U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999 - Trinidad and Tobago

Section I. Freedom of Religion

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

To receive tax-exempt donations or gifts of land, religious groups must register with the Government, which requires them to demonstrate that they are nonprofit. Religious groups have the same rights and obligations as most legal entities, whether or not they are registered. They can own land but must pay property taxes, and they can hire employees but must pay for government-mandated employee benefits.

There is no dominant faith among the multiethnic population of 1.3 million, which is 40 percent African and 40 percent East Indian; the remainder are of European, Syrian, Lebanese and Chinese descent. According to the latest official statistics (1990), about 29 percent of the population are practicing or nominally Roman Catholic, 24 percent are Hindu, 6 percent are Muslim, and 31 percent are Protestant (including 11 percent Anglican, 7 percent Pentecostal, 4 percent Seventh-Day Adventist, 3 percent Presbyterian/Congregational, and 3 percent Baptist). A small number of individuals follow Obeah and other traditional Caribbean religions with African roots; sometimes these are practiced together with other faiths.

The Government is known to monitor closely only one religiously affiliated group, a radical Muslim organization called the Jamaat al Muslimeen, some members of which attempted a coup in 1990. The Government's surveillance has focused on the group's repeated attempts to seize control of state-owned property adjoining its central mosque and on any actions intended to incite revolt.

Foreign missionaries operate relatively freely in the country. They include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Baptists, Mennonites, and Muslims. Missionaries must meet standard requirements for an entry visa, must represent a registered religious group, and cannot remain in the country for more than 3 years. The Mormons maintain the maximum total allowed (30) of foreign missionaries per religious denomination in the country, while other denominations maintain between 5 and 10 foreign missionaries.

The Government subsidizes religious and public schools. It also permits religious instruction in public schools, setting aside a time each week when any religious organization that has an adherent in the school can provide an instructor in its faith. Attendance at these classes is voluntary.

Government officials routinely speak out against religious intolerance and generally take care not to favor any one religion publicly. The Government has set aside public holidays for every religion with significant followings, including Christians, Hindus, and Muslims, as well as for the relatively small number of Baptists.

The Government does not formally sponsor programs that promote interfaith dialog, however, it supports the activities of the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO), which brings together representatives from most of the country's religions. The IRO, which was formed about 30 years ago by several religious leaders, is called upon routinely to provide the prayer leader for several official events, such as the opening of parliament and of the annual court term.

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.

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

The country's various religious groups peacefully coexist and generally respect each other's beliefs and practices. Followers of one faith often participate in public celebrations of another faith, most notably in the Hindu celebration of Divali. The IRO, which is composed of leaders from all faiths with significant followings except for the Pentecostals and Mormons (who have not expressed an interest in membership because of doctrinal differences), promotes interfaith dialog and tolerance through study groups, publications, and cultural and religious shows and exhibitions. No group is excluded from membership in the IRO.

Complaints occasionally are made about the efforts of some groups to proselytize in neighborhoods where another religion is dominant. The most frequent public complaints have been lodged by Hindu religious leaders against evangelical and Pentecostal Christians. Such clashes mirror the racial tensions that at times arise between the Afro-Trinidadian and Indo-Trinidadian communities.

In December 1998, a breakaway Seventh-Day Adventist group, called the Thusians, began distributing pamphlets that condemned Hinduism. For the next 2 months, the Thusians and the country's major conservative Hindu organization accused each other of misrepresenting the other's faith. The Hindu organization pointed out that current law, a legacy of British colonialism, protects only Christian groups from blasphemous libel. The Government has proposed legislation that would extend that protection to Non-Christians. To date, Parliament has not yet approved legislation extending blasphemous libel to non-Christian groups.

In February 1999, American evangelist Benny Hinn triggered criticism after his 2-day crusade in the country. The criticism was based in part on opposition to Hinn's efforts at conversion, although much of the negative reaction took the form of a nationalistic defense against perceived criticism of the country (Hinn said on his U.S.-produced but locally broadcast television show that he had cast out many "devils" from the country).

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 Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom describes the status of religious freedom in each foreign country, and government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. It is submitted in compliance with P.L. 105-292 (105th Congress) and is cited as the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

This 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.