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NEW YORK NEW YORK – Religious freedom

Tony Best

NEW YORK NEW YORK – Religious freedom

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IN HIS LETTER to the Corinthians about 2000 years ago, St Paul reminded believers that if Christ wasn’t risen “then our preaching is in vain and so is your faith”.
More than 200 000 people in Barbados, 12 million in the rest of the Caribbean and hundreds of millions of Christians in the United States and Canada who insist St Paul was right  are turning to their cathedrals, churches and other places of worship, to recall Jesus’ suffering on the cross. They will do that in liturgy, music, sermons, prayers and chants, all of which pay homage to the events of Good Friday, the tomb on Saturday and the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
In Barbados and its neighbours, the retelling of the story about the passion and the crucifixion of Christ is at the centre of Holy Week. That’s because most people in the region are Christians and they practise their faith without governmental interference.
In country after country, the story is the same: freedom of worship is a reality, according to the United States State Department’s global report on religious freedom. 
In statements repeated with clarity some key points were made. At the top of the list was that the constitution of each island-nation or coastal state “provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion”. 
And that was true in Barbados, where 95 per cent of the people described themselves a decade ago as Christians, at least 70 000 of them Anglicans.
Of the non-Christians, 4 000 were Muslims.
With religious instruction a feature of the curriculum labelled “values education”, the emphasis in Barbados was on Christianity and, like other Caribbean states, Barbados didn’t have any religious prisoners. The religious atmosphere was generally one of tolerance when it came to respecting different faiths. 
Then, there is Haiti with its 9.9 million people, almost 60 per cent being Roman Catholic; Jamaica’s 2.7 million, 25 per cent belonging to the Church of God, 11 per cent to the Seventh-Day Adventist, ten per cent Pentecostals and Anglicans 4 per cent; and St Lucia with 160 000 people, 67 per cent Roman Catholic.
In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, a country of 1.3 million people, almost 30 per cent Muslim and Hindu; a quarter Roman Catholic and 24 per cent Protestant. 
As for Guyana, 57 per cent of its 800 000 was listed as Christian; 28 per cent Hindu and seven per cent Muslim, among other religious affiliations.
Here are some of the things we learn from Washington’s assessments.
Haiti, is a country where voodoo, a form of religion, is widely practised. Indeed, recent estimates indicate that at least half of the population, some said 90 per cent, practised it.  But Roman Catholics,  Episcopalians, Mormons, Methodists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and Scientologists are all there.
Although Roman Catholicism is no longer recognized as the official religion in Haiti, a standing which dates back to an 1860 concordat with the Vatican, the Catholic Church retains a traditional primacy among religious groups, most of which were represented on the Provisional Electoral Council.
Like its neighbours, Jamaica observes Good Friday, Easter Monday and Christmas as religious and national holidays. One in every five Jamaicans didn’t claim any religious affiliation. Church schools were part of the education infrastructure and they ranged from Catholic and Protestant to Jewish, and they all operated without any restrictions. However, Rastafarians routinely complained that the overwhelmingly Christian population discriminated against them.
Similar complaints were voiced in The Bahamas and Barbados.
Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean’s most ethnically diverse Caribbean country – Blacks, East Indians, Europeans, Chinese, Lebanese and Syrians – is also rich in religious affiliation – Hindus, Catholics, Protestants, Spiritual Baptists, Rastafarians, Buddhists, Jews, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostals and Presbyterians. 
A distinctive feature is the role of ethnicity and religion in politics.“Ethnic and religious divisions are reflected in political life,” was the way Washington put it. 
However, people practice their religious beliefs without any governmental restrictions and churches and temples have the same rights and obligations as most legal entities, including paying property taxes.
Guyana is another ethnically diverse Caribbean country and most of its religious groups draw their membership from a cross section of ethnic groups, but with two exceptions. Hindus are East Indians and Rastafarians are Black.The diversity is seen in the country’s Christian, Hindu and Islamic religious and national holidays and there isn’t a dominant religion in Guyana.
But the same can’t be said for The Bahamas, where Christianity trumps all others and political and public discourse is heavily influenced by Christian themes. The Bahamas is probably the only Caribbean country to outlaw obeah and anyone found guilty of practising it or attempting to use it to intimidate, steal or for health reasons can be sent to prison for three months, Washington reported.
People’s ability to practise their religious belief without governmental and society roadblocks is a bedrock of the region democracy and must remain that way.