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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

The Constitution provides for the right to practice all religions and faiths, provided that such practice does not disturb law and order, and the Government respects this right in practice.

For many years, Roman Catholicism was the official religion of the country. While its official status ended with the enactment of the 1987 Constitution, neither the Government nor the Holy See has renounced the 1860 Concordat, which continues to serve as the basis for relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the State and the operation of Catholic religious orders in the country. In many respects, Roman Catholicism retains its traditional primacy among the country's religions. Functions with an official or quasi-official character are held in Catholic churches and cathedrals, and certain Catholic holy days are observed officially as national holidays.

The Constitution provides that legal conditions for recognition and operation of religious groups be established. The Ministry of Religious Affairs administers the relevant laws and is responsible for registering churches, clergy, and missionaries. Recognition by the Ministry affords religious groups standing in legal disputes, protects churches' tax-exempt status, and extends civil recognition to church documents such as marriage and baptismal certificates. Registered religious groups are required to submit an annual report of their activities to the Ministry. Although many nondenominational Christian groups and voodoo practitioners have not sought official recognition, there were no reports of any instance in which this requirement has hampered the operation of a religious group. Goods brought into the country for use by churches and missionaries registered with Department of Revenue are exempted from customs duties, and registered churches are not taxed.

While precise statistics are unavailable, about 80 percent of citizens are Roman Catholic. Most of the remainder belong to a variety of Protestant denominations. The largest of these are Baptist (10 percent) and Pentecostal (4 percent). Other significant non-Catholic Christian groups include Methodists, Episcopalians, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Adventists, and Orthodox. There are also many nondenominational Christian congregations. The percentage of Protestants is generally acknowledged to be growing, but reliable statistics are unavailable. Small numbers of non-Christian groups are present, including Jews, Muslims, Rastafarians, and Baha'is. Voodoo, a traditional religion derived in part from West African beliefs, is practiced alongside Christianity by a large segment of the population. While there are associations of voodoo practitioners and priests, there is no organized hierarchy or established voodoo church.

Foreign missionaries operate freely. They enter on regular tourist visas and submit paperwork similar to that submitted by domestic religious groups in order to register with the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Many are affiliated with U.S.-based denominations or individual churches. Others are independent, nondenominational Christian groups. Missionary groups operate hospitals, orphanages, schools, and clinics throughout the country. U.S. churches often send teams to Haiti on short-term projects. Some of these projects involve humanitarian or educational work, while others are purely evangelistic in nature. While some missionaries were concerned by the slowness of the Government to issue them residence permits, there was no indication that such delay was due to deliberate harassment on the part of the authorities.

The Constitution stipulates that persons cannot be required to join an organization or receive religious instruction contrary to their convictions. This is accepted to mean, among other things, that in parochial schools run by the Catholic Church or one of the Protestant denominations, the school authorities may not permit proselytization on behalf of the church with which the school is affiliated. Parents have been quick to complain and publicize the isolated instances in which this principle has been violated. Only 15 percent of the country's schools are public. In some of these, Catholic and other clergy play a role in teaching and administration. This is regulated by local authorities on an ad hoc basis. Church-run schools and hospitals are subject to oversight by the Ministries of Education and Health, respectively.

The Government does not interfere with the operation of radio and other media affiliated with religious groups. In addition to the many radio stations operated by religious (mostly Protestant and evangelical) groups, religious programming is a staple of commercial broadcasting.

Some Protestant and Catholic clergy are active in politics. A Protestant pastor recently founded a political party, MOCHRENA (Christian Movement for a New Haiti). Several Catholic priests are among the leadership of the Fanmi Lavalas party of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who is himself a former priest.

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

Authorities arrested three evangelical pastors in August 1998, after they sought to hold a religious revival at Bois Caiman, which much of the local populace and the local authorities regarded as offensive (see Section II).

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

Religion plays a prominent role in society. Many citizens have a keen interest in religious matters, and freely express their personal religious beliefs or affiliation.

While society is generally tolerant of the variety of religious practices that flourish in the country, Christian attitudes towards voodoo vary. While many Christians accept voodoo as part of the country's cultural patrimony, others regard it as incompatible with Christianity, and this has led to isolated instances of conflict in the recent past.

In early August 1998, three evangelical pastors were arrested near Cap Haitien after they had proceeded with plans to hold a religious revival at Bois Caiman. Bois Caiman has a strong patriotic significance for Haitians, since it is the site of a legendary 1791 voodoo ceremony at which slaves swore to rise up against their masters and risk death rather than continue to live in bondage. The resulting slave rebellion was a precursor to the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). The pastors, who had been prohibited by the authorities from holding the revival on the actual anniversary of the ceremony, proceeded instead with plans to hold the event several days before the anniversary, hoping to rid the area of malevolent influences. This offended much of the local populace and local authorities, who arrested pastors Joel Jeune, Jean Berthony Paul, and Gregor Joseph on August 4. They were released on the orders of a judge on August 6.

Ecumenical organizations exist. Interfaith cooperation is perhaps most effective in FONHEP, the National Federation of Private Schools.

In what may have been a political killing, unknown assailants shot and killed Father Jean Pierre Louis, an outspoken opponent of the 1991-94 military regime, on August 3, 1998, in the Bizoton area of Port au Prince. Although robbery has not been ruled out, Father Pierre Louis's long history of social activism and speaking out on controversial issues led many persons to believe that his murder was politically motivated. As of mid-1999, the authorities had arrested three suspects, and the investigation continued.

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 consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince maintains contact with many American missionaries and is responsive to their concerns.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999