Section I. Freedom of Religion
The newly amended Constitution (1998) provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.
The Constitution's article on the State and religion declares that religion and the State are separate, but that the people acknowledge that worship of and reverence for God are the source of good government and leadership. This article reflects a compromise that was reached in negotiations on the new Constitution to accommodate the strong Christian religious influence prevalent in the ethnic Fijian community as well as the concerns of the largely non-Christian (Hindu and Muslim) Indo-Fijian community.
The Constitution contains a detailed article with respect to the protection of freedom of religion and belief. The article states that individuals have the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief; the right to manifest their religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching; the right not to receive religious instruction or to take part in religious ceremonies; and that persons cannot be compelled to take an oath that is contrary to their religion or belief.
The dominant religion is Methodism, followed by Roman Catholicism; however, many other Christian denominations also are represented in the country. The Methodist Church is supported by the majority of the country's chiefs and remains influential in the ethnic Fijian community, particularly in rural areas. The nonethnic Fijian community, which constitutes slightly less than half the population, consists primarily of Indo-Fijians and, in much smaller numbers, Europeans who are the descendants of colonial settlers. The European community is predominantly Christian (Methodist). The Hindu faith is predominant within the Indo-Fijian community. The Muslim (Sunni) minority makes up approximately 10 percent of the Indo-Fijian community. Both the Hindu and Muslim communities have a number of active religious and cultural organizations. There are a small number of apparently cult-like organizations.
The Government does not restrict foreign clergy and missionary activity or other typical activities of religious organizations. There are numerous Christian missionary organizations that are active nationally and regionally in social welfare, health, and education. Many major Christian denominations and notably the Methodist Church have missionaries in the country; they operate numerous religious schools, including colleges, which are not subsidized by the Government.
The Government partly sponsors an annual ecumenical prayer festival.
The role of religion continues to be a political issue. In the past, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka publicly indicated his willingness to consider making the country "a Christian state;" however, he helped to create the new Constitution's compromise language. Several predominantly ethnic Fijian political parties contesting the 1999 general elections called for a Christian state and the reintroduction of measures to mandate respect for Christian values, such as a ban on Sunday for all but essential services. (Fiji introduced such a ban following the two 1987 coups, but it was lifted in 1995.) Other parties, which are dominated by Indo-Fijians, do not support such moves and insist that church and state should remain separate. The president of the Methodist Church has stated that the church has no official role in politics. However, numbers of senior Methodist leaders, including a past church president, were candidates for office in the 1999 general elections. The Christian Democratic Party used the Methodist Church headquarters to hold the swearing-in ceremony for its candidates.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.
There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.
There were no reports of the forced religious conversion 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 II. Societal Attitudes
In general there are amicable relations between the religious communities. However, the largest societal divide in the country remains ethnic, not religious, between the ethnic Fijian and Indo-Fijian communities.
A small number of incidents involving the burning and desecration of Hindu temples occurred in past years. The police made arrests in a number of cases and continued to investigate a few incidents of desecration of Hindu temples in 1997. As of June 30, 1999, the cases are still under investigation and have not been brought to trial.
The Muslim Indo-Fijian community, which is a minority within the Indo-Fijian community, at times has indicated that it is neglected and discriminated against by the predominantly Hindu Indian community.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy actively supports efforts to improve and expand governmental and societal awareness of and protection for human rights, including the right to freedom of religion. Representatives of the U.S. Embassy met with leaders of many religious communities during the period covered by this report. Embassy officers also met with nongovernmental organizations that have an interest in religious freedom. Embassy officers made consular visits to one apparently cult-like organization to ascertain the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens.
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