International Religious Freedom Report
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 area of 11,720 square miles and its population is 2,143,141. Christianity, specifically Roman Catholicism, is the dominant religion. Approximately 90 percent of the population are Christian, and 70 percent of Christians are Catholic. Muslims, members of other non-Christian religions, and atheists constitute the remaining 10 percent. Christians are scattered throughout the country, while Muslims live mainly in the northeastern part of the country. Most practitioners of Islam are of Asian origin, while the majority of Christians are the indigenous Basotho.

Many devout Christians still practice their traditional cultural beliefs and rituals along with Christianity. The Catholic Church has fused some aspects of local culture into its services. For example, the singing of hymns during services has developed into a local and traditional way of singing (a repetitive call and response style) in Sesotho--the indigenous language--as well as English. In addition priests are seen dressed in local dress during services.

There are three main missionary groups, all of which are Christian, active in the country: Catholics, Protestants, and Anglicans.

Catholic predominance in the country derives from the successful establishment of Catholic schools in the last century and their influence over education policy. The Catholic Church owns about 75 percent of all primary and secondary schools in the country and was instrumental in establishing the National University.

The Catholic Church helped found the Basotholand National Party (BNP) in 1959 and sponsored it in the independence elections in 1966. Most members of the BNP are practicing Catholics. The BNP ruled the country from independence in 1966 until 1985 when it was overthrown in a military coup. The then-opposition Basotholand Congress Party (BCP) historically has been aligned with the Protestants or evangelicals specifically. They were forced into exile in 1973 after being denied their victory in the 1970 elections.

The members of the BCP, who have remained Protestant, won all 65 seats in the National Assembly when elections were held again in 1993.

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 generally protects this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

There is no state religion, and no evidence that the Government favors any particular religion. However, the majority, if not all, members of the Government are Christians.

The Government does not establish requirements for religious recognition. Generally the Government does not provide benefits to any religious groups; however, Christian groups enjoy a waiver of taxes on donations from outside the country. These donations (in the form of clothes, medicines, food, etc.) are not subjected to import taxation.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted 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 Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There generally is mutual understanding and cooperation between Christians and Muslims. There are efforts within the ecumenical community to promote tolerance and cooperation on social issues. Although there were some tensions between Christians and Muslims in previous years, there were no reports of such tensions during the period covered by this report.

There are serious theological and doctrinal differences among the Christians. The main feud is between the Catholics and the Protestants, especially evangelical, charismatic, and Mormon groups. However, there have been no specific incidents or confrontations during the period covered by this report.

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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