The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance, including worship. It recognizes the existence of basic 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 on the basis of religion.
A fine of up to 1,000 Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TT) ($149) 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. An anti-blasphemy law is not enforced.
Judicial review is available to those who claim to be victims of religious discrimination.
To receive tax-exempt donations or gifts of land, perform marriages, or receive visas for foreign missionaries, religious groups must register with the government. 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 and the Economy. 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 are likewise liable for property taxes and government-mandated employee benefits.
The government permits religious instruction in public schools, allocating time each week during which any religious group with an adherent in the school may provide an instructor at the parents’ request. Attendance at these classes is voluntary, and the religious groups represented are diverse. The law states no persons shall be refused admission to any public school on account of their religious beliefs, and no child shall be required to attend any religious observance or receive instruction in religious subjects as a condition of admission or continued attendance in a public school. While parents may enroll their children in religiously affiliated private schools as an alternative to public education, the law does not permit homeschooling. Private schools, also called “assisted schools,” receive some government funding for their facilities, but are also privately supported.
The government subsidizes religiously affiliated public schools, including schools operated by Christian, Hindu, and Muslim groups. Primary school funding is allotted on a per-pupil basis, with the amount varying each year. Secondary school funding is allotted to schools based on budget requests submitted by each school.
Separate legislation governs marriages for each principal religious group, with ceremonies conducted only by that faith’s religious leaders. There is a separate law for nonreligious marriage. Hindu females may marry at age 14 and males at 18; Muslim females may marry at age 12 and males at 16; and for followers of the Orisha faith, females may marry at age 16 and males at 18. Nonreligious marriage requires both males and females to be 18 years old.
Foreign missionaries must meet standard requirements for entry visas and must represent a registered religious group. Permits are valid for a maximum period of three years, at a cost of TT 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. It reserves the right to “impose lawful and reasonable restrictions” with regards to article 21 of the covenant, which provides for right of assembly.
The government financially supported activities of the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO), an interfaith coordinating committee representing the major religious groups. Leaders from five faiths (Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Orisha, and Bahai) delivered the invocations at government-sponsored events, including the opening of parliament and the annual court term. According to the IRO president, the government did not maintain its previous levels of engagement and financing of religious organizations during the year. The IRO reported it was invited to officiate at fewer national events than in previous years. The government said the reason for the decrease in support for religious groups was a decrease in grant funding in the national budget.
Members of the government often participated in ceremonies and holidays of various religious groups, regularly emphasizing religious tolerance and harmony. Elected officials from both political parties routinely spoke publicly against religious intolerance. Prime Minister Keith Rowley issued public messages for Easter, Ramadan, and Diwali, underscoring religious freedom and diversity. In his Ramadan message, he said “Islam teaches that all Muslims are brothers regardless of race, tribe, color, or economic background; so too regardless of our origins we are all citizens of this space we call Trinidad and Tobago and we must continue to do all in our power to make our country safe, secure, successful, and prosperous.”
The government continued to limit the number of long-term foreign missionaries to 35 missionaries per registered religious group. Missionaries in excess of the 35 could only stay in the country a maximum of 30 days. IRO members stated the law was applied equally, although some international religious groups or denominations reportedly maintained more than 35 missionaries in the country if they were affiliated with more than one registered group, including nonprofit groups and charities. The IRO’s chairman said the law constrained Hindus, who have few missionaries, but would like them to stay longer than the three-year limit under law. He said that other groups, such as the Mormons, consistently operated at their 35-missionary cap.