Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Report
November 17, 2010

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 reporting period.

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom.

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 1,133 square miles and a population of 189,000. There are two main islands and seven islets in the group, with the majority of the population residing on the island of Upolu, where Apia, the capital, is located. The 2006 census revealed the following distribution of major religious groups: Congregational Christian, 33.6 percent; Roman Catholic, 19.4 percent; Methodist, 14.3 percent; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 13.2 percent; Assemblies of God, 6.9 percent; and Seventh-day Adventist, 3.5 percent. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Jehovah's Witnesses, Congregational Church of Jesus, Nazarene, nondenominational Protestant, Baptist, Worship Centre, Peace Chapel, Samoa Evangelism, Elim Church, and Anglican. A comparison of the 2001 and 2006 censuses showed a slight decline in the membership of major or "mainline" denominations and an increase in participation in nontraditional and evangelical groups.

Although there is no official data, it is generally believed that there are also some practicing Hindus, Buddhists, and Jews in the country, primarily in Apia. The country has one of the world's seven Baha'i Houses of Worship; there is also a Muslim community that meets in a small mosque.

All religious groups are multiethnic; none is exclusively composed of foreign nationals or native-born (Western) Samoans. There are no sizable foreign national or immigrant groups, with the exception of U.S. nationals from American Samoa. In recent years there has been increased immigration of Chinese, Filipinos, and Fijians (mainly Indo-Fijians), often as service workers in local business or as contactors for building projects funded by foreign governments.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for 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 constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change the religion of one's choice, and the government observes and enforces these provisions. Legal protections cover discrimination or persecution by private as well as government actors.

The preamble to the constitution describes the country as "an independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions." Although Christianity is favored constitutionally and public ceremonies typically begin with a Christian prayer, there is no official state religion. In practice village chiefs often choose the religious denomination of their extended families.

The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Good Friday, Easter Monday, White Monday (Children's Day), and Christmas.

There are no requirements for the recognition of a religious group or for licenses or registration.

The constitution provides freedom from unwanted religious education in schools and gives each religious group the right to establish its own schools. Church-run pastoral schools in most villages have traditionally provided religious instruction following school hours. However, in January 2010 the government began to enforce a 2009 education policy which made Christian instruction compulsory in both public primary and secondary schools. The policy was in line with a decision by the government stating that Christian beliefs ought to be taught in schools.
Missionaries operated freely within the country.

In May 2009 the Samoa Censor Board banned the film Angels and Demons, on the grounds that the film could engender discrimination against Catholics. The board also banned the screening of The Da Vinci Code when it was due for release in 2006. According to media reports, the decision was made after church leaders, including senior leaders of the country's Catholic Church, were invited to screen the film and offer an opinion on whether it should be shown in the country. The ban included cinema screenings, any television airing, and distribution of DVDs.

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.

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

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religion freedom.

Traditionally, villages tended to have one primary Christian church. Now many larger villages have multiple churches serving different denominations that coexist peacefully. However, some newer, nontraditional groups face resistance when attempting to establish a foothold in a given village.

There remain minor tensions between Fa'a Samoa (the Samoan way) and individual religious rights.

Religious observance remains high throughout the country. There is strong societal pressure at the village and local level to participate in church services and other activities and to support church leaders and projects financially. In some denominations such financial contributions often total more than 30 percent of family income. In late 2008 the government established a taskforce to encourage religious communities to reduce societal pressure to make donations that result in financial hardship.

In March 2010 the government established a commission of inquiry to make recommendations regarding possible amendments to the constitution concerning religious freedom. Article 11 of the constitution provides robust protection for religious freedom and is nearly identical to the language in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The government formed the commission in response to concerns raised by some religious leaders that the arrival of new religious groups may be unsettling to society. Some also argued that the government's stance on religious freedom is a challenge to the authority and autonomy of indigenous village governance. At the end of the reporting period, the commission had completed its collection of public submissions, but the final report was yet to be publically released and tabled in parliament.

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 also maintains contacts with representatives of the country's various religious communities. The embassy met with a number of religious groups during the reporting period on visa issues related to their workers traveling to the mainland United States for study, mission work, or other projects.

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