2012 International Religious Freedom Report - Jamaica

Executive Summary

The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally respected religious freedom. The trend in the government’s respect for religious freedom did not change significantly during the year.

There were reports of societal discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Rastafarians alleged the overwhelmingly Christian population discriminated against them, although there were signs of increasing acceptance. Rastafarians said that elements of their religion, such as wearing dreadlocks and smoking marijuana, presented serious barriers to their ability to find employment and achieve professional status in the official economy.

The embassy discussed religious freedom with the government and with civil society.

Section I. Religious Demography

The population is approximately 2.7 million, according to the Statistical Institute’s 2011 census. An estimated 26 percent belongs to the Church of God, 12 percent is Seventh-day Adventist, 11 percent Pentecostal, 7 percent Baptist, 3 percent Anglican, 2 percent Roman Catholic, 2 percent United Church, 2 percent Methodist, 2 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1 percent Moravian, 1 percent Brethren, 2 percent does not report a religious affiliation, and 8 percent belongs to other groups. The latter includes approximately 29,000 Rastafarians, 1,500 Muslims (although Muslim groups estimate their numbers at 5,000), 1,800 Hindus, 500 Jews, and 270 Bahais. The census reports that 21 percent has no religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom.

Parliament may act to recognize a religious group; however, registration is not mandatory. Recognized groups receive tax-exempt status and other privileges, such as the right of their clergy to visit members in prison.

Religious schools are not subject to any special restrictions and do not receive special treatment from the government. Most religious schools are affiliated with either the Catholic Church or Protestant denominations; there is also at least one Jewish school and at least two schools run by the Islamic Council of Jamaica.

The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter Monday, and Christmas.

Government Practices

There were no reports of abuses of religious freedom.

A Rastafarian group, the Church of Haile Selassie I, continued to seek religious incorporation for the fifteenth year without success. Some parliamentarians maintained parliament should continue to deny incorporation because church members used marijuana, which was illegal, in religious services. The church asserted this was not the case and indicated it used legal herbs.

Rastafarians continued to allege that law enforcement officials unfairly targeted them. However, it was not clear whether the reported discrimination was based on religious belief or was due to the group’s alleged illegal use of marijuana as part of religious practice.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Rastafarians alleged that the overwhelmingly Christian population discriminated against them. With the exception of the concerns raised by Rastafarians, there were no other reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice

Local media outlets continued to provide a forum for extensive, open coverage and debate on religious matters. Muslim and Jewish groups reported society was very tolerant of religious diversity.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. embassy engaged with and encouraged dialogue among religious groups, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Rastafarians, as part of its overall efforts to promote religious freedom.