The constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion or belief and the freedom, either alone or in community with others, both in public and in private, 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 law criminalizing Obeah and Myalism, religious practices with West African influences, remains in effect. In 2013, the parliament amended the law to remove flogging as a possible punishment, but left the possibility of imprisonment for up to 12 months for practicing or consulting a practitioner of Obeah or Myalism. Authorities have rarely enforced the law since the country became independent in 1962.
Registration with the government is not mandatory for religious groups, but groups that register obtain incorporated group status and gain benefits such as the ability to hold land, to enter into legal disputes as an organization, and for clergy to visit members in prison. Groups may seek incorporated status by applying to the government’s Companies Office. The Companies Office application comprises a standard form and a fee of 24,500 Jamaican dollars ($191). Nongovernmental organizations register via the same form and fee to gain incorporated status. Groups incorporated through this process must subsequently submit annual reports and financial statements to the Companies Office.
Alternatively, groups may petition the parliament to be incorporated by parliamentary act. Such groups receive similar benefits to those that incorporate through the Companies Office, but parliament does not require annual reports or regulate the organizations it incorporates.
Regardless of incorporation status, religious groups wanting to engage in tax-exempt transactions must register as charities. To be considered as charities, organizations, including religious groups, must apply to the Cooperatives and Friendly Societies Department at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries. Once registered, groups must submit their registration to the customs department or apply to the tax administration to be considered for tax-free status.
The constitution states that religious groups have the right to provide religious instruction to members of their communities. 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. Students may not opt out of religious education; however, religious devotion or practice during school hours is optional. A number of private schools are operated by churches and a number of public institutions have church affiliations. Some public schools also are run by churches, but receive funding from the government and are required to abide by the rules of the Ministry of Education. Religious schools are not subject to any special restrictions and 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; there are two schools run by the Islamic Council of Jamaica. Regulations require that children must be immunized in order to attend schools, whether run by the government or a religious organization.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Rastafarians stated that the 2015 passage and attendant enforcement of the law that legalized marijuana usage for religious purposes assuaged their concerns about the government’s longstanding ban on marijuana use. Rastafarians stated law enforcement officials adopted appropriate changes in applying and enforcing the new law, but in rare cases continued to profile, stop, and search for possession of marijuana over the decriminalized limit. Rastafarians continued to state their religious opposition to immunization, which is a requirement for children to register and attend school.