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Rastafarians voice concerns

Religious freedom is not being abused in Barbados, but a United States government report on the issue said there were some concerns, especially those related to the Rastafarian community.

In the International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, released this month by the US State Department, the Americans said Barbados’ Constitution and other laws and policies “protect religious freedom and, in practice, the Government respected religious freedom”.

It also noted that “the trend in the Government’s respect for religious freedom did not change significantly during the year”.

Without going into specifics, however, the report claimed “there were some reports of societal discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom”.

Additionally, it said Rastafarians here “complained of discrimination, especially in hiring and in schools” and also about the prohibition of marijuana use.

“The US embassy discussed religious freedom with the Government. Embassy officials met with leaders of various faith groups and discussed religious freedoms issues throughout the year. None raised concerns regarding religious freedom,” the report said.

“According to the 2000 census, more than 95 per cent of the population is Christian. The most recent census indicates that the two largest groups are Anglicans (28 per cent) and Pentecostals (18 per cent), followed by Seventh Day Adventists (five per cent), Methodists (five per cent), and Roman Catholics (four per cent). There are small numbers of Baptists, Moravians, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

“The number of non-Christians is small. There are 4,000 Muslims, most of whom trace their ancestry to the Indian state of Gujarat. A few immigrants from Guyana, Trinidad, South Asia, and the Middle East, as well as approximately 200 native-born persons, constitute the rest of the growing Muslim community. There are three mosques and an Islamic centre. Other religious groups include Jews, Rastafarians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Bahais,” it added.

The report noted that while there were not reports of religious freedom abuses, the local Rastafarian community had concerns.

“The government prohibits the use of marijuana, including for religious purposes… Rastafarians protested that marijuana use, prohibited by law, was integral to their religious rituals,” it stated.

“There were some reports of societal discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, and prominent societal leaders took positive steps to promote religious freedom. Rastafarians complained of discrimination, especially in hiring and in schools.

“The head of the Barbados Worker’s Union publicly referred to a local employer as an ‘Egyptian Jew’ and there was extensive local media coverage of his remarks. The union leader said no apology was required and that none would be made. This comment came after reports that local workers were being paid less than foreign workers in the employer’s jewelry store.”

The US government said its embassy officials here “engaged regularly with religious group leaders and all sectors of civil society on the topic of religious freedom”.

“This included meetings with leaders of the Anglican Diocese, the Catholic Church, and the evangelical association. Embassy officials also had ongoing contact and meetings with the leadership of the Muslim association. No leaders raised concerns regarding religious freedom issues,” the report stated. (SC)


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