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. Members of the Rastafarian community have complained that law enforcement officials unfairly target them; however, it is not clear whether such complaints reflect discrimination on the basis of religious belief or are due to the group's illegal use of marijuana, which is used as part of Rastafarian religious practice.

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 area of 4,243 square miles, and its population is approximately 2,652,700.

According to official government statistics compiled during the 1991 census (the latest available figures), 21 percent of the population identify themselves as members of the Church of God, 9 percent as Seventh-Day Adventists, 9 percent as Baptist,

8 percent as Pentecostal, 6 percent as Anglican, 4 percent as Roman Catholic, 3 percent as United Church, 3 percent as Methodist, 2 percent as members of Jehovah's Witnesses,

1 percent as Moravian, 1 percent as Bretheren, 1 percent unstated, and 9 percent as "other." The category "other" includes Hindus, Jews (of whom there are approximately 300), and Rastafarians. There are an estimated 5,000 Muslims. Of those surveyed, 24 percent stated that they had no religious affiliation. The majority of those who reported no religion were children.

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. There is no state or dominant religion.

Legal recognition of a religion is facilitated by an act of Parliament, which may act freely to recognize a religious group. Recognized religious groups receive tax-exempt status and other attendant rights, such as the right of prison visits by clergy.

Rastafarianism is not a recognized religion under the law. In 1983 Rastafarians unsuccessfully lobbied for recognition by Parliament. In 1995 the Church of Haile Selassie I (a Rastafarian church) lobbied Parliament for recognition. Parliament still was considering that petition at the end of the period covered by this report. The Public Defender's office, a commission of Parliament which handles cases for individuals who have had their constitutional rights violated, has brought a case to the Constitutional Court to gain government support of Rastafarianism as a religion. The case was before the court at the end of the period covered by this report. The Public Defender's Office believes that the court's recognition that Rastafarianism fills several criteria for a religion may help the group gain recognition and various rights. Rastafarians believe that the August 2001 recommendation by a government-chartered independent commission to decriminalize the use of marijuana as a religious sacrament indicates increased tolerance for their religious practices.

There are religious schools; they are not subject to any special restrictions and do not receive any special treatment from the Government. Foreign missionaries are subject to no restrictions other than the same immigration laws that govern other foreign visitors.

Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Christmas are national holidays. These holidays do not adversely affect any religious groups.

On May 3, 2002, Governor-General Sir Howard Cooke, a lay Protestant preacher, donned a Kufi (ceremonial cap worn by Muslim men) and attended prayers at the Masjid-as-Salam Mosque, one of Kingston's three Islamic houses of worship. Sir Howard promoted interfaith understanding, stressing in his remarks to members of the Muslim community that the world's religions have more in common than that which divides them. Following press coverage of the event, a Christian pastor publicly objected to the Governor-General's statement that "all of us worship the same god."

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion; however, members of the Rastafarian community have complained that law enforcement officials unfairly target them.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

Members of the Rastafarian community have complained that law enforcement officials unfairly target them; however, it is not clear whether such complaints reflect discrimination on the basis of religious belief or are due to the group's illegal use of marijuana, which is used as part of Rastafarian religious practice. It is alleged that the police force Rastafarian detainees to cut their hair and surreptitiously give them food that they are forbidden to eat. Rastafarians have no right to prison visits by Rastafarian clergy.

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.

Improvements and Positive Developments In Respect For Religious Freedom

On August 30, 2001, the Public Defender's Office filed a lawsuit against the Government on behalf of a Rastafarian prisoner who charged that he was denied the right to worship. The prisoner claimed that he has no rights to the ministrations by clergy afforded to prisoners of other religions, and that he was denied use of the prison chapel for a Rastafarian baptism. The Church of Haile Selassie I also was named as an applicant on the grounds that its right to minister to a congregation was denied. The Commissioner of Corrections and Attorney General were named as respondents in the suit, which had not come before the Constitutional Court by the end of the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The country has a well-established tradition of religious tolerance and diversity. Relations among the various religious communities are generally amicable. However, members of the Rastafarian community reported isolated incidents of discrimination against them in schools and the workplace.

On March 23, 2002, Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the U.S.-based Nation of Islam, attended a service in the country's only Jewish synagogue, Shaare Shalom, in Kingston. It was the first time the 90-year-old house of worship had hosted a Muslim leader. He met with leaders of the local Jewish community in an attempt to repair strained relations. Farrakhan presented the synagogue president with a Koran. On May 3, 2002, synagogue leaders paid a return visit, attending prayer services with the local Nation of Islam representative at the Muhammad Mosque Jamaica in Kingston.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

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

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