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) ($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 country’s antiblasphemy law states, “Any person who is convicted of any act or an attempt to commit blasphemy, writing and publishing, or printing and publishing, any blasphemous libel… is liable to a fine and to imprisonment for two years”; however, the law is not enforced.
Judicial review, with the power of the court to modify or enforce orders, is available to those who claim to be victims of religious discrimination. Claimants may also appeal a court’s decision.
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 they are likewise liable for property taxes and government-mandated employee benefits.
Chaplains representing the different faiths present in the country may visit prisons to perform religious acts and minister to prisoners.
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. Immunization is required of all children entering 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 a combination of government and private funding for their facilities.
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.
A 2017 law raised the legal age of marriage to 18, amending previous marriage laws governing the marriage age for different religious groups.
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 TT 500 ($74) 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.
On September 20, the High Court issued a ruling repealing the laws that had criminalized homosexual sex between consenting adults. Religious organizations had mixed reactions to the ruling, with many fearing it infringed on their religious freedom, and a smaller number supporting the move on human rights grounds. In response to the initial ruling in April, religious leaders, who stated they represented 90 percent of the country’s Christians, Hindus, and Muslims, asked the government in a news conference to uphold marriage to be defined as only occurring only between a man and a woman. Convened by Catholic Archbishop of Port-of-Spain Jason Gordon, the religious leaders called on the government to amend the country’s Marriage Act to ensure that only a biological man and a biological woman could marry. The leaders also called on the government not to amend the country’s equal opportunity act to accommodate LGBT individuals. The act prohibits specific forms of discrimination but does not include gay men and lesbians as protected classes. By year’s end, the government did not respond to their request.
Media reported in August that members of the governing political party, the People’s National Movement (PNM), performed a skit at a party event during which an actor removed a yellow sari from an actress to reveal a PNM T-shirt underneath. Hindus stated that the skit insulted their religion. Party officials initially downplayed the allegations; however, Prime Minister Keith Rowley later apologized to the Hindu community after he learned of the skit’s religious significance.
The government provided budgetary support for IRO activities, an interfaith coordinating committee representing approximately 25 religious groups, including numerous denominations within Christianity, as well as Islam, Hinduism, and the Orisha and Baha’i faiths. Leaders from five religious groups – Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Orisha, and Baha’i – continued to deliver invocations at government-sponsored events, including the opening of parliament and the annual court term. According to the new IRO president, Knolly Clarke, a senior clergyman of the Anglican Church, the government maintained its previous levels of engagement and financing of religious organizations during the year.
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 Eid al-Fitr message, he said, “Let us also adopt the sense of community and brotherhood that characterized the season of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid.” At public invocations organized or run by the government, however, Christian references to God and to Christian beliefs, without equal recognition of other religions, were common – including during President Paula Mae Weeks’ swearing-in ceremony in the summer.
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 a maximum of 30 days. IRO members continued to state that 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.