The constitution protects freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and religion. It guarantees the right to change one’s religion and to manifest and propagate it. The constitution prohibits forced participation in any religious ceremony or instruction. The criminal code prohibits the publication and sale of blasphemous language; however, the government does not enforce the law. The Office of Religious Affairs functions within the Ministry of Education.
To qualify for customs and tax exemptions, a religious group must obtain recognition from the government as a nongovernmental organization (NGO). The group must also register with the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office (CAIPO) and with the Inland Revenue Office in the Ministry of Finance, and it must provide a letter of request to the ministry. The Attorney General grants final approval, and the ministry grants the applications for tax exemptions. Applications are routinely granted. Recognition as an NGO requires the group to submit details to CAIPO regarding the organization, including information about its directors, as well as a description of the group’s general activities and the location of these activities. According to the 2011 statistics, the most recent available, there are more than 18 religious groups registered in the country.
By law, the government allows religious head coverings of certain types, including the hijab and the Rastafarian head wrap, in photographs for national identity documents, provided the face is clearly visible.
The government subsidizes all denominational schools managed by a board of directors and staffed by the associated faith-based organization, including those of the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Seventh-day Adventist, and Mennonite communities. There are no non-Christian denominational schools. Students at such schools may attend religion classes and may use credits from those classes towards completion of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate. Students from religions other than the one associated with a school may also attend these schools and are not obligated to attend religion classes.
As part of the visa process, foreign missionaries must apply to the Ministry of Labor for a work permit costing 500 East Caribbean dollars ($190) along with an application fee of 100 Eastern Caribbean Dollars ($37); the permit must be renewed annually. To be approved, foreign missionaries must demonstrate prior experience, and a registered religious group must sponsor them.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The government continued to review its religious affairs program to determine appropriate resource allocation and to design an annual work program through year’s end. With the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, however, the government placed these programs on hold and redirected funding to priority areas such as health. Government officials actively consulted and collaborated with religious groups during the pandemic on emergency protocols to ensure every religious group had the opportunity to practice its beliefs and traditions. The Religious Affairs Unit stated statistical data on the number of religious groups was an area of focus that it expected to address in the coming year.
As in previous years, the government’s official declarations, speeches, and activities attended by the Governor General, Prime Minister, and other government officials often included religious references. Denominational and ecumenical Christian worship services were part of official festivities on national holidays such as Independence and Thanksgiving Day. In May, Minister for Religious Affairs Emmalin Pierre commended religious groups for “providing hope in these very difficult times,” and she encouraged them to make use of technology to reach their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On October 25, Minister for Religious Affairs Pierre and other cabinet ministers gave remarks at an ecumenical church service organized by the National Celebrations Committee in collaboration with the CCG to commemorate the country’s Thanksgiving Day, marking the 1983 U.S. military intervention. The public service featured prayers, scripture readings, and sermons from various Christian denominations.