International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

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

Government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion. In the period covered by this report the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), for the first time, began to enforce tax obligations on missionaries working in the country, including demanding back taxes for years that certain missionaries had received letters of exemption. Demand for the back taxes may, in some cases, constitute an onerous burden and may result in forcing the affected missionaries to leave the country.

Despite ethnic tensions, 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 82,980 square miles, and its population is approximately 700,000. The country is very religiously and ethnically diverse. Nearly half of the population traces its ancestry to the Indian subcontinent, and more than one-third of the population is of African descent. These two major ethnicities, along with smaller groups of native South Americans and persons of European and Chinese descent, practice a wide variety of religions.

Approximately 50 percent of the population is either practicing or nominally Christian--of this group, roughly one-third is Anglican, one-quarter is Roman Catholic, and one-quarter is Pentecostal and Baptist; smaller percentages are Methodist, Presbyterian, Seventh-day Adventist, Lutheran, Mormon, and Jehovah's Witness. Practicing or nominal Hindus constitute approximately 33 percent of the population, and Muslims (both Sunni and Shi'a) constitute about 15 percent. There are also a small number of Baha'is. Although not included in official figures, substantial numbers of persons practice Rastafarianism or a traditional Caribbean religion known locally as "Obeah," either apart from or in conjunction with the practice of other faiths. Members of all ethnic groups are well represented in all religions, with two exceptions: almost all Hindus are Indo-Guyanese, while nearly all Rastafarians are Afro-Guyanese.

There are foreign missionaries from a wide variety of denominations in the country.

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.

Members of all faiths are allowed to worship freely. There is no state or otherwise dominant religion, and the Government practices no form of religious favoritism or discrimination.

In the period covered by this report, the Government began to apply a more stringent interpretation of the tax codes. As a result, missionaries who had previously received exemptions from taxation were required to pay taxes on income received from outside the country. The Government billed several Christian missionaries for back taxes for years during which they had received exemptions. The cumulative effect of these requirements constitutes an onerous financial burden, and has resulted in some missionaries being forced to leave the country. Although notification of the new procedures has been poor and implementation inconsistent, there is no indication that they are being selectively applied to any particular religious group, or for the purposes of religious discrimination.

The Government recognizes religious groups of all faiths present in the country and does not require any special licensing or registration.

The following seven religious holidays are considered as national holidays: Good Friday, Easter, Christmas (Christian); Phagwah, Diwali (Hindu); Youman Nabi, Eid-ul-Adha (Muslim). None of these holidays negatively impact any religious groups.
Both public and religiously affiliated schools exist, and parents are free to send their children to the schools of their choice without sanction or restriction. The Government makes no requirements regarding religion for any official or nonofficial purposes.

The Government has promoted cooperation among religious communities as a means of addressing long-standing racial tensions.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

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

Relations between the country's diverse religious communities are amicable. Although significant problems exist between the country's two main ethnic groups, tensions are generally racially, not religiously based. Religious leaders have worked together frequently to attempt to bridge these gaps. A published thesis, including a claim that the Hindu caste system contributes to racial discrimination, has received considerable attention, but there is no indication that the argument has been accepted by a significant number of people.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government, local groups, and other organizations in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The Ambassador and other embassy officials met on numerous occasions with the leaders of religious groups and with foreign missionaries. The Embassy pursues a policy of active engagement with the Islamic community. The Ambassador spoke before various religious groups promoting religious and racial harmony during the period covered by this report.

During the reporting period, the Embassy made inquiries with the country's financial and revenue authorities to ascertain the extent of the new tax procedures, and to help ensure non-discriminatory treatment.

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