The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance, including worship. It recognizes the existence of fundamental human rights and freedoms and prohibits discrimination based on religion.
The law prohibits acts of sedition and seditious intent, which include engendering or promoting feelings of ill will towards, hostility to, or contempt for any class of inhabitants, including based on religion.
A fine of up to 1,000 Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TTD) ($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 law is rarely enforced.
The law also prescribes a fine and imprisonment of two years for “any person who is convicted of any act or an attempt to commit blasphemy, writing and publishing, or printing and publishing, any blasphemous libel,” but the government does not enforce the law.
Judicial review, with the power of the court to modify or enforce orders, is available to those who state they are victims of religious discrimination. Claimants may also appeal a court’s decision.
Possession and use of up to 30 grams of marijuana is legal, but the consumption of marijuana is illegal in public spaces. The law also provides a pathway for the expungement of prior marijuana convictions, including for those using marijuana for religious rituals, and it allows individuals to cultivate plants for personal use.
Religious groups must register with the government to receive tax-exempt donations or gifts of land, perform marriages, or receive visas for foreign missionaries. 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. 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 liable for property taxes and government-mandated employee benefits.
Chaplains representing different faiths present in the country may visit prisons to perform religious acts and minister to prisoners.
The EOC is established by law as an independent body composed of five commissioners appointed by the President with advice from the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition. The EOC is charged with eliminating discrimination through investigating and resolving complaints through conciliation as well as with developing education programs.
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. Private schools, also called “assisted schools,” receive a combination of government and private funding.
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.
No child over two months of age is permitted to enter a nursery, preschool, or primary school without first being immunized or having started the immunization process. The law does not make an exception for religious beliefs.
Parents may enroll their children in religiously affiliated or other private schools, or in some cases, homeschool them as an alternative to public education as long as a parent interested in homeschooling submits a letter of intent to the Ministry of Education, which determines if the parent is qualified.
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 TTD 500 ($75) per year. Missionaries may not remain longer than three years per visit but may reenter after a year’s absence.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
According to the IRO public relations officer, the National Council of Orisha Elders of Trinidad and Tobago continued to wait for the government to recognize the Orisha religious group. Its registration application was submitted to the government in 2018.
According to the EOC, a total of eight religious-based discrimination complaints were filed during the year, compared with nine in 2019. Most of the complaints were employment related, including in both the public and private sectors. According to the report, cases involved Christians, Hebrew Israelites, Hindus, Muslims, and Orishas.
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 allowed could remain in the country for a maximum of 30 days. IRO members said the government equitably applied the law. Some international religious groups, however, said more than 35 missionaries could remain in the country if they affiliated with more than one registered group, including nonprofit groups and charities. According to the president of the IRO, religious institutions could apply to extend the stay of their missionaries, but there was no guarantee of approval.
Members of the government and political party officials continued to participate and mark ceremonies and holidays of the various religious groups and emphasized religious tolerance and harmony in their virtual remarks. Prime Minister Rowley issued public messages for Easter and Ramadan, underscoring religious freedom, diversity, and unity. In his Ramadan message, Rowley recognized the challenges faced because of COVID-19, especially during Ramadan, including the inability to congregate because of stay-at-home measures. He also thanked Muslims for their donations to those affected by COVID-19.