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 ecclesiastical 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, an organization’s 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 and exemption from some labor requirements.
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 their students. The government provides approximately 50 percent of the funding for these schools. All students may attend private religious schools regardless of belief or nonbelief.
The government’s registration policy defines the process for missionary work and labor permits. 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.
The Rastafarian community 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. The primary dialogue topic was encouraging the government to legalize marijuana.
Rastafarian community representatives reported their reluctance to use marijuana for religious purposes because marijuana use was illegal and subject to punitive fines. Rastafarians said, however, the number of targeted searches by police and immigration officers decreased during the year. They also stated Ministry of Education regulations requiring the vaccination of schoolchildren to enter school continued to represent a barrier because Rastafarians do not believe in vaccinating their children. Some Rastafarians said they decided to vaccinate their children so they could attend school; others chose to homeschool. Rastafarians stated the lack of insurance coverage for traditional doctors some Rastafarians used continued to be a problem.
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 recognizing marriages and issues surrounding school attendance.