Belize - Religion
The U.S. government estimates the population at 350,000 (July 2015 estimate). According to the 2010 census (the most recent available), the Roman Catholic Church is the largest religious group, accounting for 40 percent of the population. Pentecostals constitute 8.5 percent, Seventh-day Adventists 5.5 percent, Anglicans 4.7 percent, Mennonites 3.8 percent, Baptists 3.6 percent, Methodists 2.9 percent, the Church of the Nazarene 2.8 percent, and Jehovah’s Witnesses 1.7 percent. Groups that together constitute 10.9 percent of the population include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Rastafarians, the Salvation Army, and Bahais. The census lists 15.6 percent of the population as not belonging to any religious group.
No religious group is a majority in any of the country’s six districts. Catholics live throughout the country. Mennonites and Pentecostals live mostly in the rural areas of the Cayo and Orange Walk districts, and members of other religious groups tend to be concentrated in Belize City.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom – either alone or in community with others – to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. It provides that no one can be compelled to take an oath contrary to one’s religion or belief. The constitution stipulates that religious groups may establish places of education and states that “no such community shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community.”
Religious groups must register with the official Companies Registry and pay a fee. The registration process is similar to that of a business, and registration permits the religious organization to operate legally in the country, be recognized by the state, negotiate, sue and be sued, own property, hire employees, and lend or borrow money. There is a onetime registration fee of 295 Belize dollars ($148) and a yearly fee of five Belize dollars ($2.50). Requirements for registration are a memorandum of association with the government which sets out its objective and mission, an article of association, and a letter from the central bank if the organization has foreign subscribers. Failure to register results in the shutdown of the facility, but no additional sanctions.
The constitution prohibits any educational institution from obligating a child to attend any religious ceremonies or observances. Students can abstain from attending school-sponsored religious observances if their parents object. While there is no specific law permitting abstention from weekly spirituality/religious classes, schools make exceptions for families who object. Most elementary schools, high schools, and some colleges are church-managed. Catholic and other Christian holidays are routinely observed. The defense force retains a Christian chaplain but does not restrict the practice of other religions. Clergy from different religious groups may apply to serve inmates at the Belize Central Prison, and this is allowed on a regular basis.
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