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.
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.