Caribbean discriminates against Rastas, Muslims—US report

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In its International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, the Department of State says while there were no reports of abuses of religious freedom in Haiti, some members of the voodoo and Muslim communities “complained they did not enjoy the same legal protections as Christians,” as Trinidad’s Guardian reports.

The leader of a prominent multi-denominational group reported that half the Haitian population practises some form of voodoo and that leaders and civil society representatives have expressed concern that the passage of a constitutional amendment in May, could criminalise the practice of voodoo and lead to increased discrimination.

But the report says government officials, including the prime minister, immediately responded to these concerns and stressed that the new amendment would not limit the freedom of religious expression.

The report says that some Muslim religious leaders claimed that the Haitian government was reluctant to recognise Islam, and that Muslims married in a religious ceremony did not receive the same government recognition accorded to Christians who married in the church.

The Muslim leaders complained that religious ceremonies could obtain government recognition only through a civil court.

In Jamaica, the State Department says there were reports of societal discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, stating that  Rastafarians alleged the overwhelmingly Christian population discriminated against them, although there were signs of increasing acceptance.

“Rastafarians said that elements of their religion, such as wearing dreadlocks and smoking marijuana, presented serious barriers to their ability to find employment and achieve professional status in the official economy,” the report states.

It cites a Rastafarian group, the Church of Haile Selassie I, which it said is seeking religious incorporation “for the 15th year without success.

The report also says that Rastafarians continued to allege that law enforcement officials unfairly targeted them.

In the Bahamas, the State Department says Rastafarians alleged that prison officials were responsible for “ongoing discrimination against detainees at Fox Hill Prison.

“Specifically, they reported that prison officials cut the dreadlocks of Rastafarians held in custody for possession of small amounts of marijuana,” it says, stating that, under Bahamian law, “persons convicted for possession of as little as one marijuana cigarette face a maximum sentence of four years in prison.”

The report says that the Bahamian government defended the practice of cutting Rastafarians’ dreadlocks as “standard procedure for hygienic reasons.”

But the report says Rastafarians contended “it was in fact based on discrimination rather than hygiene.”

The State Department says Rastafarians in St Kitts and Nevis “complained about the government’s prohibition of marijuana use, which they described as integral to their religious rituals.

“The prime minister affirmed that the government would not legalise marijuana,” the report says, adding that Rastafarians continued to complain of discrimination, especially in hiring and in schools.

Rastafarians continued to complain of the same alleged practice in Antigua and Barbuda, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, the report noted.

For the original report go to http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2013-05-28/caribbean-discriminates-against-rastas-muslims—us-report

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