Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September 2014, 16:29 GMT

2008 Report on International Religious Freedom - Samoa

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 19 September 2008
Cite as United States Department of State, 2008 Report on International Religious Freedom - Samoa, 19 September 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48d5cbcc6e.html [accessed 23 September 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.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report.

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 1,133 square miles and a population of 188,000. There are two main islands and seven islets in the group, with the majority of the population residing on the island of Upolu, where Apia, the capital, is located. The 2006 census revealed the following distribution of major religious groups: Congregational Christian, 33.6 percent; Roman Catholic, 19.4 percent; Methodist 14.3 percent; the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints (Mormons), 13.2 percent; Assemblies of God, 6.9 percent; and Seventh-day Adventist, 3.5 percent. Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Jehovah's Witnesses, Congregational Church of Jesus, Nazarene, nondenominational Protestant, Baptist, Worship Centre, Peace Chapel, Samoa Evangelism, Elim Church, and Anglican. A comparison of the 2001 and 2006 censuses shows a slight decline in the membership of most major denominations and an increase in participation in nontraditional and evangelical groups.

Although there is no official data, it is generally believed that there are also some practicing Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews in the country, primarily in the capital city. The country has one of the world's seven Baha'i Houses of Worship.

All religious groups are multiethnic; none is exclusively comprised of foreign nationals or native-born (Western) Samoans. There are no sizable foreign national or immigrant groups, with the exception of U.S. nationals from American Samoa.

Religious observance remains high throughout the country. There is strong societal pressure at the village and local level to participate in church services and other activities and to financially support church leaders and projects. In some denominations, such financial contributions often total more than 30 percent of family income.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The law at all levels protects this right in full against abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The Constitution provides for the right to choose, practice, and change the religion of one's choice, and the Government observes and enforces these provisions. Legal protections cover discrimination or persecution by private as well as government actors.

The preamble to the Constitution describes the country as "an independent State based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions." Although Christianity is favored constitutionally and public ceremonies typically begin with a Christian prayer, there is no official state religion. In practice village chiefs often choose the religious denomination of their extended families.

There are no requirements for the recognition of a religious group or for licenses or registration.

The Constitution provides freedom from unwanted religious indoctrination in schools but gives each religious group the right to establish its own schools. There are both religious and public schools; the latter do not have religious instruction as part of their curriculum. Church-run schools in most villages provide religious instruction following school hours.

Missionaries operated freely within the country.

The Government observes Good Friday, Easter Monday, White Monday, and Christmas as national holidays.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government generally respected religious freedom in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the period covered by this report.

From September to December 2007, the Government allowed a Scientology team to provide instruction on disaster awareness (a major government priority) in tents at the main government building in Apia. Although the tents carried a Scientology banner, they were reportedly not used for Scientology instruction. Hundreds of Christians protested against the Scientology presence on government property through marches and statements in the press, but these protests remained peaceful.

At the end of the reporting period, the Seventh-day Adventist family that had sought to establish a church in Safa'atoa Lefaga village were adhering to the 2007 decision of the Samoa Lands and Titles Court by carrying out only family devotional services and not weekly public gatherings. Most of their extended family opposed the establishment of a Seventh-day Adventist church in the village.

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

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

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

The Seventh-day Adventist case in Safa'atoa Lefaga is an example of the limited tension between the "Fa'a Samoa" (Samoan Way) and individual religious rights. Most religious groups, and especially Christianity, have embraced and incorporated Fa'a Samoa protocols and customs.

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. The U.S. Embassy also maintains contacts with representatives of the country's various religious communities. The Embassy met with a number of religious groups on visa issues related to their workers in the mainland United States, because several religious organizations have U.S. affiliates that sometimes need replacements from Western Samoa.

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