Section I. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. 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, there are no benefits from the Government to any religious groups; however, Christians 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 tax.
Christianity, specifically Roman Catholicism, is the dominant religion. Approximately 90 percent of the population are Christian, and 70 percent of the 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 are found mainly in the northeastern part of the country.
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 taken on 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 cultural costumes during services.
There are three main missionary groups, all Christian, active in the country: Catholics, Protestants, and Anglicans. They do not face any special requirements or restrictions.
Catholic predominance in Lesotho derives from the successful establishment of 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 as well as having been 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) always has been aligned to the Protestants, e.g., evangelicals. Politically persecuted and segregated through the years, the members of the BCP remained Protestant. They were forced into exile in 1973 after being denied their victory in the 1970 elections.
There is no government program aimed at promoting interfaith understanding.
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
There is generally a mutual understanding and cooperation between Christians and Muslims. There are efforts within the ecumenical community to promote tolerance and cooperation on social issues.
However, the dominance of Christians in the population at times adversely affected other religions. For example, a Catholic-based local newspaper ran an editorial campaign against Islam in mid-1998. The steady increase of Muslim schools and institutions of higher learning, which threatened Catholic dominance in the education sector, prompted this anti-Islamic feeling.
In addition, most practitioners of Islam are of Asian origin, while the majority of Christians are the indigenous Basotho. Conservative and xenophobic tendencies often surface when there is a conflict between the two groups. For example, civil unrest and riots normally target persons of Asian descent but generally not for religious motives. During the August to September 1998 civil unrest, opposing political parties, which are divided along religious lines as well, clashed, and there were accusations of involvement by religious groups in the crisis.
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 reporting period.
Catholics form the largest group in the major political party and tend to be more affluent. Their influence is strong because of their easy access to resources. On the other hand, Protestants are in the minority and generally poor despite the fact that they are the pioneers of Christianity in Lesotho.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.
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