International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total land area of 42,711 square miles, and its population in 2000 was 6,396,591. Reliable statistics on religious affiliation are not available; however, according to most estimates, approximately 25 percent of the population nominally are Christian, and approximately 15 percent nominally are Muslim. At least 60 percent of the population adheres to some form of traditional indigenous religion. Many persons who nominally identify themselves as Christian or Muslim also practice traditional indigenous religions. The most commonly practiced traditional indigenous religion is the animist "vodoun" system of belief, which originated in this area of Africa. Almost all citizens appear to be believers of a supernatural order. There almost are no atheists.

More than half of all Christians are Roman Catholics. Other groups include Baptists, Methodists, Assembly of God, Pentecostals, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, Celestial Christians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Rosicrucians, the Unification Church, Eckankar, and the Baha'i Faith. Nearly all Muslims adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam. The few Shi'a Muslims primarily are Middle Eastern expatriates.

There are Christians, Muslims, and adherents of traditional indigenous religions throughout the country. However, most adherents of the traditional Yoruba religion are in the south, while other traditional indigenous faiths are followed in the north. Muslims are represented most heavily in the north and in the southeast. Christians are prevalent in the south, particularly in Cotonou, the economic capital. It is not unusual for members of the same family to practice Christianity, Islam, traditional indigenous religions, or several combinations of all of these. No data was available on active participation in formal religious services or rituals.

Foreign missionary groups known to be operating in the country include the Watchtower Society, Adventist Frontier Missions, Society in Mission (SIM), and the Evangelical Baptist Mission.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no state religion.

On May 31, 2002, the Constitutional Court ruled that persons whose constitutionally-protected human rights have been violated by "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" may claim compensatory damages. At the end of the period covered by this report, several cases involving religious freedom were pending before the court, including a case in which a group of traditional religious adherents were alleged to have prevented Christians from traveling through their village to attend church services.

Persons who wish to form a religious group must register with the Ministry of the Interior. Registration requirements are identical for all religious groups, and there were no reports that any group had been refused permission to register or had been subjected to unusual delays or obstacles in the registration process. Religious groups are free from taxation. The Government accords respect to prominent religious leaders and different faiths.

Missionary groups operate freely throughout the country.

In accordance with Article 2 of the Constitution, which provides for a secular state, public schools are not authorized to provide religious instruction.

Three Muslim, six Christian, and one traditional indigenous religious holidays are observed officially: Ramadan, Tabaski, Maouloud, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Whit Monday, Assumption Day, All Saints Day, Christmas, and traditional Religions Day (January 10).

State-run television features coverage of the celebration of religious holidays and special events in the lives of prominent religious leaders, including ordination anniversaries and funerals.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

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 Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Due possibly to the diversity of religious affiliations within families and communities, religious tolerance is widespread at all levels of society and in all geographic regions.

Interfaith dialog occurs regularly, and citizens respect different religious traditions and practices, including syncretistic beliefs.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

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