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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

There are no formal constitutional provisions for freedom of religion; however, the Government respects freedom of religion in practice. Followers of all religious faiths are free to worship without government interference or restriction. The current constitutional review process is to address the issue of freedom of religion.

New religious groups or churches are expected to register with the Government upon organizing in the country. 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. With religious groups or churches that are indigenous, authorities consider a proper building, pastor or religious leader, and a congregation as sufficient to gain organized status. However, there is no law describing the organization of a religious group or church. While organized churches are exempt from paying taxes, they are not considered tax-deductible charities. All religions are unofficially recognized.

Christianity is the dominant religion, with the Anglican and Methodist Churches strongly represented. A large Roman Catholic presence, including churches, schools, and other infrastructure, still flourishes. Zionism, a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship, is the prominent religion in rural areas. Followers of Islam and the Baha'i Faith generally are located in urban areas. 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, Mormon, Jewish, and other beliefs.

Missionaries inspired much of the country's early development and still play a role in rural development. Most missionaries are from Western religions, such as Baptists, Mormons, evangelicals, and other Christian denominations. The Baha'is are the most active non-Christian missionaries. 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 often attends public evangelical programs.

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. Any religion with the financial ability can build a place of worship.

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.

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

Religious diversity is respected. At present five different denominations maintain adjoining properties without problem. However, there have been minor verbal disputes over the free use of the national radio. The Baha'is challenge some influential Christian pastors' claim to exclusive and free access to the radio based on the royal family's Christian background. Although the issue has not been resolved due to the Government's indecision, it appears unlikely to develop into a serious conflict. Occasionally, letters to the editor appear in local newspapers arguing points of contention among the Christian, Islamic, or Baha'i faiths.

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 represent the full spectrum of Christian denominations in the country and primarily concern themselves with common statements on political issues, sharing radio production facilities, or common rural development and missionary strategies. The various churches belong to these organizations for the collective benefits derived from such unity. Each organization has strong opinions, and they do not always speak with one voice. However, on several occasions, they have come together to address common issues.

Beginning in 1996, the different denominations came together in a series of meetings to discuss whether the churches should speak out publicly about the political situation in the country and about the drafting of the country's third constitution.

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

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999