U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2003 - Suriname

Released by the U.S. Department of State Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on December 18, 2003, covers the period from July 1, 2002, to June 30, 2003.

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

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 63,037 square miles, and its population is approximately 450,000. More than 30 percent of the population traces its ancestry to the Indian subcontinent, another 30 percent is of African descent, 15 to 20 percent claim Indonesian ancestry, and smaller percentages of the population claim Chinese, Amerindian, Portuguese, Lebanese, and Dutch ancestry. Religious diversity in the country closely parallels the ethnic diversity of the population.

According to government statistics, 45 percent of the population is Christian (23 percent Roman Catholic, 16 percent Moravian, and 6 percent other denominations such as the Lutheran, Dutch Reformed, and Evangelical Churches), 27 percent is Hindu, 20 percent is Muslim, 6 percent follow native religions, and 2 percent claim no faith.

A large number of faiths, including U.S.-based church groups, have established missionary programs throughout the country. It is estimated that nearly 90 percent of the American missionaries are affiliated with the Baptist Church, with a small percentage of followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) also present. Several groups of Druids are present in the country. There are also international groups such as the World Islamic Call Society and the Baha'i Faith.

Many political parties have strong ethnic ties, and religious beliefs often follow ethnic lines; therefore, some political parties are predominantly made up of one faith. However, all political parties have members of different religions, and there is no requirement that political party leaders or members must follow a particular religion.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no state or otherwise dominant religion. The Constitution prohibits religious discrimination.

Members of all the various faiths in the country are allowed to worship freely. Religions are not required to register with the Government.

The military maintains a chaplaincy that performs interfaith services in Hinduism, Islam, and Catholicism. Military members also are welcome to attend other religious services.

Aside from the standard requirement for an entry visa, missionary workers face no special governmental restrictions. The Government has encouraged and, where possible, supported the various groups without showing special preference to any one group in particular.

The government education system provides limited subsidies to a number of public elementary and secondary schools established and managed by the various religious faiths. While the teachers at the schools are civil servants, and the schools are considered public schools, religious groups provide all funding with the exception of teachers' salaries and a small maintenance stipend.

There are five religious holidays considered national holidays: Holi Phagwa (Hindu), Good Friday (Christian), Easter Monday (Christian), Id ul Fitre (Muslim), and Christmas (Christian). Citizens of all faiths tend to celebrate these holidays.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

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 Attitudes

Relations among the country's various religious communities are amicable. Most citizens, especially those living in Paramaribo, celebrate the religious holidays of other groups to varying degrees.

In April 2002, the police informed Jewish community leaders that the police had received a threat to set fire to the country's main (and only active) synagogue. Synagogue leaders increased security. No suspects had been identified by the end of the period covered by this report.

There is an Inter Religious Council (IRIS) composed of representatives from various religious groups. Council members meet once a month to discuss planned ecumenical and other activities.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The U.S. Embassy maintains a dialog with leaders of the country's religious communities.


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