Last Updated: Wednesday, 01 October 2014, 14:56 GMT

July-December, 2010 International Religious Freedom Report - Bahamas

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 13 September 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, July-December, 2010 International Religious Freedom Report - Bahamas, 13 September 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e734cb64b.html [accessed 1 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
September 13, 2011

[Covers six-month period from 1 July 2010 to 31 December 2010 (USDOS is shifting to a calendar year reporting period)]

The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally enforced these protections.

The government generally respected religious freedom in law and in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period.

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 13,939 square miles and a population of 354,000, including undocumented residents. The country is ethnically diverse and includes a Haitian minority of legal and undocumented immigrants estimated at 30,000 to 60,000 persons and a European minority of comparable size.

More than 90 percent of the population professes a religion, and anecdotal evidence suggests most attend services regularly. The country's religious profile reflects its diversity. Protestant Christian denominations including Baptists (35 percent), Anglicans (15 percent), Pentecostals (8 percent), Church of God (5 percent), Seventh-day Adventists (5 percent), and Methodists (4 percent) are in the majority; there are also significant Roman Catholic (14 percent) and Greek Orthodox populations.

Smaller Jewish, Bahai, Jehovah's Witnesses, Rastafarian, and Muslim communities also are active. A small number of Bahamians and Haitians, particularly those living in the Family Islands, practice Obeah, a version of voodoo. Some members of the small resident Guyanese and Indian populations practice Hinduism and other South Asian religions. Although many unaffiliated Protestant congregations are almost exclusively black, most mainstream churches are integrated racially.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

Please refer to Appendix C in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for the status of the government's acceptance of international legal standards http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/appendices/index.htm.

The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom and, in practice, the government generally enforced these protections.

The constitution specifically forbids infringement of a person's freedom to choose and change his or her religion and provides for the right to practice the religion of one's choice. The law provides effective remedies to enforce these rights.

Christianity is the dominant religion. Political and public discourse often referred to the country's strong Christian heritage and Christian themes in general, and the constitution requires the government to respect Christian values. The government met regularly with religious leaders, both publicly and privately, to discuss societal, political, and economic issues.

Churches and other religious congregations do not face any special registration requirements, although they must incorporate legally to purchase land. There are no legal provisions to encourage or discourage the formation of religious communities, which are required to pay the same tariffs and stamp taxes as for-profit companies if they legally incorporate.

Religion is recognized as an academic subject at government schools and is included in mandatory standardized achievement and certificate tests. The country's Christian heritage has a strong influence on religion classes in government-supported schools, which focus on the study of Christian philosophy, Biblical texts, and, to a lesser extent, comparative and non-Christian religions presented in a Christian context. The constitution allows students, or their guardians in the case of minors, to decline to participate in religious education and observance in schools; this right, although rarely exercised, was respected in practice.

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

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The government generally respected religious freedom in law and in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period.

Haitian immigrants brought with them elements of voodoo. The practice of Obeah is illegal, and those caught practicing it or attempting to intimidate, steal, inflict disease, or restore a person to health under the guise of Obeah are liable to three months of imprisonment.

Rastafarians reported prison officials often required Rastafarian detainees to have their dreadlocks cut. The government responded that standard procedure upon admission to prison was for a medical officer to inspect and cut the inmate's hair for hygienic reasons.

Rastafarians alleged police profiling and discrimination in public schools, such as denial of admission or prohibitions against wearing certain religious clothing. Although the Bahamas Education Act states the government shall provide no assistance to public or private schools unless "there shall be no bar with respect to religion, color or race in the admission of pupils," in practice Rastafarian parents continued to report systemic discrimination at both public and private schools accepting government funding.

There were no reports of abuses, including religious prisoners or detainees, in the country.

Section III. Status of Societal Actions Affecting Enjoyment of Religious Freedom

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

Several interdenominational organizations and ecumenical movements freely and energetically expressed their opinions on societal, political, and economic issues. Christian pastors exerted significant influence over politics and society.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

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