International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 224,710 square miles, and its population is approximately 1.8 million. An estimated one-half of the country's citizens identify themselves as Christians. Anglicans, Methodists, and the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa—-formerly the London Missionary Society—-claim the majority of Christians. There are also congregations of Lutherans, Roman Catholics, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptists, the Dutch Reformed Church, Mennonites, and other Christian denominations. Most other citizens adhere to traditional indigenous religions or to a mixture of religions. In recent years, the number of new religious groups, some of West African origin, has increased; these churches have begun holding services and drawing substantial crowds with a charismatic blend of Christianity and traditional indigenous religions. There is a small Muslim community; approximately 23,000, it is a little more than 1 percent of the total population, primarily of South Asian origin. There is a Hindu population of roughly the same size and ethnic composition, and a very small Baha'i community.

Religious services are well attended in both rural and urban areas.

Foreign missionary groups operate in the country, including Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Quakers, Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Mennonites, and a number of independent evangelical and charismatic Christian groups.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no state religion. The Constitution also provides for the protection of the rights and freedoms of other persons, including the right to observe and practice any religion without the unsolicited intervention of members of any other religion.

All organizations, including religious groups, must register with the Government. To register, a group submits its constitution to the Registrar of Societies within the Ministry of Labor and Home Affairs. After a generally simple but slow bureaucratic process, the organization is registered. There are no legal benefits for registered organizations, although an organization must be registered before it can conduct business, sign contracts, or open an account in the local banks. Unregistered groups potentially are liable to penalties including fines up to $100 (500 pula), up to 3 years in jail, or both. In 2003 28 new churches were registered. One church was deregistered in 2003 for failing to provide the registrar with annual returns, meeting minutes, membership lists, or audited accounts.

The Constitution provides that every religious community may establish places for religious instruction at the community's expense. The Constitution prohibits forced religious instruction, forced participation in religious ceremonies, or taking oaths that run counter to an individual's religious beliefs.

There are no laws against proselytizing.

Only Christian holy days are recognized as public holidays. These include Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, and Christmas Day. However, members of other religious groups are allowed to commemorate their religious holidays without government interference.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The Constitution provides for the suspension of religious freedom in the interests of national defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health. However, any suspension of religious freedom by the Government must be deemed "reasonably justifiable in a democratic society."

As a result of a confirmed case of polio in the Ngami District in the northern region, the Government ordered polio vaccinations targeting children under 5 years of age during the reporting period. Some members of the Apostle Church of God vowed on religious grounds not to allow health authorities to immunize their children. The Zezuru communities, originally Zimbabwean immigrants, also resisted the vaccinations. In response to this resistance, the High Court gave police the authority to "access any house, vehicle, school or property where it is suspected any children within the specified age group are hidden for purposes of evading or frustrating the National Polio Immunization Campaign." Any parent or guardian refusing to allow health personnel to immunize a child would be guilty of an offense against the Public Health Regulations, which carries the penalty of a 3-month jail sentence, or a fine of $100 (500 pula), or both. Police have arrested several parents and guardians, most around the central town of Serowe, parts of Gaborone, and Francistown in the northeast. In Serowe 11 members were arrested, fined, and sentenced to 3 months in jail for refusing to have their children vaccinated; however, the members did not serve their sentence, but were paroled. Local authorities, such as village heads and traditional chiefs, have overcome the resistance by persuading communities to become vaccinated.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. U.S. Embassy representatives maintain regular contact with leaders and members of all religious communities in the country.

During the period covered by this report, the Ambassador met with a range of religious leadership. The Embassy continued outreach to Islamic leaders to expand a dialogue on Islam between Americans and citizens of the country and continued developing relationships with influential Muslims in the community. During the period covered by this report, the Embassy expanded its interactions with faith-based organizations in the effort to stop HIV/AIDS.