International Religious Freedom Report 2008

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 11,720 square miles and a population of 1.9 million. Christianity is the dominant religion. The Christian Council of Lesotho, made up of representatives of all major Christian churches in the country, estimates that approximately 90 percent of the population is Christian. Roman Catholics represent 45 percent of the population, Lesotho Evangelicals 26 percent, and Anglican and other Christian groups such as the Seventh-day Adventist, American Methodist Episcopal, Dutch Reformed Church, Lesotho Methodist, and Pentecostal churches constitute an additional 19 percent. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'i, and members of traditional indigenous religions constitute the remaining 10 percent of the population.

While Christians can be found throughout the country, Muslims live primarily in Butha-Buthe district, in the north. Many Christians practice their traditional cultural beliefs and rituals in conjunction with Christianity.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The law at all levels protects this right in full against abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no evidence that the Government favors a particular religion.

The Government observes Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, and Christmas as national holidays.

The Government has no established requirements for religious group recognition. Generally, the Government does not provide benefits to religious groups. Any religious group may apply for a waiver of taxes on charitable donations from outside the country; however, in practice few, if any, waivers are given. Under the Societies Act, any group may register with the Government, regardless of the purpose of the organization. The only requirements are a constitution and a leadership committee. Unregistered groups are not eligible for any government benefits, such as duty-free import permits for donated items or tax relief on donated funds. There are no penalties for not registering, and it is common for informal church groups not to register.

The strong Catholic presence led to the establishment of Catholic schools in the nineteenth century and to the Catholic Church's influence on education policy. However, the influence of the Catholic Church has decreased in recent years, and it now operates less than 40 percent of all primary and secondary schools. The Evangelical Church, the Anglican Church, and to a lesser extent the Methodist Church also have schools. The Ministry of Education pays and certifies all teachers and requires a standard curriculum for both secular and parochial schools. Parents may choose to send their children to parochial schools; however, in practice this choice is constrained in many parts of the country by a lack of such schools. Also, tuition fees for parochial schools must be paid by parents.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report.

With the assistance of the Libyan Embassy, the Muslim community proposed to build a larger mosque, training center, and madrassah in 2003; however, the community claimed it was hindered by bureaucratic delays, which reflect the community's perception that the Government is not eager to enter into negotiations concerning a prospective site. In 2005 the Libyan Embassy (People’s Bureau) officially requested a site to be identified where an Islamic Center could be built. The Government had not taken action by the end of the reporting period.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Mutual understanding and cooperation between Christians and Muslims is the norm. There were ecumenical efforts to promote tolerance and cooperation on social matters. In addition to their traditional antipoverty initiatives, the Christian Council of Lesotho, a nongovernmental organization composed of various Christian denominations, sponsored ecumenical election monitoring groups in 2005 and 2007 to promote peaceful elections and tolerance of diverse political ideals.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Embassy and local religious leaders discussed their roles in maintaining political peace and assisting with the consolidation of democracy.

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