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

There are no formal constitutional provisions for freedom of religion; however, the Government generally respects freedom of religion in practice, although there are a few restrictions.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. On two occasions, the authorities cancelled prayer meetings on political grounds and on one occasion forcibly dispersed a community prayer service. In addition school authorities refused to allow six students to attend school on the grounds that their beliefs as members of Jehovah's Witnesses would incite other students to be disrespectful; the students were later reinstated by a court order.

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 approximately 6,700 square miles and its population is approximately 1,100,000. Christianity is the dominant religion. Zionism is a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship and is the prominent religion in rural areas. A large Roman Catholic presence, including churches, schools, and other infrastructure, continues to flourish. It is estimated that the population is 40 percent Zionist, 20 percent Roman Catholic, and 10 percent Islamic, with the remaining 30 percent divided between Anglican, Methodist, Baha'i, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Jewish, and other beliefs. Followers of Islam and the Baha'i Faith generally are located in urban areas. There are few atheists in the country.

Missionaries inspired much of the country's early development and still play a role in rural development. Missionaries mostly are western Christians, including Baptists, Mormons, evangelicals, and other Christians. Baha'is are one of the most active non-Christian groups in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

There are no formal constitutional provisions for freedom of religion; however, the Government generally respects freedom of religion in practice, although authorities on occasion disrupted or cancelled prayer meetings.

New religious groups or churches are expected to register with the Government upon organizing in the country. In order to be considered organized, a religious group or church must demonstrate either possession of substantial cash reserves or financial support from outside religious groups with established ties to western or eastern religions. For indigenous religious groups or churches, authorities consider demonstration of a proper building, a pastor or religious leader, and a congregation as sufficient to grant organized status. However, there is no law describing the organizational requirements of a religious group or church. While organized churches are exempt from paying taxes, they are not considered tax-deductible charities. All religions are recognized unofficially.

Portions of the capital city are zoned specifically for church buildings of all denominations. Those religious groups that wish to construct new buildings may purchase a plot and apply for the required building permits. The Government had not restricted any religion with financial means from building a place of worship; non-Christian groups sometimes experience minor delays in obtaining permits from the Government to build residences.

While the Government primarily observes Christian holidays, the monarchy (and by extension the Government) supports many religious activities in addition to Easter and Christmas. For example, the royal family occasionally attends evangelical programs.

The Government neither restricts nor formally promotes interfaith dialog, and it does not provide formal mechanisms for religions to reconcile differences. Churches have access to the courts as private entities.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Followers of all religious faiths generally are free to worship without government interference or restriction; however, on August 26 and September 3, 2000, police cancelled two prayer meetings on the grounds that the meetings had political overtones.

During the period covered by this report, there was a dispute regarding the reinstatement of six children who are members of Jehovah's Witnesses at a primary school. An April 13, 2001, order by the High Court reinstated the six students, who were expelled for not obeying school rules and regulations because of their beliefs as Jehovah's Witnesses. The students were allowed to return to school, and parents and school authorities were addressing the issue.

Non-Christian groups sometimes experience minor delays in obtaining permits from the Government.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

On September 9, 2000, police used force to disperse a community prayer service just as an opposition leader rose to address the meeting. Police fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into the crowd; 2 individuals were wounded by rubber bullets and 60 persons were treated for minor injuries.

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

Religious diversity is respected. Five different denominations maintain adjoining properties peacefully. There was no public conflict among faiths during the period covered by this report.

The Christian churches are well organized and are divided into three groups: the Council of Churches, the League of Churches, and the Conference of Churches. Each of these bodies represents all of the Christian denominations in the country, and they primarily engage in producing common statements on political issues and sharing radio production facilities, or engage in common rural development and missionary strategies. Each organization has strong public opinions, which sometimes differ from one another; however, on several occasions, they have come together to address common issues, such as a constitutional amendment allowing for freedom of religion.

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. The Embassy maintains contact and good relations with the various religious organizations.

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