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Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

Both government policy and the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contribute to the free practice of religion.

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. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government 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.

Persons who wish to form a religious group must register with the Ministry of the Interior. Registration requirements are identical for all religious groups. There were no reports that any group had been refused permission to register or had been subjected to untoward delays or obstacles in the registration process. Religious groups are free from taxation. The Government accords respect to prominent religious leaders and different faiths. For example, Christian, Muslim, and traditional indigenous religious holidays are recognized officially and state-run television features coverage of the celebration of religious holidays and funerals of prominent religious leaders.

Religious Demography

Reliable statistics on religious affiliation are not available. However, according to most estimates, some 25 percent of the population are nominally Christian, and about 15 percent are nominally Muslim. At least 60 percent of the population adheres to one form or another of traditional indigenous beliefs. Many persons who nominally identify themselves as Christian or Muslim also practice traditional indigenous beliefs. Among the most commonly practiced traditional indigenous faith is the animist "vodoun" system of belief, which originated in this part of Africa. Almost all citizens appear to be believers in a supernatural order. There are practically no atheists.

There are Christians, Muslims, and adherents to traditional indigenous religions throughout the country. However, most adherents of the traditional Yoruba religion are in the south, while other traditional indigenous faiths are followed in the north. Muslims are represented most heavily in the north and in the southeast. Christians are prevalent in the south, particularly in Cotonou, the economic capital. It is not unusual for members of the same family to practice Christianity, Islam, traditional indigenous religions, or several combinations of all of these.

Over half of all Christians are Roman Catholics. Other groups include Baptists, Methodists, Assembly of God, Pentecostals, Latter-Day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, Celestial Christians, Rosicrucians, the Unification Church, Eckankar, Seventh-Day Adventists, and the Baha'i Faith. Nearly all Muslims adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam. The few Shi'a Muslims are primarily Middle Eastern expatriates.

The Reconciliation and Development Conference, held in Cotonou and sponsored by the Government in December 1999, focused on the legacy of the triangular Atlantic slave trade and sought to reconcile Africans and the African Diaspora using evangelical Protestant principles. The conference was open to persons of all faiths (or no faith) and all nationalities. Participants offered numerous religious and secular perspectives.

Missionary groups operate freely throughout the country.

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.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens 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

Due possibly to the diversity of religious affiliations within families and communities, religious tolerance is widespread at all levels of society and in all geographic regions. Relations are generally amicable between the many religious groups. Interfaith dialog occurs regularly, and citizens respect different religious traditions and practices, including syncretistic beliefs.

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. A U.S. senator, two congressmen, and embassy representatives attended the December 1999 Reconciliation and Development Conference in Cotonou (see Section I).

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