer services to the central prison and to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital staff, patients, and relatives. The BCS ran the chapel at the hospital, offering weekly Sunday services and Islamic prayers on Fridays. In February the BCS advised the national electorate to support submitting the Belize-Guatemala territorial dispute to the ICJ for resolution. In its press release, the council supported the ICJ submission based on its members’ religious beliefs that it was “a matter of social justice in fostering a peaceful resolution to the territorial dispute at hand.”

The Council of Churches invited representatives from minority religious groups, including Buddhists, Hindus, Ahmadi Muslims, and Baha’is to participate in discussions about joint community projects.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires met with government officials to emphasize the importance of continuing to engage with a wide spectrum of religious groups in the country, including with Christians and non-Christian religious minorities. Minority religious groups that embassy officials discussed with the government included Buddhists of Chinese and Southwest Asian origins, Hindus of Indian origin, Ahmadi Muslims, Baha’is, and other small religious groups, including the Garifuna Afro-indigenous religions and Mayan folk religionists. The embassy invited representatives of religious groups, including Bishop Philip Wright, Bishop Lawrence Nicassio, and representatives of religious minorities to participate in embassy programs and outreach to reinforce the role of religious groups in promoting respect for religious diversity and tolerance, including combating violent extremism, and in addressing crime.

Dominica

Executive Summary

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. In July Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit announced he would urge parliament to decriminalize marijuana for “medical, religious, and recreational use.” Skerrit subsequently proposed the decriminalization of the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, without mention of marijuana use for religious purposes. At year’s end, the parliament was still considering the legislation. Representatives of the Rastafarian community reported authorities did not enforce the law prohibiting marijuana in their religious rites but called on the government to present the police force with clear guidelines to reduce potential public harassment of Rastafarians.

Interdenominational organizations worked to advance respect for religious freedom and diversity. In April the Dominica Christian Union Church hosted members of Christian denominations present in the country at its inaugural Christian Union Day. The Dominica Association of Evangelical Churches (DAEC) said it would continue to support the government’s ban on same sex marriage based on its religious beliefs.

U.S. embassy officials raised religious freedom issues, including promoting interfaith understanding of different religious groups’ beliefs and practices, confronting stereotypes, and finding common ground, with the government, including with the chief welfare officer of the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, Family, and Gender Affairs. Embassy representatives engaged religious leaders, including members of the Rastafarian community, members of the Dominica Christian Council, and the resident Roman Catholic bishop, on religious freedom issues, including freedom of religious expression and societal discrimination based on religion.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 74,100 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to data from the 2011 census, approximately 53 percent of the population is Catholic. Evangelical Protestants constitute approximately 20 percent of the population. The largest evangelical Protestant groups are Pentecostals with 6 percent, Baptists with 5 percent, and the Christian Union Mission with 4 percent. Seventh-day Adventists constitute 7 percent of the population. Other smaller religious groups include Anglicans, Methodists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Rastafarians, and Baha’is. Nine percent of the population professes no religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of thought, freedom to practice one’s religion, and freedom from taking oaths contrary to one’s beliefs. By law, the government may make exceptions to constitutionally required provisions in the interests of public order and morality if the exceptions are for activities “shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.”

Religious groups seeking nonprofit status must register with the Attorney General’s Office. They must submit a letter signed by five executives of the religious group and provide the official name of the religious group with an address identifying the place of worship. The registration fee is 25 Eastern Caribbean dollars ($9). The Attorney General’s Registry Office reviews and approves applications. Any organization denied permission to register has the right to apply for judicial review. By law, religious groups also must register buildings used to publish banns of marriage (announcements of marriage) or used as places of worship.

The constitution grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and to provide religious instruction. Students of different religions may attend private schools run by religious groups of another affiliation. Public schools may hold nondenominational prayers, and attendance is optional. The law requires the vaccination of all children to attend both public and private schools. Parents may homeschool their children.

Dreadlocks are prohibited in all government-funded schools.

The government requires vaccinations for all children enrolling in government-funded schools. The government does not offer a waiver for children without vaccinations.

Dreadlocks are prohibited in prisons.

The government imposes no legal regulations on foreign missionaries beyond the standard immigration laws for entering and remaining in the country.

The government prohibits the use of marijuana for any purpose, including for religious purposes.

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

Government Practices

In July Prime Minister Skerrit stated he would urge parliament to decriminalize marijuana for “medical, religious, and recreational use.” He subsequently proposed the decriminalization of the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, without specific mention of marijuana use for religious purposes. During the year parliament continued consideration of Skerrit’s proposed legislation to decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana, without mention of marijuana use for religious purposes. The legislation did not pass by year’s end.

Rastafarians continued to press the government for complete legalization of marijuana use, stating they considered decriminalization to be a commercially focused half measure. Representatives of the Rastafarian community again reported authorities did not enforce the law against using marijuana when they used it in their religious rites. Members of the Rastafarian community described their relationship with the government as “amicable.” There were no reports of police arrests of Rastafarians during the year in connection with marijuana for religious use. Rastafarian attorney Peter Alleyne called on the government to present the police force with clear guidelines in order to reduce potential public harassment of Rastafarians.

The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, Family, and Gender Affairs again collaborated with the Christian community’s Interdenominational Committee on Crime and Violence in its work to reduce crime and provide opportunities for youth.

The government continued to subsidize teacher salaries at all private schools run by religious organizations, including those affiliated with the Catholic, Methodist, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches.

At public schools, teachers, principals, and students continued to lead nondenominational prayers during morning assemblies, but students were not required to participate.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Interdenominational organizations worked to advance respect for religious freedom and diversity. In April the Dominica Christian Union Church hosted members of Christian denominations from across the island at its inaugural Christian Union Day and invited the wider public. The DAEC periodically hosted large prayer gatherings to which the general public was regularly invited. DAEC and Roman Catholic representatives worked cooperatively to propose legislation to the government requesting the repeal of a law that prohibits any licensed clergy member from contesting an election. The DAEC said it would continue to support the government’s ban on same sex marriage based on its religious beliefs and publicly characterized the LGBTI community as “inherently wrong.”

Rastafarian community representatives said society had accepted Rastafarians. They said there were no incidents of discrimination.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials raised religious freedom, including promoting interfaith understanding of different religions’ beliefs and practices, confronting stereotypes, and finding common ground, with the government, including with the chief welfare officer of the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, Family, and Gender Affairs. In August the embassy’s Facebook page featured the “Voices of Religious Freedom.”

Embassy representatives engaged religious leaders, including members of the Rastafarian community, members of the DAEC, and the resident Catholic bishop, on religious freedom issues, including freedom of religious expression and societal discrimination based on religion.

Grenada

Executive Summary

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. The government continued to review its religious affairs program to determine appropriate resource allocation and to design a work program.

The Conference of Churches, an ecumenical body, continued to serve as a forum to promote mutual understanding among Christian religious organizations.

The nonresident Ambassador and the resident 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 the importance of respect for religious diversity, tolerance, and equality under the law.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 113,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the U.S. government (2011 estimate), 49.2 percent of the population identifies as Protestant (includes Pentecostal 17.2 percent; Seventh-day Adventist 13.2 percent; Anglican 8.5 percent; Baptist 3.2 percent; Church of God 2.4 percent; evangelical Protestant 1.9 percent; Methodist 1.6 percent; and other 1.2 percent). Approximately 36 percent identifies as Roman Catholic; 1.2 percent as Jehovah’s Witnesses; 1.2 percent as Rastafarian; 5.5 percent as other; 5.7 percent as no religious affiliation; and 1.3 percent as unspecified. Smaller groups include Brethren, Bahia’s, Hindus, Moravians, Muslims, Mennonites, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Salvation Army. There is a small Jewish community.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution protects freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and religion. It guarantees the right to change one’s religion and to manifest and propagate it. The constitution prohibits forced participation in any religious ceremony or instruction. The criminal code prohibits the publishing and sale of blasphemous language; however, the government does not enforce the law.

To qualify for customs and tax exemptions, a religious group must obtain recognition from the government as a nongovernmental organization (NGO). The group must also register with the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office (CAIPO) and with the Inland Revenue Office in the Ministry of Finance and provide a letter of request to the ministry. The attorney general grants final approval and the ministry grants the applications for tax exemptions. Applications are routinely granted. Recognition as an NGO requires the group to submit details to CAIPO regarding the organization, including information about its directors, as well as a description of the group’s general activities and the location of these activities.

The government allows religious head coverings of certain types, including the hijab and the Rastafarian head wrap, in photographs for national identity documents, provided the face is clearly visible.

The government subsidizes all existing denominational schools, managed by a board of directors and staffed by the associated faith-based organization, including those of the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Seventh-day Adventist, and Mennonite communities. There are no non-Christian denominational schools. Students at such schools may attend religion classes and may use credits from those classes towards completion of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate. Students from religions other than the one associated with a school may also attend these schools and are not obligated to attend religion classes.

Foreign missionaries require a worker’s permit costing 1,000 to 5,000 East Caribbean dollars ($370-$1,900) or a waiver costing 500 East Caribbean dollars ($190) from the Ministry of Labor. They must demonstrate prior experience, and a registered religious group must sponsor them.

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

Government Practices

The Religious Affairs Unit continued to function within the Ministry of Education. The government continued to review its religious affairs program to determine appropriate resource allocation and to design an annual work program through year’s end.

As in previous years, the government’s official declarations, speeches, and activities attended by the governor general, prime minister, and other government officials often included religious references; denominational and ecumenical Christian worship services were part of official festivities on national holidays. On October 25, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell and other cabinet ministers attended an ecumenical church service commemorating Grenadian Thanksgiving, marking the 1983 U.S. military intervention.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Conference of Churches Grenada, an ecumenical Christian body that includes among others Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian members, continued to serve as a forum to promote mutual understanding and tolerance among religious organizations. The organization held meetings at least once a month; however, it did again not hold a plenary meeting to encourage discussions from different faith-based organizations.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, resident in Barbados and accredited to Grenada, and the Principal Officer, resident in Grenada, continued to engage the government on the importance of respect for religious diversity, freedom, and tolerance. They conducted a series of one-on-one dialogues with a broad spectrum of religious leaders and with human rights NGOs to discuss religious freedom and ways to promote tolerance for religious diversity and communication among religious groups.

The Principal Officer participated in denominational, ecumenical, and Muslim and Jewish community events to emphasize the importance of respect for religious diversity, tolerance, and equality under the law. For example, the Principal Officer participated in and gave remarks at an official service of thanksgiving in October, organized by the Grenada Council of Churches. The remarks emphasized the importance of respect for religious diversity, freedom, and tolerance.

Guyana

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, including the right to choose and change one’s religion. Representatives of the Rastafarian community continued to state that a law criminalizing the possession of 15 grams or more of marijuana infringed on their religious practices. The government continued to hold interfaith activities promoting religious tolerance and diversity. In February the Ministry of Social Cohesion hosted an interfaith awareness exercise in Bartica, a small town located in Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region. Also in February members of parliament and government ministers participated in an interfaith ceremony whose stated purpose was to celebrate the country’s religious freedom and diversity.

The Inter-Religious Organization of Guyana, whose members include representatives of the Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Baha’is and Rastafarian faiths, continued to conduct interfaith efforts, and member religious groups again made oral pledges to promote social cohesion and respect religious diversity.

U.S. embassy officials joined the Ministry of Social Cohesion on several occasions throughout the year at interfaith and religious events and discussed efforts to promote social cohesion and religious tolerance with government officials. Embassy officials met with representatives of Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Rastafarian groups and discussed issues related to religious tolerance. At events hosted by Muslim and Hindu communities, including Eid and Diwali celebrations, embassy officials spoke about acceptance, tolerance, and harmony in a multifaith context. The embassy amplified its activities through discussions about religious tolerance on social media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 745,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2012 census, 64 percent of the population is Christian, 25 percent Hindu, 7 percent Muslim (mainly Sunni), and less than 1 percent belongs to other religious groups. Groups that together constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Rastafarians, Baha’is, Afro-descendent Faithists, and Areruya, an indigenous faith system. An estimated 3 percent of the population does not profess a religious affiliation. Among Christians, Pentecostals comprise 23 percent of the national population; Roman Catholics, 7 percent; Anglicans, 5 percent; Seventh-day Adventists, 5 percent; Methodists, 1 percent; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), less than 1 percent, and other Christians, 21 percent, which includes those belonging to the Assembly of God Church, Church of Christ, and African Episcopal Methodist Zion Church, among others. The Church of Jesus Christ estimates its membership at approximately 5,800.

The membership of most religious groups includes a cross section of ethnic groups, although nearly all Hindus are of South Asian descent, and most Rastafarians are of African descent.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship, including the right to choose and change one’s religion. An unenforced law prescribes a prison term of one year for a blasphemous libel conviction; however, the law exempts religious expression made in “good faith and decent language.”

There is no official system for formal registration of a religious group, but to receive government recognition, all places of worship must register through the deeds registry. The deeds registry requires an organization to submit a proposed name and address for the place of worship, as well as the names of executive group members or congregation leaders. Once formally recognized, a place of worship falls under legislation governing nonprofit organizations, allowing the organization to conduct financial operations, buy property, and receive tax benefits in its name.

Foreign religious workers require a visa from the Ministry of Citizenship. Religious groups seeking to enter an indigenous village for the purpose of proselytizing must apply for and obtain permission from the village council. Application to a village council must include the name of the group, the names of its members who will be going to the village, their purpose, and estimated date of arrival.

There are both public and private religiously affiliated schools. Private schools are operated entirely by private groups and are not funded by the state. All students attending a private religious school must participate in religious education, regardless of a student’s religious beliefs. There is no religious education in public schools, regardless of whether the school is religiously affiliated. Most public schools’ religious affiliations are Anglican or Methodist.

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

Government Practices

Representatives of the Rastafarian community continued to state that a law criminalizing the possession of 15 grams or more of marijuana infringed on their religious practices. The Guyana Rastafari Council continued to petition the government to legalize the use of small amounts of marijuana for religious purposes, but according to the council, authorities again would not consider the proposal, stating that reviewing drug legislation remained a low priority for the government.

The government continued to maintain regulations limiting 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; however, the government and religious groups with foreign missionaries continued to state the visa limitation rule was not applied. Religious groups also said the visa quotas the government allotted to them were sufficient and did not adversely affect their activities.

The Guyana Defense Force (GDF) continued to coordinate with civilian religious groups to provide military personnel with access to religious services. Leaders of the country’s three major religious groups – Christian, Hindu, and Muslim – continued to conduct prayer services and counseling on GDF bases.

The Ministry of Social Cohesion continued to promote interfaith harmony and respect for diversity. In February the ministry hosted an interfaith sensitization exercise in Bartica, a small town located in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni interior region of the country. The government reported that the exercise was held in Bartica to promote religion and social cohesion to mitigate crimes and gender-based violence in Bartica. The exercise also promoted tolerance of various ethnic and religious identities and led to the formation of a social cohesion committee for Bartica. The committee’s stated objectives were to promote social cohesion as well as address the town’s concerns about small crimes and other social issues. Government officials, including Minister of Social Cohesion George Norton, and representatives from religious groups and organizations, among them the Central Islamic Organization of Guyana (CIOG) and the Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religious core groups, participated in the exercise. Formed in 2017, the four core groups comprise one representative each from the Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Rastafarian communities.

Government representatives continued to meet with leaders of various religious groups to promote social cohesion and discuss tolerance of diversity, including Muslim, Hindu and Christian groups. Government officials also participated regularly in the observance of Christian, Hindu, and Muslim religious holidays throughout the year.

In February members of parliament and government ministers participated in an annual interfaith ceremony whose stated purpose was to celebrate the country’s religious freedom and diversity. The ceremony included the participation of representatives of Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Faithist, and Baha’i faiths, as well as followers of the Areruya indigenous faith system.

The government continued to declare some holy days of the country’s three major religious groups as national holidays, including the Eid al-Adha, Easter, and Diwali. In March the Ministry of Social Cohesion hosted a cultural program to celebrate Phagwah, the Hindu spring festival. In August the Ethnic Relations Commission, a quasi-government organization that promotes cohesion, encouraged all citizens to “embrace the message of Eid al-Adha in Guyana’s multireligious society.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Inter-Religious Organization of Guyana – comprising various Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Rastafarian groups – continued to lead interfaith efforts, and there were again individual and organizational oral pledges to promote social cohesion and respect for ethnic and religious diversity. In March the CIOG hosted an International Peace Conference to encourage all peoples to emulate peace and desist from violence. In April political parties, nongovernmental organizations and some members of the business community encouraged all Guyanese to embrace the message of Easter. Similar sentiments were expressed by nongovernmental organizations for Phagwah in March.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials attended government-hosted interfaith functions to support and advance religious tolerance and inclusion and raised with government officials the importance of the government’s continued promotion of religious tolerance. Embassy officials joined the Ministry of Social Cohesion on several occasions throughout the year at interfaith and religious events, including at Hindu Phagwah celebrations in March. After these events, embassy officials engaged in social media discussions on religious tolerance in the country’s pluralistic society.

In March the Ambassador delivered remarks at the CIOG-hosted International Peace Conference where she discussed religious diversity and tolerance. Embassy officials met with representatives of Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and Rastafarian groups and discussed issues related to religious tolerance, including ways to foster cohesion and respect for religious differences. To encourage tolerance for religious diversity, embassy officials attended religious events hosted by various religious groups. At these events, embassy officials spoke on the values of acceptance, tolerance, and harmony in a multifaith cultural context. The embassy amplified these activities through discussions on social media about religious tolerance, conveying messages emphasizing the importance of religious tolerance. Following the Ambassador’s meeting with the Inter-Religious Organization of Guyana in June, the embassy posted on social media her comments noting the organization’s work towards fostering peace and unity.

Haiti

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions. The law establishes the conditions for official recognition of religious groups. By law, any religious group wanting official recognition must receive government approval, a multiple-step process requiring documentary support. Due to budgetary constraints, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Religious Denominations (MFA) did not have discretionary funding available to support religious activities during the year, such as youth conferences. The MFA continued to accord preferential treatment to the Catholic Church under terms of a concordat with the Holy See, including tax exemptions and diplomatic privileges. During the year, the National Council for Haitian Muslims, composed of Sunni and Shia groups, continued to seek official government recognition. Although the government granted the Ahmadiyya Muslims a registration number in 2018, it did not grant the group full recognition. No Muslim group achieved full recognition by the government as an established religion by year’s end. The Ministry of Education (MOE) allocated funding only for Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican registered schools. According to the National Council for Haitian Muslims, the four registered Muslim primary schools did not receive any funding. Vodou is a registered religion; however, representatives from the Haitian Vodou Federation (KNVA in Haitian Creole) said the Ministry of Justice recognized only two of 20 Vodou priests who had been approved by the MFA.

Vodou religious leaders said some practitioners continued to experience social stigmatization for their beliefs and practices. For example, according to KNVA representatives, an unknown number of individuals in the town of Mackandal attacked with machetes and killed a hougan, a Vodou priest, accusing him of the sudden and unexplained death of a neighbor. In another incident, neighbors set fire to the house of a mambo, a Vodou priestess, whom a Protestant pastor accused of causing the illness and subsequent death of an infant. As in previous years, Vodou leaders said there were general societal suspicions of their religion as a sinister force. They said Christian leaders promoted violence against Vodou followers and condemned Vodou practices. In October Landy Mathurin, the president of the National Council for Haitian Muslims, said the population generally respected Muslims, including the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab.

U.S. embassy officials met with the MFA to reinforce the importance of religious freedom and the need for equal protection and legal rights for minority religious groups. Embassy representatives met with Catholic, Protestant, Vodou, and Muslim religious leaders and Religions for Peace (RFP), a faith-based organization that promoted religious tolerance and community cooperation, to seek their views on religious freedom and tolerance and to emphasize the importance of respecting religious diversity and minority religious groups. In August an embassy representative attended the swearing-in ceremony of the new national chief Vodou priest to demonstrate support for the community. In addition, a senior embassy official attended the opening ceremony of the country’s first Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) temple in September.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U. S. government estimates the total population at 10.9 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the government’s 2017 Survey on Mortality, Morbidity, and Use of Services, the most recent study available, Protestants and Seventh-day Adventists represent approximately 50 percent of the population, while Catholics constitute 35 percent. The same study found 12.5 percent of the population claims no religion. Other faiths, including Judaism, Church of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Rastafarians, Scientologists, and Baha’is, have small numbers of adherents. According to the same report, the Vodou faith represents approximately 3 percent of the population; however, most observers state that figure is underestimated because many individuals practice Vodou secretly, in addition to another faith.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the free exercise of all religions and establishes laws to regulate the registration of religious groups. The constitution protects against being compelled to belong to a religious group contrary to one’s beliefs. The MFA is responsible for monitoring and administering laws relating to religious groups. Within the MFA, the Bureau of Worship is responsible for registering religious organizations, clergy, and missionaries of various religious denominations.

By law, religious institutions must register with the MFA to receive government benefits; however, there is no penalty for operating without registration, and many religious groups continue to do so. Registration affords religious groups standing in legal disputes and provides tax-exempt status. The Ministry of Justice allows registered religious groups to issue civil documents, such as marriage and baptismal certificates. The government recognizes these certificates as legal documents only when prepared by government-licensed clergy. Baptismal certificates are identifying documents with the same legal authority as birth certificates. To obtain official government recognition, a religious group must provide information on the qualifications of its leaders, a membership directory, and a list of the group’s social projects. Registered religious groups must submit annual updates of their membership, projects, and leadership to the MFA.

A 2003 government directive established Vodou as an official religion and accords the right to the Vodou community to issue official documents.

By law, the licensing of members of clergy is a government prerogative. To obtain a license, the prospective religious leader must submit a dossier of 14 documents to the MFA, including a diploma of theology or religious studies, a certificate of moral conduct, and a recommendation letter signed by a registered religious institution. Once the MFA confirms the applicant’s eligibility for a license, a Ministry of Justice official administers an oath, which qualifies the applicant to perform civil ceremonies, such as marriages and baptisms.

A concordat between the Holy See and the government provides the Vatican authority to approve and select a specific number of bishops in the country with government consent. Under the concordat, the government provides a monthly stipend to Catholic priests. The government does not provide stipends to other religious leaders. Catholic and Episcopalian bishops and the head of the Protestant Federation have official license plates and carry diplomatic passports.

Foreign missionaries operating in the country are subject to the same legal and administrative requirements as their domestic counterparts.

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

Government Practices

The MFA and law enforcement authorities at times intervened in cases of violence against Vodou practitioners. According to the MFA’s director general of the Bureau of Worship, in September the MFA facilitated the arrest of a Christian pastor who burned down the house of a Vodou practitioner in Aquin, South Department who had refused to convert to Christianity. MFA officials helped the victim file a criminal complaint and relocate to a different neighborhood.

According to the MFA, as of the end of the year, there were 9,195 certified Protestant pastors, 704 certified Catholic priests, and two certified Vodou clergy. Certification allowed clergy to conduct official marriages, baptisms, and other sacraments. In 2018 the MFA approved the applications of 20 Vodou clergy and submitted their files to the Justice Ministry for final oath-taking, as legally required. The Ministry of Justice granted only two Vodou clergy final authorization that year. During 2019, however, no additional Vodou clergy achieved full official status. According to KNVA representatives, authorities did not approve the other 18 candidates because they were perceived as not supporting the administration of President Jovenel Moise.

The three Muslim communities residing in the country – Sunni, Shia, and Ahmadiyya – individually sought official recognition. According to the president of the National Council for Haitian Muslims, Landy Mathurin, the MFA did not act upon their requests during the year. MFA officials indicated they were continuing to review the Ahmadiyya application, after granting the community a registration number in 2018. All Muslims, regardless of group affiliation, were required to go through a civil ceremony for events such as marriages.

The MFA continued to honor its obligations, such as tax exemptions and diplomatic privileges, to the Catholic Church under the terms of the concordat.

While the government did not tax registered religious groups and traditionally exempted their imports from customs duties, on October 23, the government announced it would end all customs exemptions, including for clergy. The legality and scope of the government’s decision remained unclear through the end of year.

In August the government, through the MOE, granted 50 million gourdes ($570,000) to Catholics; 40 million gourdes ($456,000) to Protestants; and 20 million gourdes ($228,000) to Anglicans to support their respective schools. The allocations reflected the concordat between the government and the Catholic Church, and the large number of Protestant and Anglican schools in the country. The government did not allocate funds to other religious groups. According to the National Council for Haitian Muslims, the four registered Muslim primary schools, all registered in 2010, did not receive any funding. The Bureau of Worship had no discretionary funds during the year to support social programming by religious groups, such as youth conferences, as it had in previous years.

During the year, the MOE accommodated some students’ religious practices by scheduling certain exams on weekdays. The decision was made in response to an August 2018 letter from the Office of Citizen Protection (OPC), which serves as the country’s human rights ombudsman, to the Senate and Chamber of Deputies education commissions. The OPC stated it objected to the practice of holding public university admissions exams on weekends, after it received a complaint from the Seventh-day Adventist Church that requiring exams on Saturdays violated the religious freedom of its adherents.

The Protestant Federation advocated for more authority over the process that determines which individuals the government certifies as Protestant clergy.  The organization stated that with more authority, it could stop unlicensed pastors and churches from acting as agents of Protestants churches and spreading “dangerous messages.” The federation cited the example of a self-proclaimed Protestant prophet, Makenson Dorillas, who made headlines in October when he led an antigovernment protest calling for President Moise’s resignation, although Dorillas had no legal status as a clergyman. Following the protest, the Office of Worship began consulting with Protestant groups to address self-appointed religious leaders who lack official recognition.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Vodou clergy said some practitioners continued to experience violence and social stigmatization for their beliefs and practices, stating that members of the public often accused Vodou practitioners of using “occult powers” to harm and sometimes kill neighbors. According to KNVA representatives, an unknown number of individuals from the town of Mackandal in the Grand’Anse Department attacked with machetes and killed a Vodou priest in September after blaming him for the sudden, unexplained death of a neighbor. The assailants set fire to the priest’s home; reportedly some individuals may have been detained and subsequently released. In October KNVA representatives also reported neighbors accused and attacked a mambo in Port au Prince, who was suspected of using her powers to cause the death of an infant. According to KNVA representatives, at the end of the year, the priestess remained in hiding.

According to media reports, on January 16, police arrested four men suspected of killing well-known Catholic priest Joseph Simoly in December 2017 in Port-au-Prince. While some individuals said Simoly was killed because of his political activism, others said there was no evidence to support that theory.

KNVA representatives reported that, as in previous years, Catholic and Protestant leaders frequently rejected and condemned Vodou practices as contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

According to the president of the National Council for Haitian Muslims, Landy Mathurin, Muslims were generally well respected. He said the population had a positive perception of Islam, including of Muslim women choosing to wear hijabs.

The local RFP chapter, whose members include representatives from the Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant churches as well as the Vodou community, continued to meet, focusing on religious tolerance. During the year, RFP launched a “positive peace initiative” designed to advance development through an absence of conflict, which they stated was an important value for the organization. RFP members also said they attended each other’s religious ceremonies to demonstrate mutual respect.

During his swearing-in ceremony in August, the national chief Vodou priest or ati, Carl-Henry Desmornes, promised to promote environmental protection and the Vodou community’s outreach efforts. Director of the Bureau of Worship Evans Souffrant, Mayor of Tabarre Nice Simon, and Chamber of Deputies Deputy Caleb Desrameaux delivered remarks emphasizing Vodou’s important role in the country.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement 

Embassy representatives met with government officials, including from the MFA, to emphasize the importance of fair and equal treatment for all religious groups, including religious minorities.

Embassy officials also met with religious leaders from Protestant, Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, Muslim, and Vodou communities, as well as RFP, to discuss religious freedom and tolerance, and challenges some groups faced in obtaining official certification. In August an embassy representative attended the traditional Vodou swearing-in ceremony of the national chief Vodou priest to demonstrate support for the community. In September a senior embassy official attended the opening dedication ceremony of the Port-au-Prince Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Jamaica

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom to worship and to change one’s 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. Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck stated the government would not repeal the 1898 Obeah Act but instead address fraudulent activities associated with Obeah and protect vulnerable persons from exploitation. In September the Supreme Court heard constitutional arguments in the continuing case of a child blocked from attending Kensington Primary School in 2018 because of her dreadlocks. The child returned to school in late 2018 following a Supreme Court ruling authorizing her return while the case continued. The government continued to mandate a nondenominational religious curriculum in schools and sponsored public events to promote interfaith engagement and respect for religious diversity. It also took steps towards compensating individuals from a trust fund it established in 2017 for victims of the 1963 Coral Gardens incident, in which eight persons were killed and hundreds injured in clashes between a Rastafarian farming community and security forces.

Rastafarians continued to report that while prejudice against their religion was still a problem, there was increasing societal acceptance of and respect for their practices. Seventh-day Adventists continued to report a limited 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 regularly engaged with senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, along with the Jamaican Defense Force, to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country. Embassy officials also met regularly with leaders of religious groups, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Rastafarians. The embassy published a press release on July 11 from the Charge d’Affaires on U.S. efforts to promote religious freedom around the globe. Other embassy representatives included similar references to the value of religious freedom and tolerance in speeches and other public engagements, press releases, and social media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 2.8 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 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, religious practices with West African influences.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion or belief either alone or in community with others, both in public and in private, and to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship. It prohibits discrimination based on belief. The constitution provides that rights and freedoms are protected to the extent they do not “prejudice the rights and freedoms of others.”

A colonial-era law criminalizing Obeah and Myalism remains in effect. Potential punishment for practicing Obeah and Myalism includes imprisonment of up to 12 months. Authorities have rarely enforced the law since the country became independent in 1962, and the government reported no enforcement cases during the year.

Registration with the government is not mandatory for religious groups, but groups, including churches or congregations, may incorporate to gain benefits, including the ability to hold land, enter into legal disputes as an organization, and allow their clergy to visit prisoners. Groups seeking incorporated status apply to the Companies Office of Jamaica, an executive agency. The application comprises a standard form and a fee of 24,500 Jamaican dollars ($180). NGOs register through the same form and fee structure. Groups incorporated through this process must subsequently submit annual reports and financial statements to the Companies Office.

Alternatively, groups may petition parliament to be incorporated by parliamentary act. Such groups receive similar benefits to those incorporating through the Companies Office, but parliament does not require annual reports or regulate the organizations it incorporates.

Regardless of incorporation status, religious groups seeking tax-exempt status must register as charities. To be considered a charity, an organization must apply either to the Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies, located in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries, or to the Companies Office. Once registered, groups also submit their registration to the Jamaica Customs Agency in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service and apply to Tax Administration Jamaica to be considered for tax-free status.

The constitution states religious groups have the right to provide religious instruction to members of their communities. By law, immunizations are mandatory for all children attending both public and private schools; however, exceptions for medical reasons may be granted. The law requires school administrators to adhere to several practices regarding the teaching of religion. No individual may be required to receive religious instruction or participate in religious observances contrary to his or her beliefs. The public school curriculum includes nondenominational religious education, which focuses on the historical role of religion in society and philosophical thought and includes group visits to Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu houses of worship. Students may not opt out of religious education, but religious devotion or practice during school hours is optional. The Jamaican Education Act of 1980 states that, “It shall be the duty of the parent of every child of compulsory school age residing in a compulsory education area to cause him to receive full-time education suitable to his age and ability, and satisfactory to the Educational Board for the area, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.” Under the “or otherwise” phrase in the law, families may homeschool their children.

Churches operate several private schools. Churches also run a number of public schools, for which they receive funding from the government and must abide by Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information rules. Regulations mandate that religious schools receiving public funding must admit students of all faiths and adhere to ministry standards. Religious schools are not subject to any special restrictions; they do not receive special treatment from the government based on their religious or denominational affiliation. Most religious schools are affiliated with Catholic or Protestant churches. The Islamic Council of Jamaica runs two schools.

Foreign religious workers, regardless of affiliation, who visit the country to work with a religious organization must obtain a visa and a work permit from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

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

Government Practices

In September the Supreme Court heard a case brought by the parents of a then-five-year-old child blocked in 2018 from attending Kensington Primary School, a public school, until her dreadlocks were cut. Although the child’s parents did not identify as Rastafarian, nor did they claim they were raising the child as Rastafarian, the case continued to garner attention from advocacy and religious groups who noted the case’s symbolic representation and potential impact on cultural identity and religious expression. This case was reportedly the first to be heard before the Supreme Court that involved a minor with dreadlocks not being allowed to attend school. On September 3, the attorney general filed an affidavit in support of the public school, stating the school’s policy was “targeted at hairstyles that were found to be the source of bad hygiene and disorder in classes.” The Supreme Court was still in deliberation on the case and made no ruling by year’s end. The family involved expressed dismay at the notion that their child was “nasty,” “unsanitary,” or “dirty” due to her hairstyle. In subsequent commentary related to the case, Minister of Culture Olivia Grange stated her ministry would work with the Ministries of Education and Health and the Attorney General’s Office to ensure guidance issued on grooming and appropriate appearance did not target specific hair textures and hairstyles, race, or religion.

Rastafarians said discrimination against their children at schools occurred, mostly in rural areas. This included purported discrimination based on hairstyles and the Rastafarian community’s continued religious opposition to immunization. The government stated immunizations were part of its campaign to reduce the resurgence of many communicable diseases in the country. Although the law allowed immunization exceptions for only medical reasons, Rastafarian students continued to be able to obtain a doctor’s note excusing them from the requirement.

The Jamaican Defense Force (JDF) generally did not accept Rastafarians into its ranks. The JDF noted it did not discriminate based on religion or denomination, but, according to JDF officials, the force’s very strict codes of conduct regarding hair length and the prohibition of marijuana among its members were the “real obstacles” to Rastafarian participation in the force. Reportedly there was no person self-identified as Rastafarian in the JDF.

In June Minister of Justice Chuck responded to significant media and social media pressure when editorials in the nation’s leading newspapers and the public condemned his suggestion in parliament to repeal the 1898 Obeah Act. According to media reports, the minister later stated that his remarks had been “misinterpreted” and that the government considered repealing the Obeah Act only to replace it with a broader law that banned Obeah and addressed “fraudulent activities” related to people’s belief systems. The minister said the Obeah law would remain on the books while the government worked on other legislation to address “fraudulent activities” associated with Obeah and to protect vulnerable persons from exploitation. While no one from the Obeah community publicly commented on the law, observers stated they believed their reluctance to speak out was due to the potential for punishment. According to press, no one had been convicted of an Obeah-related offense in more than two decades, and the religion maintained only a shadow of its former popularity.

In connection with the observance of National Heritage Week on October 13-21, Minister of Education, Youth, and Information Alando Terrelonge stated the theme “Our Heritage… A Great Legacy” summons all Jamaicans to unite “whatever their race, color, religion, or creed.”

According to media, the government took further steps to disburse funds from a trust it established in 2017 to compensate victims of the 1963 Coral Gardens incident. During the incident, for which Prime Minister Andrew Holness apologized in 2017, eight persons were killed and more than 150 were injured in clashes between security forces and a Rastafarian farming community outside Montego Bay. Jamaicans for Justice, a local NGO providing legal representation for the victims and survivors of the violence, said in 2018 that it had finally received all information necessary, including the total number of beneficiaries, to finalize compensation with the Administrator General Department. In June, however, Lewis Brown, treasurer of the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society, told media that no disbursements had occurred, and no further information from the government was forthcoming.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Rastafarians continued to report wider societal acceptance despite what they said was their continuing to be typecast as marijuana dealers, as well as certain limitations associated with their wearing dreadlocks and smoking marijuana. Following the 2019 edition of the “Rebel Salute,” a reggae-based music festival, local and international media hailed the “Rasta intelligentsia” for taking a stand against injustice, including religious discrimination, through a thorough study of history

According to media, citizens had mixed reactions to the prospect of repealing the law criminalizing Obeah, many objecting on the grounds that the religious practice was evil. According to a book by professors from the University of the West Indies (Jamaica) and the University of Edinburgh, Obeah was initially criminalized to protect slave owners against uprisings and the law symbolized the country’s hostility to its African connections. Letters published by prominent social commentators stated those choosing to practice Obeah, not the government or followers of other religions, should determine whether Obeah should remain illegal.

Seventh-day Adventists continued to report their observance of a Saturday Sabbath caused difficulties finding private sector employment, particularly by business process outsourcing (BPO) firms, which include international call centers, data entry, and insurance coding work, many of which are open 24 hours and on weekends. According to media reports, although parliament had passed a flexible work arrangement law in 2014 granting employees the right to negotiate working hours, some sectors, including BPOs and agriculture, had yet to fully implement these kinds of arrangements. Gloria Henry, president of the Business Processing Industry Association of Jamaica, said in August she was unaware of discrimination in the BPO sector but would “assist where possible.”

Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups continued to state that society was tolerant of religious diversity, pointing to their continued involvement, along with other faiths, in the Jamaica Council for Interfaith Fellowship. The interfaith council included representatives from the Rastafari Innity Council, Sanatan Dharma Mandir United Church, Unification Church, National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is, United Congregation of Israelites, Islamic Council, and Soka Gakkai International. Other organizations sometimes participated in council events. The council continued to coordinate public educational events and publicize the World Interfaith Harmony Week celebrated on February 1-7. The Islamic Council of Jamaica said large groups of secondary school students continued to regularly visit the council’s 13 mosques as part of the government’s religious education syllabus.

Local media outlets continued to provide a forum for extensive coverage and open dialogue on religious matters through radio and television shows, as well as on opinion pages and letters to the editor in newspapers, such as The Gleaner and The Jamaica Observer. Topics included the intersection of gay rights with religion, atheism, the criminalization of Obeah, and religions’ role in the government. The Gleaner also published a series of academic discussions on religion and culture, touching on topics such as the influence of African traditions in the Caribbean and the role of women as spiritual leaders.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials regularly engaged with senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, along with the JDF, to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country and the July Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington.

Embassy officials also met regularly with and encouraged dialogue among leaders of religious groups, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Rastafarians, to discuss the importance of religious tolerance and social inclusion, citizen security concerns of religious groups, and the freedom of expression and assembly in relation to religious freedom.

On July 11, the Charge d’Affaires published a press release on U.S. efforts to promote religious freedom around the globe. Other embassy representatives included similar references to the value of religious freedom and tolerance in speeches and other public engagements, press releases, and on social media.

Japan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits religious organizations from exercising any political authority or receiving privileges from the state. The country remained strict in its refugee screening process, a policy the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized. The government granted refugee status, based on the UN Convention relating to the status of refugees and its protocol, to at least two applicants who had a well-founded fear of being persecuted for religious reasons in 2018 (latest statistics available), the same published number of persons granted such status in 2017. Christian and Buddhist representatives continued to question governmental funding for aspects of the October imperial accession ceremony because the ceremony contained religious elements. The government said such funding did not violate the constitutional separation of religion and state. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) reported that in 2018 (latest statistics available) its human rights division received 164 inquiries related to potential religious freedom violations, compared with 214 in 2017, and confirmed eight cases, compared with 14 in 2017, as highly likely to be religious freedom violations.

Representatives of the Uighur community stated that Chinese embassy officials harassed and intimidated government officials, businesses, private citizens, and Uighur Muslims in an attempt to discourage public commentary on the situation in Xinjiang. Press reported both public and private institutions continued to expand access to halal food and prayer rooms for Muslims.

The U.S. embassy engaged with the government, as well as with faith-based groups, religious minority leaders, and their supporters, to promote religious freedom and acceptance of diversity.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 125.9 million (midyear 2019 estimate). A report by the Agency for Cultural Affairs (ACA) indicates that membership in religious groups totaled 181 million as of December 31, 2018. This number, substantially more than the country’s population, reflects many citizens’ affiliation with multiple religions. For example, it is common for followers of Buddhism to participate in religious ceremonies and events of other religions, such as Shinto, and vice versa. According to the ACA, the definition of follower and the method of counting followers vary with each religious organization. Religious affiliation includes 87 million Shinto followers (48.1 percent), 84 million Buddhists (46.5 percent), 1.9 million Christians (1.1 percent), and 7.8 million adherents of other religious groups (4.3 percent). The category of “other” and nonregistered religious groups includes Islam, the Baha’i Faith, Hinduism, and Judaism. The indigenous Ainu people mainly practice an animist faith and mostly reside in the northern part of Honshu, in Hokkaido, and in smaller numbers in Tokyo.

Most immigrants and foreign workers practice religions other than Buddhism or Shinto, according to an NGO in close contact with foreign workers. A scholar estimates there are 100,000 non-Japanese Muslims and 10,000 Japanese Muslims in the country. Most of the approximately 300 Rohingya Muslims live in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo, according to Rohingya representatives. The Japan Uyghur Association (JUA) said most of the approximately 3,000 Uighur Muslims in the country reside in Tokyo or its surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa. According to the Jewish Community of Japan (JCJ), 100-110 Jewish families belong to the JCJ, but the total Jewish population is unknown.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and requires the state to refrain from religious education or any other religious activity. It prohibits religious organizations from exercising any political authority or receiving privileges from the state. It states that the people shall not abuse their rights and shall be responsible to use their rights for the public welfare.

The government does not require religious groups to register or apply for certification, but certified religious groups with corporate status do not have to pay income tax on donations and religious offerings used as part of their operational and maintenance expenses. The government requires religious groups applying for corporate status to prove they have a physical space for worship and their primary purpose is disseminating religious teachings, conducting religious ceremonies, and educating and nurturing believers. An applicant must present in writing a three-year record of activities as a religious organization, a list of members and religious teachers, the rules of the organization, information on the method of making decisions on managing assets, statements of income and expenses for the past three years, and a list of assets. The law stipulates that prefectural governors have jurisdiction over groups seeking corporate status in their respective prefecture, and groups must apply for registration with prefectural governments. Exceptions are granted for groups with offices in multiple prefectures, which may register with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) minister. After the MEXT minister or a prefectural governor confirms an applicant meets the legal definition of a certified religious group with corporate status, the law requires the applicant to formulate administrative rules pertaining to its purpose, core personnel, and financial affairs. Applicants become religious corporations after the MEXT minister or governor approves their application and they register.

The law requires certified religious corporations to disclose their assets, income, and expenditures to the government. The law also authorizes the government to investigate possible violations of regulations governing for-profit activities. Authorities have the right to suspend a religious corporation’s for-profit activities for up to one year if the group violates the regulations.

The law stipulates that worship and religious rituals performed by inmates in penal institutions, alone or in a group, shall not be prohibited.

The law states that schools established by the national and local governments must refrain from religious education or other activities in support of a specific religion. Private schools are permitted to teach specific religions. The law also states that an attitude of religious tolerance and general knowledge regarding religion and its position in social life should be valued in education. Both public and private schools must develop curricula in line with MEXT standards. These standards are based on the law, which states that schools should give careful consideration when teaching religion in general to junior and high school students.

Labor law states a person may not be disqualified from union membership on the basis of religion.

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

Government Practices

According to the president of the Japanese Falun Dafa Association, Shen Yun Performing Arts (Falun Dafa’s performance company) faced obstacles to renting performance spaces. He reported discrimination from venues, attributing it to intimidation of their owners and operators by the Chinese embassy in Tokyo and stating that an increasing number of venues were reluctant to rent their spaces to Shen Yun Performing Arts. The president stated he was told the Chinese embassy contacted elected officials for the purpose of intimidation related to the Falun Dafa. The government, however, continued to grant status to Chinese nationals self-identifying as Falun Gong practitioners, allowing them to remain in the country, while also allowing overseas artists, many of whom were Falun Gong devotees, to enter the country in conjunction with performances.

According to the JUA, the government showed some willingness to protect Uighurs in the country and engaged in limited direct diplomacy with Chinese government officials on the issue.

The government funded three rituals related to the imperial succession during the year. Critics, including Christian and Buddhist representatives, voiced concern that the imperial succession rituals were related to Shinto, noting that the constitution establishes separation of religion and state and stipulates that “no religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority.” The government acknowledged that the rituals included a religious aspect but stated that the constitution allowed for the staging of imperial successions and that the use of state funds was consistent with the previous enthronement in 1990. The Tokyo High Court in February dismissed a lawsuit challenging the use of state funding, but a similar suit remained pending at year’s end.

The MOJ’s Human Rights Bureau continued to operate its hotline for human rights inquiries available in six different foreign languages – English, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Portuguese, and Vietnamese. In May the MOJ reported that in 2018 (latest statistics available) its human rights division received 164 inquiries related to potential religious freedom violations, compared with 214 in 2017. It confirmed eight cases (compared with 14 in 2017) as highly likely to be religious freedom violations, out of 20,012 suspected human rights violations. The MOJ assisted the potential victims in all eight cases by mediating between the parties, calling on human rights violators to rectify their behavior, or referring the complainants to competent authorities for legal advice. These MOJ measures, however, were not legally binding. The MOJ declined to provide further details on these cases, citing privacy concerns.

According to the ACA, central and prefectural governments had certified 180,665 groups as religious groups with corporate status as of the end of 2018. The large number reflected local units of religious groups registering separately. The government certified corporate status for religious groups when they met the requirements, according to the Japanese Association of Religious Organizations (JAORO), an interfaith NGO representing numerous religions and groups.

According to the MOJ, penal institutions gave inmates access to 9,058 collective and 6,310 individual religious ritual activities, including worship and counseling sessions by civil volunteer chaplains in 2018, the most recent year for which figures were available. An estimated 1,840 volunteer chaplains from Shinto, Buddhist, Christian, and other religious groups were available to prisoners as of January, according to the National League of Chaplains, a public interest incorporated foundation that trains chaplains.

The country remained strict in its refugee screening process, which has been criticized by UNHCR and NGOs. According to an MOJ press release, the ministry granted refugee status, based on the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol, to at least two applicants who had a well-founded fear of being persecuted for religious reasons in 2018 (latest statistics available). In one case, there were credible concerns that an armed faith-based group could persecute the victim if he or she repatriated. In the second case, the applicant had a well-founded fear of being persecuted by her government for having converted from her original religion to another while in Japan, according to the MOJ. The MOJ concluded that arrest, detention, and torture of other converts in her country; her open criticism of her original religion; and, the originating government’s belief that her conversion also led her child to abandon the religion was highly likely to result in persecution if she returned. There were also at least two individuals granted refugee status for religious reasons in 2017.

The government continued to grant special permits to stay on humanitarian grounds or temporary stay visas to most of the approximately 300 Rohingya Muslims who entered the country on the basis of ethnic and religious persecution in Burma. The majority of these individuals resided in the country for more than five years, some for more than 15 years. Of the approximately 300 Rohingya Muslims in the country, the government granted refugee status to 18 individuals, most recently in 2015, according to a Rohingya representative. The representative also said approximately 18 additional undocumented Rohingya Muslims were not associated with any formal resettlement program and were prohibited from obtaining employment. Their children born in Japan remained stateless. The remaining Rohingya Muslims in the country were legally permitted to reside in the country on humanitarian grounds, which allowed them to be employed, and required regular renewal of their status by regional immigration offices. No Rohingya Muslims from Burma were deported during the year.

The government continued to grant residential status or citizenship through naturalization to most Uighur Muslims from China, who originally came to Japan for the purpose of study in most cases, with the number totaling approximately 3,000 at year’s end. The government did not deport any Uighur Muslims, nor did it grant refugee status to any of the 10 who applied in 2017 on the basis of ethnic or religious persecution in China, according to the JUA. The government had not yet decided if it would grant refugee status to the 10 applicants at year’s end, JUA reported.

The government formulated an action plan for accommodating the religious needs of Muslim visitors to the county, releasing manuals to help the tourism industry better understand Islamic culture and customs and to share best practices and practical advice.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Representatives of the Uighur community reported that the Chinese embassy in Tokyo harassed and intimidated government officials, businesses, private citizens, and Uighur Muslims in an attempt to discourage public commentary on the situation in Xinjiang. According to the JUA, the general public demonstrated a largely sympathetic attitude toward Uighurs and others who were subjected to Chinese human rights abuses.

Press reported a continuing expansion of access to prayer rooms in public spaces and halal food throughout the country under both government and private initiatives, including at recreational facilities, airports, train stations, and at rest areas on highways. This expansion was mainly in response to the increasing numbers of inbound Muslim tourists and in preparation for anticipated Muslim visitors for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy reaffirmed the importance of continuing to promote religious freedom in meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In conversations and meetings with JAORO, as well as with leaders of religious groups and other minority organizations, including those of Rohingya and Uighur Muslims, the Jewish and Falun Gong communities, and foreign workers, embassy officials underscored the priority the United States placed on respect for religious freedom and discussed issues faced by these communities. The embassy also used its social media platforms to highlight the importance of religious freedom, including an announcement of the twenty-first anniversary of the passage of the Religious Freedom Act.

Saint Kitts and Nevis

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. In May a High Court decision ruled unconstitutional the government’s ban on the private use of marijuana, including for religious activities, which affects some practitioners of Rastafarianism. In August the government had the first reading of legislation legalizing marijuana for “medicinal and scientific, religious and recreational purposes.” The legislation remained pending at year’s end. In January the government launched the National School Chaplaincy Programme (NSCP) for both public and private schools. The NSCP is open to all religious leaders and “provides additional support for students, teachers, and parents in personal, moral, emotional, and spiritual development matters,” providing funding for spiritual leaders to attend school assemblies, conduct home visits, perform grief counseling, and provide pastoral services during school events. The Ministry of Health continued to require the immunization of children before enrolling in school, but it offered waivers for unvaccinated Rastafarian children. A Rastafarian community representative said the government maintained an open dialogue with Rastafarian community leaders to discuss improving employment opportunities for Rastafarians.

According to a Rastafarian community representative, Rastafarians continued to face some societal discrimination, particularly in seeking private-sector employment, but the representative noted an improvement in societal attitudes toward the community during the year. The representative confirmed that some businesses continued to place restrictions on dreadlocks in some instances when required by safety and hygiene regulations.

U.S. embassy officials engaged representatives of the government and civil society on religious freedom issues, including government promotion of religious diversity and tolerance, equal treatment under the law, and the required vaccination of children entering the school system.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 53,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 17 percent of the population is Anglican; 16 percent Methodist; 11 percent Pentecostal; 7 percent Church of God; 6 percent Roman Catholic; 5 percent each Baptist, Moravian, Seventh-day Adventist, and Wesleyan Holiness; 4 percent other; and 2 percent each Brethren, evangelical Christian, and Hindu. An additional 1 percent each is Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslim, and Rastafarian; less than 1 percent each is Baha’i, Presbyterian, and Salvation Army. Nine percent state no religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion. It prohibits discrimination based on religious belief.

The Ministry of Nevis Affairs, Labor, Social Security, and Ecclesiastical Affairs is responsible for registering religious groups. Religious groups are not required to register but doing so provides the government with a database of contacts through which it disseminates information on government policy for religious groups. Registration also allows religious groups to act as charities and import religious items duty-free.

The constitution allows religious groups to establish and maintain schools at the group’s own expense. Public schools offer Christian religious instruction, daily prayers, and religious assemblies; students who do not want to attend are exempt from all religious activities. Public schools require vaccinations for children to attend school.

According to a High Court ruling in May, the government’s ban on the private use of marijuana, including for religious activities, is unconstitutional and Rastafarians may smoke marijuana as part of their religious activities.

The law does not prohibit the wearing of dreadlocks; however, businesses may restrict it for safety or hygiene reasons. Occupational safety and health laws require all employees, including those with dreadlocks, to cover their hair when using dangerous equipment, handling food, or undertaking health-related activities.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

In July, following the High Court ruling in May finding two sections of the Drugs Act unconstitutional, the government introduced legislation legalizing marijuana for “medicinal and scientific, religious and recreational purposes.” The court gave the government 90 days to amend the law. According to Eddy Ventose, a judge on the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, “The constitutional issues in this case are narrow ones, and focus only on the use, possession, and cultivation of cannabis by adults for use in the Rastafari religion and also the use, possession, and cultivation of cannabis by adults in private for personal consumption.” In August the government had the first reading of legislation legalizing marijuana for “medicinal and scientific, religious and recreational purposes.” The legislation remained pending in parliament at year’s end.

In January the government launched the NSCP for both public and private schools, based on a similar Australian program launched in 2011. According to the NSCP, it “provides additional support for students, teachers, and parents in personal, moral, emotional, and spiritual development matters,” providing funding for spiritual leaders to attend school assemblies, conduct home visits, perform grief counseling, and provide pastoral services during school events.

In August several media reports noted the government undertook a review of the NSCP and reportedly was willing to continue the program. The reports stated that 50 spiritual leaders participated in the NCSP review, and that the government expected to enlist an additional 20. Senior Minister and Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs Vance Armory expressed his support for the NCSP. He said numerous educators opposed religious-themed assemblies in public and private schools but stated his support for the program, adding, “One thing that we will not discuss is the removal of the things of God and spiritual things from our schools.”

The Ministry of Health continued to require the immunization of all children before enrolling in school, but Organization for Rastafarian Unity (ORU) sources said the government allowed waivers for unvaccinated Rastafarian children attending public schools. Some children of the Rastafarian community were home schooled.

Prison officials allowed Rastafarian prisoners to keep their dreadlocks unless they posed health-related issues or were used to transport contraband. The prison did not provide different diets based on prisoners’ religious dietary restrictions. A Rastafarian community representative said talks were ongoing with the government to address the community’s dietary requirements.

A Rastafarian community representative said the government maintained an open dialogue with Rastafarian community leaders to discuss improving employment opportunities for Rastafarians.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to a Rastafarian community spokesman, Rastafarians continued to face some societal discrimination, including in the job market. He also said private- sector employment discrimination of Rastafarians continued to decline during the year. The St. Kitts and Nevis Christian Council, which includes the Anglican, Methodist, Moravian, and Roman Catholic Churches, the Salvation Army, and the Evangelical Association, including the Church of God and Pentecostal Assemblies, continued to promote joint activities, particularly encouraging tolerance in schools.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials engaged representatives of the government on religious freedom issues, including the importance of respect for religious diversity. They discussed issues involving government support for tolerance and equal treatment under the law, as well as vaccination requirements for children entering the school system.

Embassy officials met with representatives from the Christian and Rastafarian communities to discuss religious freedom issues, including the importance of freedom of religious expression, and discrimination based on religion.

Saint Lucia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and individuals’ right to change, manifest, and propagate the religion of their choosing; it grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain schools and provide religious instruction. The law requires religious groups with more than 250 members to register. According to an imam associated with the Islamic Association, the association experienced delays in registering, preventing the group from officially registering marriages, births, and other official acts. A Jewish community representative said it had requested the government to lower the community registration threshold to 200 members. According to Rastafarian representatives, because marijuana use was illegal and subject to punitive fines, Rastafarians hesitated to use it for religious purposes. In July the government established a commission to review and make recommendations on the regulatory framework for cannabis; it met for the first time in October. The Ministry of Education increased enforcement of required vaccinations for all children attending school but granted some waivers on religious grounds. National insurance plans did not cover traditional doctors used by the Rastafarian community, according to community members. Rastafarians again reported 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 a local imam with the Islamic Association, some male and female members of the Muslim community experienced verbal harassment when they wore head coverings and clothing that identified them as Muslim. The Christian Council, comprised of the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodist Churches, the Salvation Army, and the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean, continued to hold interdenominational meetings to promote respect for religious diversity and tolerance.

U.S embassy officials discussed the status of public consultations on marijuana decriminalization, the Religious Advisory Committee, and general issues related to respect for religious minorities with officials of the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government, which is responsible for issues regarding religious groups. Embassy officials also discussed on several occasions in October, November, and December issues related to religious freedom with leaders of the Rastafarian, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 166,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2010 Population and Housing Census, Roman Catholics are 61.4 percent of the population; Seventh-day Adventists, 10.4 percent; Pentecostals, 8.8 percent; evangelical Christians, 2.2 percent; Baptists, 2.1 percent; and Rastafarians, 2 percent. Other groups, together constituting less than 2 percent of the population, include Anglicans, members of the Church of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodists, Muslims, Hindus, and Baha’is. Nearly 6 percent of the population claims no religious affiliation. Unofficial estimates of the Muslim population, which is mainly Sunni, ranges from 150 to 400 individuals. According to the Jewish community, there are approximately 200 Jewish residents, most of whom are not citizens.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states “a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of” freedom of conscience, including of thought and religion, and in the manifestation and propagation of religion or belief through practice, worship, teaching, and observance. It protects individuals’ rights to change their religion and prohibits religious instruction without consent in schools, prisons, and military service. A blasphemy law is not enforced.

The Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government is responsible for religious affairs, implements the government’s policy on faith-based organizations, and meets regularly with religious groups to address their concerns. The government requires religious groups to register with the ministry if their membership exceeds 250 individuals. To register, groups must provide contact information, their establishment date and history, declaration of belief, number of members, location of meeting place, and income sources. The government “incorporates” registered groups, which are eligible to receive associated benefits, while it treats unregistered groups as for-profit organizations for taxation purposes. After the religious group registers with the ministry, it may apply for concessions, including duty-free import privileges, tax benefits, and exemption from some labor requirements. Formal government registration also allows registered religious groups to legally register marriages officiated by religious leaders.

Ministry of Education regulations require the vaccination of all schoolchildren, regardless of religious beliefs, before they enter public or private school. The public school curriculum includes religious studies; the Ministry of Education does not require students to participate in these classes. The classes familiarize students with the core beliefs of world religions rather than promoting the adoption of any particular faith. The constitution grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain schools and provide religious instruction at their own expense. The Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, and Anglican Churches each sponsor private schools, where they teach their respective religious beliefs to students. The government provides approximately 50 percent of the funding for these schools but does not cover expenses for classes on religion. All students may attend private religious schools regardless of belief or nonbelief.

The government’s registration policy defines the process of obtaining work and labor permits for missionaries. Immigration authorities grant work permits for individuals entering the country to conduct missionary work. As long as an individual is law abiding, there are no restrictions on any category of foreign missionaries.

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

Government Practices

An imam with the Islamic Association said the association continued to experience delays in obtaining government approval for its registration application. Formal government registration would extend to the association equivalent legal authorities extended to other faiths, such as the right to register marriages performed in a mosque. He said that, because the group remained unregistered, newlywed community members had to pay a lawyer to legally register marriages with the government. The imam said the Islamic Association began the registration process in 2018 but stated “bureaucratic lethargy” was the key reason registration had not yet been granted. A government official said that for most applications, the most time consuming part of the process was verifying anti-money laundering compliance through the Financial Action Task Force, a process that could take up to two years.

A representative of the Jewish community said it had requested the government lower the community registration threshold to 200 members. He said the government had previously revised the threshold downward from 500 to 250.

The Rastafarian community again stated officials from the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government engaged in constructive dialogue with their community leaders and outreach with the broader Rastafarian community. They said the primary issue discussed was encouraging the government to legalize marijuana for religious purposes. In July the government established a commission to develop recommendations regarding possible steps towards legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana. The commission’s mandate focused on the commercial benefits of cannabis production. According to a government official, the commission was required as part of the public consultations needed to amend the constitution, but the Rastafarian community said the government was using the commission to delay making a decision on decriminalization or legalization until after the next parliamentary election in 2021. Composed primarily of government officials but also including a representative from the Rastafarian community, the commission’s inaugural meeting was in October.

Rastafarian community representatives reported their reluctance to use marijuana for religious purposes because marijuana use was illegal and subject to punitive fines. Rastafarians said during the year targeted searches by police and immigration officers had shifted from towns and villages to the hills where marijuana plantations were often located.

While members of the Rastafarian community stated the Ministry of Education had increased enforcement of regulations requiring the vaccination of schoolchildren to enter school, they said the government sometimes provided waivers to Rastafarian families that cited their religious belief in not vaccinating their children. Some Rastafarians said they decided to vaccinate their children so they could attend school when a waiver was not granted; others chose to homeschool. According to Rastafarian representatives, the government granted waivers when parents clearly cited religion as the basis for the request; if this information was not provided, the government did not approve the waiver. Rastafarians stated the lack of insurance coverage for traditional doctors some Rastafarians used continued to be a problem due to high costs.

The government continued to consult with the Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies, as well as the Christian Council, comprising representatives of the Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations, on issues relevant to their communities. It also continued its informal meetings with members of the Rastafarian community on pending legislation and policies, including certification of priests to sign marriage certificates, issues surrounding required vaccinations for school attendance, and cannabis legalization.

The government also continued to consult with the Religious Advisory Committee, comprised of leaders from different religious communities, to develop regulatory and legal reforms and program recommendations for approval by the cabinet of ministers.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

An imam associated with the Islamic Association said members of society generally accepted the Muslim community. He said neighbors accepted the daily calls to prayer; however, members of the community continued to report verbal harassment in public spaces when they wore Islamic religious attire. They said harassment included insulting name-calling and inappropriate questioning by members of the public. Rastafarians also reported being “accepted by society,” but occasionally individuals voiced opposition to the Rastafarian faith.

The Christian Council and the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean continued to hold interdenominational meetings to promote respect for religious diversity and tolerance. Various religious groups said they were collaborating to further social dialogue and conduct outreach programs in the community that addressed freedom of religious expression, tolerance, and discrimination.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials discussed the status of public consultations on marijuana decrimininalization, the Religious Advisory Committee, and general issues related to respect for religious minorities with officials of the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government. Embassy officials also engaged with Rastafarian, Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic leaders on the importance of promoting freedom of religious expression and combating societal discrimination based on religion.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including the freedom of individuals to change their religion, and senior government officials publicly defended the right of religious freedom. Religious organizations may register as nonprofit religious institutions with the government or register as corporations, which requires an application to parliament. According to a government official, the Islamic Center of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which operates three mosques, was in the process of formally registering as an incorporated organization, the first Islamic organization to do so. In April the government presented the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Bill to parliament, which proposes to decriminalize possession and use of small amounts of marijuana. Senior government officials stated publicly that Rastafarians and Hindus could use cannabis for sacramental purposes. Rastafarians were among the first to receive government licenses to cultivate medical marijuana legally. The possibility of exemption from vaccinations required for school enrollment remained under discussion between Ministry of Health officials and Rastafarians with school-age children. Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs officials said it was difficult to convince Rastafarian leaders to meet with them to discuss their concerns.

Rastafarians said they still faced societal discrimination because of their religious practices but cited the legalization of medical marijuana as evidence of the continued increase in societal acceptance of and tolerance for Rastafarian culture and traditions.

U.S embassy officials continued to raise discrimination against Rastafarians because of the decision of some Rastafarians to wear their hair in 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.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 102,000 (midyear 2019 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 of East Indian origin.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution affirms the country “is founded on the belief in the supremacy of God.” The constitution provides for 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 or her religion, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private. An antiblasphemy law exists, but it is not enforced.

The constitution permits freedom of association, and there are no regulations regarding freedom to organize and worship. Religious organizations may register as nonprofit religious institutions with the Ministry of Education, National Reconciliation, Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Information and qualify for tax exemptions. Organizations may also register as corporations, which requires an application to the government and the issuance of a certificate of incorporation by parliament.

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. By law, vaccinations are required for school enrollment in all schools receiving government funding. Home schooling is permitted.

Marijuana use is permitted for medical purposes and scientific research. According to government statements, the use of marijuana is also permitted for religious sacraments, but this policy is not enshrined in law.

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

Government Practices

According to the government, the Islamic Center of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which operates three mosques, was in the process of registering as a corporation, the first Islamic organization to do so. The group filed a petition with the Commercial and Intellectual Property Office to formally incorporate; the government continued to review the request at year’s end.

In April clarifying amendments decriminalizing possession and use of small amounts of nonmedical marijuana were introduced in the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Bill, legislation that remained pending with parliament. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves stated in an address to parliament that Rastafarians and Hindus were permitted to use cannbis for sacramental purposes. In July the government awarded Rastafarian cooperatives some of the first commercial licenses to cultivate majijuana.

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, which is similar to an elongated ski cap. Rastafarians, however, continued to encounter prohibitions on dreadlocks in certain work areas and in some private schools. In March Prime Minister Gonsalves and Attorney General Jaundy Marting publicly defended Rastafarians against religious discrimination, including regarding their use of dreadlocks. According to Rastafarians, vaccinations as a requirement for school enrollment remained an area of contention between Ministry of Health officials and Rastafarians with school-age children. Some Rastafarians said they decided to vaccinate their children; others chose homeschooling.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Rastafarians said they were increasingly accepted in society, and overall the country’s citizens were becoming more tolerant of their way of life. Some pointed out the recently approved legislation decriminalizing marijuana as proof of this societal change. Rastafarians stated, however, they still faced discrimination in both private and public job markets due to their appearance.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials continued to raise Rastafarian concerns about the prohibition of dreadlocks and the vaccination issue 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. Embassy officials also discussed governmental and societal support for religious freedom, including respect for religious minorities, with members of the Christian, Muslim, and Rastafarian communities.

The embassy continued to use Facebook to promote messages about the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean.

Suriname

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion; both the constitution and the penal code prohibit discrimination based on religion. Any violation may be brought before a court of justice. Religious groups seeking financial support from the government must register with the Ministry of Home Affairs. Limited government financial support for religious groups remained available through the Ministry of Home Affairs, primarily as a stipend for clergy. The government continued to pay wages for teachers of schools managed by religious organizations; however, according to the Federation of Religious Schools in Suriname (FIBOS), other subsidies designated to FIBOS for operational expenses of these schools were either late or not paid. FIBOS reported the government was also late in its payment of subsidies to children’s and elderly homes run by religious organizations. The Department of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported interfaith week held annually in February.

The Inter-Religious Council (IRIS) – an organization encompassing two Hindu and two Muslim groups, the Jewish community, and the Catholic Church – continued to discuss interfaith activities and positions on government policies and their impact on society. IRIS collaborated with nonmember religious organizations on efforts to promote religious freedom and tolerance.

In meetings with host government representatives, U.S. embassy officials continued to highlight U.S. government policy on the importance of protecting religious freedom and tolerance. The Ambassador hosted a roundtable event in June that focused on religious tolerance. Embassy officials met with members of the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Christian communities to encourage tolerance and discuss promotion within their communities of respect for religious diversity. In an effort to better promote U.S. policy and messaging on religious freedom, the embassy distributed information on the Department of State Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom to religious organizations and government officials with responsibility for religious affairs.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 604,000 (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2012 census, the most recent available, approximately half of the population is Christian (26 percent Protestant, 22 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent other Christian). Christian groups include Moravian, Lutheran, Dutch Reformed, evangelical Protestant, Baptist, Methodist, Seventh-day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hindus are 22 percent of the population, including the Sanatan Dharm and the Arya Dewaker. Muslims, including Sunni and Ahmadi Muslims and the World Islamic Call Society, are 14 percent. The remaining 13 percent includes Baha’is, Jews, Buddhists, Brahma Kumaris, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and three Rastafarian organizations: the Aya Bingi Order, 12th Tribe, and Bobo Shanti.

Some Amerindian and Maroon populations, approximately 3 percent of the population, adhere to indigenous religions. Certain Amerindian groups, concentrated principally in the interior and to a lesser extent in coastal areas, practice shamanism through a medicine man (piaiman). Many Maroons, descendants of Africans who fled Dutch colonial plantations, worship nature. Those of Amerindian and Maroon origin who identify as Christian often combine Christian practices with indigenous religious customs. Some Creoles in urban areas, as well as some Maroons, worship their ancestors through a rite called wintie.

There is some correlation between ethnicity and religion. The Hindustani-speaking population is primarily Hindu, while some ethnic Indians, Javanese, and Creoles practice Islam. Christianity crosses all ethnic backgrounds.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that everyone has freedom of religion, and individuals may not be discriminated against on the grounds of religion. Individuals may choose to change their religion. Any violation of religious freedom may be brought before a court of justice.

The penal code provides punishment for those who instigate hate or discrimination against persons based on religion or creed in any way; however, the law has not been enforced. Those found guilty may be sentenced to a prison term of no longer than one year and a fine of up to 25,000 Surinamese dollars (SRD) ($3,300). In cases where an insult or act of hatred is instigated by more than one person, as part of an organization, or by a person who makes such statements habitually or as part of work, the punishment may include imprisonment of up to two years and fines of up to SRD 50,000 ($6,600).

Religious groups must register with the Ministry of Home Affairs only if they seek financial support, including stipends for clergy, from the government. To register, religious groups must supply contact information, a history of their group, and addresses for houses of worship. Most religious groups are officially registered.

The law does not permit religious instruction in public schools. Private schools managed by religious groups include religious instruction in the curriculum. All students attending schools run by religious groups must take part in religious instruction, regardless of their religious background. Parents are not permitted to homeschool children for religious reasons.

The government funds salaries for all teachers in primary and junior secondary schools established and managed by various religious groups and provides a stipend that partially covers maintenance costs for these institutions. Religious groups must provide the remaining funding, which includes construction costs, funding for school furniture, supplies, and additional maintenance expenses. Religious organizations manage approximately 50 percent of primary (ages 4-12) and junior secondary (ages 12-16) schools in the country. Religious organizations do not manage higher secondary schools (ages 16-19). The Catholic diocese, Moravian Church, and Hindu community manage the majority of private schools. Through the Ministries of Education and Finance, the government provides a fee per registered child and pays teacher salaries to the religious organizations managing these schools.

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

Government Practices

According to FIBOS, the government continued to pay wages for teachers of schools managed by religious organizations; however, its other subsidies for operational expenses of these schools were either late or not paid. In September the government and FIBOS reached an agreement on payment of subsidies for attending students. Parties agreed the government would pay the school fees for the 2019-2020 school year. According to FIBOS, the government was also late in its payment of subsidies to children’s and elderly homes run by religious organizations. FIBOS attributed these delays to the government’s budget shortfall.

Government officials continued to raise the importance of religious freedom, respect for religious diversity, and its commitment to protecting religious minorities at the highest levels. President Desire Delano Bouterse underscored the country’s “rich diversity” in his September 30 budget speech, as well as the importance for different groups to uphold principles of “unity, peace, and tolerance” with each other.

All schools, including public schools, continued to recognize various religious holidays that are also national holidays, including Christmas, Easter, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, and Phagwa. The government continued to prohibit prayer groups in public schools.

The armed forces continued to maintain a staff chaplaincy with Hindu, Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic clergy available to military personnel.

Vice President Ashwin Adhin attended several religious events on behalf of the government throughout the year.

Minister of Home Affairs Mike Noersalim again issued statements on behalf of the government in honor of World Prayer Day in March and throughout the year ahead of different religious holidays such as Phagwa, Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, and Christmas. The statements emphasized the importance of religious harmony for a prosperous society. In the lead-up to Phagwa, Noersalim stated, “We are blessed in Suriname with a rich religious diversity, a wealth from which we can all draw, at any time. And we must cherish this social capital and make it flourish. If we want to leave a good world for our posterity, then we will have to see the sustainability of our religious diversity as a duty.”

The Department of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Home Affairs supported Interfaith Week held annually in February.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

IRIS members met monthly to discuss interfaith activities as well as the impact of different government policies on society. IRIS also collaborated with other nonmember religious organizations on efforts to promote religious freedom and tolerance. In February several religious groups, including Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Baha’is, and Buddhists, organized an annual Interfaith Week throughout the country during which tolerance and dialogue were the main themes. According to IRIS, the activities were in support of the UN’s World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials continued to highlight U.S. government policy concerning the importance of protection of religious freedom in meetings with government officials.

In June the Ambassador hosted a religious roundtable event that focused on religious tolerance. Participants included a monsignor representing the Catholic Diocese of Parimaribo, the bishop of the Moravian Church, the head of the Lutheran Church, the chair of the Suriname Islamic Foundation, representatives from Arya Dewaker and Sanatan Dharm, a representative from the synagogue, and the deputy director for religious affairs of the Ministry of Home Affairs. In addition to religious freedom, participants also discussed the role religious organizations could play in addressing issues of national concern, including human trafficking, democracy, the 2020 parliamentary elections, and environmental issues.

In an effort to better promote U.S. policy and messaging on religious freedom, the embassy distributed information on the Department of State Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom to religious organizations and government officials with responsibility germane to religion.

Trinidad and Tobago

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious belief and practice, including worship. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. Laws prohibit actions that incite religious hatred and violence. Prime Minister Keith Rowley issued public messages for Easter, Ramadan, and Diwali that underscored religious freedom, diversity, and unity. He also met with members of the Muslim community to assure them of their right to “protection and equal place” following the attacks on mosques in New Zealand. In December a law was implemented decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana and creating a licensing authority to permit the cultivation and sale of marijuana, including for religious uses. Prior to passage, some Muslim groups called for further evaluation of the impact of the legislation, while a Rastafarian umbrella group, All Mansions of Rastafari, said they supported it. During the year the National Muslim Women’s Organization of Trinidad and Tobago expressed its support for a 2018 High Court ruling in favor of allowing a Muslim special reserve police officer to wear a hijab while on duty.

The Inter-Religious Organization (IRO), an interfaith, nonprofit coordinating committee representing approximately 25 religious groups and receiving both private and public funding, continued to advocate for the importance of religious tolerance. During its annual general meeting, the IRO called for an interfaith effort by citizens to assist Venezuelan migrants.

U.S embassy officials engaged the government, including the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC), to inquire about concerns of religious freedom and tolerance for religious diversity. The Ambassador continued outreach with imams, and embassy officers met with Orishas and attended iftars and ecumenical religious services to promote religious diversity and freedom. In November the embassy hosted a roundtable with IRO members to discuss interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance among nonmember and member representatives of the IRO. The embassy also promoted religious freedom and tolerance through social media posts.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.2 million (midyear 2019 estimate). According to the 2011 local census, 26.5 percent of the population is Protestant, 21.6 percent of the population Roman Catholic, 18.2 percent Hindu, 5 percent Muslim, and 1.5 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses. Traditional Caribbean religious groups with African roots include the Spiritual/Shouter Baptists, who represent 5.7 percent of the population, and the Orisha, who incorporate elements of West African spiritualism and Christianity, at 0.9 percent. The census also reports 2.2 percent of the population has no religious affiliation, 11.1 percent do not state a religious affiliation, and 7.5 percent list their affiliation as “other,” which includes several small Christian groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as Baha’is, Rastafarians, Buddhists, and Jews.

The religious composition of the two islands is distinct. On Trinidad, which contains 95 percent of the country’s population, those of African descent make up 32 percent of the population and are predominantly Christian. A small, primarily Sunni Muslim community is concentrated in and around Port of Spain, along the east-west corridor of northern Trinidad, and in certain areas of central and south Trinidad. Those of East Indian descent constitute 37 percent of the population, approximately half of whom are Hindu, in addition to Muslims, Presbyterians, and Catholics. The population of Tobago is 85 percent of African descent and predominantly Christian.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance, including worship. It recognizes the existence of fundamental human rights and freedoms and prohibits discrimination based on religion.

The law prohibits acts of sedition and seditious intent, which includes engendering or promoting feelings of ill will towards, hostility to, or contempt for any class of inhabitants, including based on religion.

A fine of up to 1,000 Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TTD) ($150) may be levied for expressions of hatred directed specifically against a person’s religion, including any “riotous, violent, indecent, or disorderly behavior in any place of divine worship,” or attacks, ridicule, or vilification of another person’s religion in a manner likely to provoke a breach of the peace.

The law also prescribes a fine and imprisonment for two years for “any person who is convicted of any act or an attempt to commit blasphemy, writing and publishing, or printing and publishing, any blasphemous libel…”; however, the government does not enforce the law.

Judicial review, with the power of the court to modify or enforce orders, is available to those who state they are victims of religious discrimination. Claimants may also appeal a court’s decision.

Possession and use of small amounts of marijuana is legal, but the consumption of marijuana is illegal in public spaces.

Religious groups must register with the government to receive tax-exempt donations or gifts of land, perform marriages, or receive visas for foreign missionaries. To register, groups must demonstrate they are nonprofit organizations, be in operation for at least one year, and submit a request for charitable status to the Ministry of Finance. The request must include a certificate or articles of incorporation, the constitution and bylaws of the organization, and the most recently audited financial statements. Religious groups have the same rights and obligations as most legal entities, regardless of their registration status. They may, for example, own land and hire employees, and they are liable for property taxes and government-mandated employee benefits.

Chaplains representing different faiths present in the country may visit prisons to perform religious acts and minister to prisoners.

The EOC is established by law as an independent body comprised of five commissioners appointed by the president with advice from the prime minister and leader of the opposition. The EOC is charged with eliminating discrimination through investigating and resolving complaints through conciliation, as well as developing education programs.

The government permits religious instruction in public schools, allocating time each week during which any religious group may provide an instructor at the parent’s request for an adherent in the school. Attendance at these classes is voluntary, and the religious groups represented are diverse. The law states public schools may not refuse admission to individuals based on religious beliefs, and no child is required to attend any religious observance or receive instruction in religious subjects as a condition of admission or continued attendance in a public school. Private schools, also called “assisted schools,” receive a combination of government and private funding.

The government subsidizes religiously affiliated public schools, including schools operated by Christian, Hindu, and Muslim groups. The government allots primary school funding on a per pupil basis, with the amount varying each year. For secondary schools, the government allots funding based on budget requests submitted by each school.

No child over two months of age is permitted to enter a nursery, pre-school, or primary school without first being immunized, or having started the immunization process. The law does not make an exception for religious beliefs.

Parents may enroll their children in religiously affiliated or other private schools, or in some cases homeschool them as an alternative to public education as long as a parent interested in homeschooling submits a letter of intent to the Ministry of Education, which determines if the parent is qualified.

Foreign missionaries must meet standard requirements for entry-visas and must represent a registered religious group in the country. Permits are valid for a maximum period of three years, at a cost of TTD 500 ($75) per year. Missionaries may not remain longer than three years per visit but may re-enter after a year’s absence.

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

Government Practices

In response to a November 2018 High Court ruling allowing a female Special Reserve Police officer to wear a hijab while in uniform, the National Muslim Women’s Organization of Trinidad and Tobago said it was pleased with the ruling, adding that if female officers in other countries were allowed to wear their hijab to work, Trinidad and Tobago should not be any different. The High Court reversed a ruling that barred female Muslim police officers from wearing hijabs while on duty. Justice Margaret Mohammed struck down the longstanding rule against the headwear by law enforcement officers, stating that the intention of the framers of the constitution was for an “evolving plural society” where religious symbols were permitted. Mohammed listed those religious symbols as the cross, the rosary, raksha sutra, sindoor, and hijabs, all permitted in public spaces.

In December a law was implemented decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana and creating a licensing authority to permit the cultivation and sale of marijuana, primarily for medical purposes but also for religious or scientific uses. Prior to the law’s passage, several Muslim organizations asked the government to conduct an independent analysis of the pros and cons of decriminalizing marijuana. Members of the Rastafarian community supported the law. Pro-marijuana activists criticized the legislation for not going far enough to legalize marijuana use and cultivation.

The new law removed criminal penalties for possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana. The law also provides a pathway for the expungement of prior marijuana convictions and allows individuals to cultivate plants for personal use. A companion law established a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

Members of the government and officials from both political parties continued to participate in ceremonies and holidays of various religious groups and emphasized religious tolerance and harmony in their remarks. Prime Minister Keith Rowley issued public messages for Easter, Ramadan, and Diwali that underscored religious freedom, diversity, and unity. In his Diwali message, he said, “Trinidad and Tobago is one of the most successful multi-cultural, and most significantly multi-religious societies. In comparison, we can boast of our tolerance and respect for each other’s beliefs, and ethnicity, but I believe we all need to go further, seeking a deeper understanding of those who occupy this geographical space.” On March 20, Prime Minister Rowley met with the Muslim community following the attacks on mosques in New Zealand to assure them of their “right to protection and equal place.”

The government continued to limit the number of long-term foreign missionaries to 35 per registered religious group. Missionaries in excess of the 35 individuals could remain in the country for a maximum of 30 days. IRO members continued to state the government equitably applied the law; however, some international religious groups continued to state more than 35 missionaries could remain in the country if they affiliated with more than one registered group, including nonprofit groups and charities. The IRO’s former president, a Hindu, said the law continued to constrain Hindus, who had few missionaries but wanted them to stay longer than the three-year legal limit. According to the president of the IRO, religious institutions could apply to extend the stay of their missionaries, but there was no guarantee of approval.

According to the EOC, it received nine formal complaints of discrimination based on religion during the year, compared with 11 in 2018. Cases primarily involved Muslims not being allowed to wear the hijab in the workplace or to take time off from work to attend Friday prayer.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The IRO – an interfaith coordinating committee, with both private and government funding, representing approximately 25 religious groups, including numerous denominations within Christianity, as well as Islam, Hinduism, and the Orisha and Baha’i faiths – had a founding mandate “to speak to the nation on matters of social, moral, and spiritual concern,” and continued to advocate for matters of religious and social concern. At the annual general meeting of the IRO in June, IRO President Reverend Dr. Knolly Clarke called for interfaith action of citizens to assist Venezuelan migrants and not rely on the government to provide relief.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials engaged the government, including the EOC, regarding religious freedom and tolerance for religious diversity. In November the embassy hosted a roundtable with IRO members to discuss interfaith cooperation and religious tolerance among nonmember and member representatives of the IRO.

The Ambassador and embassy staff met regularly with Muslim religious and civil society leaders, including imams, for discussions on topics including religious tolerance and countering violent extremism related to religion. During the year, embassy officers met with Orishas and attended iftars and ecumenical religious services to promote religious diversity and freedom.

The embassy shared content on its social media platforms promoting religious freedom and tolerance, as well as posts highlighting places of worship and persons practicing their faith in commemoration of International Religious Freedom Day.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future