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Trinidad & Tobago - Religion

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.2 million (July 2015 estimate). The islands' diversity is reflected in the different religions which also exist. Mosques, churches and Hindu temples stand peacefully side by side in Trinidad and Tobago. The largest religious groups are Christians, Hindus and Muslims. According to the 2011 census, 26.5 percent of the population is Protestant, including 12 percent Pentecostal or evangelical, 5.7 percent Anglican, 4.1 percent Seventh-day Adventist, 2.5 percent Presbyterian or Congregational, 1.2 percent Baptist, 0.7 percent Methodist, and 0.3 percent Moravian. An additional 21.6 percent is Roman Catholic, 18.2 percent Hindu, 5 percent Muslim, and 1.5 percent Jehovahs Witnesses.

Traditional Caribbean religious groups with African roots include the Spiritual Baptists (sometimes called Shouter Baptists), who represent 5.7 percent of the population, and the Orisha, who incorporate elements of West African spiritualism and Christianity, at 0.9 percent. According to the census, 2.2 percent of the population has no religious affiliation, 11.1 percent does not state a religious affiliation, and 7.5 percent lists its affiliation as other, which includes a number of small Christian groups, as well as Bahais, Rastafarians, Buddhists, and Jews.

The ethnic and religious composition of the two islands varies distinctly. On Trinidad, those of African descent make up 32 percent of the population and are predominantly Christian, with a small Muslim community concentrated in and around Port of Spain, along the east-west corridor of northern Trinidad, and in certain areas of central and south Trinidad. Those of East Indian descent comprise 37 percent of the population, roughly half of whom are Hindu, in addition to some Muslims, Presbyterians, and Catholics. The population of Tobago is 85 percent African descent and predominantly Christian.

There are no known indigenous terrorist groups operating in T&T&. However, local newspapers cite government sources reporting that T&T nationals have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Muslims make up about five percent of the population and are roughly equally split between persons of African and Indian heritage. Fighters appear to have come from both the Afro-Trini and Indo-Trini Muslim communities, and many appear to have had prior affiliations with criminal gangs. In 2015, T&T has taken steps to address foreign terrorist fighters. Organizations within the Ministry of National Security identify and closely monitor the travel and activity of persons of interest.

In addition, the previous government formed a National Counterterrorism Working group, chaired by the former T&T Chief of Defense Staff, to draft a National Counterterrorism Strategy. The draft strategy takes into account international and domestic commitments in combatting terrorism, and the specific nature of the terrorist threat to T&T, identifying the priorities, principles, and key assumptions. In November 2015, an ISIL propaganda video circulating on the Internet and social media, featured several young men claiming to be Trinidadian nationals fighting in Syria. Since 2014, sporadic videos alleged to feature Trinidadian nationals in support of ISIL have surfaced on social media; this has led the government to address the issue of terrorism and foreign fighters.

The call for self-radicalization, whether disseminated on extremist forums, or via the broader approach with social media, continue to be a global concern. It is difficult to determine what message will inspire a violent extremist.

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and of religious belief and observance, including worship. It recognizes the existence of basic fundamental human rights and freedoms without discrimination by reason of religion. The law prohibits acts of sedition and seditious intent, defined as engendering or promoting feelings of ill will towards, hostility to, or contempt for any class of inhabitants, including on the basis of religion.

The government subsidized religiously affiliated public schools, including schools operated by Christian, Hindu, and Muslim groups. The government permits religious instruction in public schools, allocating time each week during which any religious group with an adherent in the school may provide an instructor at the parents request. Attendance at these classes is voluntary, and the religious groups represented are diverse. The law states no persons shall be refused admission to any public school on account of their religious beliefs, and no child shall be required to attend any religious observance or receive instruction in religious subjects as a condition of admission or continued attendance in a public school. While parents may enroll their children in religiously affiliated private schools as an alternative to public education, the law does not permit homeschooling.

Voodoo is a general term used for the African-based religious practices followed by people in the Caribbean. In Trinidad and Tobago, this practice would be known as Orisha. While there has been an upsurge in the popularity of Orisha and other African-based religions, the more dominant religions such as the Christian-based Protestant faiths see them as devilish and demonic. This belief is known to be very eclectic for it borrows from many other religions, including Hinduism and Catholicism. There is great difficulty in trying to determine how many people follow Orisha as many practice undercover; yet roughly 8 to 10 per cent of the population practice some form of this religion. The Orisha movement has enjoyed increased legitimacy in political, public, media, and cultural circles. For example, policy discussions surrounding Orisha's standing as a religion have been examined by the government.

Becoming a member of Orisha can follow three paths: 1) family relations, whereby family members encourage siblings, parents, etc., into joining, 2) trauma or crisis, when someone is in dire need of help they will seek out membership, 3) seeking assistance to everyday problems such as employment issues, relationships, etc. An aspect of the Orisha religion that is attractive to many is that priests offer consultations in order to assist people with their problems. In a typical consultation, the priest would provide a visitor with an amulet or charm that would, for example, bring them good luck. In this sense, even politicians have been known to visit Orisha priests for a consultation.

Among Black Caribbeans, one significant country of origin difference in self-rated spirituality was that persons from Trinidad-Tobago reported lower levels of self-rated spirituality than persons from Jamaica. By way of explanation, the two countries differ in regards to predominant Christian denominations (Anglican in Jamaica and Roman Catholic in Trinidad-Tobago). The history of religious and spiritual traditions in Trinidad-Tobago is particularly complex, the result of the intermingling of African, East Indian and European influences. However, one notable feature in Trinidad-Tobago is the history of stigma and legalized discrimination against semi-Christian groups such as the Spiritual Baptists and African-based religions such as Orisha and the public perception and characterization of these traditions and practices as pagan/demonic.

A fine of up to 1,000 Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TT) ($156) may be levied for expressions of hatred directed specifically against a persons religion, including any riotous, violent, indecent, or disorderly behavior in any place of divine worship, or attacks, ridicule, or vilification of another persons religion in a manner likely to provoke a breach of the peace.

Judicial review is available to those who claim to be victims of religious discrimination. An anti-blasphemy law is not enforced.

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Page last modified: 25-05-2017 19:20:04 ZULU