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

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 an area of 63,037 square miles, and its population is approximately 460,000. An estimated 37 percent of the population traces its ancestry to the Indian subcontinent, another 31 percent is of African descent, 15 percent claim Indonesian ancestry, and smaller percentages of the population are of Chinese, Amerindian, Portuguese, Lebanese, and Dutch extraction.

According to government statistics, 40 percent of the population is Christian, including Roman Catholic 18 percent, Moravian 15 percent, and other Protestant--among them Lutheran, Dutch Reformed, Evangelical, Baptist, and Methodist--7 percent. Twenty-seven percent of the population is Hindu, 22 percent identify themselves as Muslim, 8 percent follow indigenous religions, and 3 percent claim no faith.

Several Christian denominations, including Canadian and U.S.-based church groups, have established missionary programs throughout the country. There are an estimated 18 U.S. missionaries present, and nearly 90 percent of them are affiliated with the Baptist and Wesleyan Methodist churches.

There are approximately 150 Jews, along with small numbers of Bahai's and Buddhists. There are also international groups such as the World Islamic Call Society, a nongovernmental organization that gives training and financial support to Islamic groups.

Many political parties have strong ethnic ties and tend to be dominated by one faith. Three out of the four governing coalition parties are ethnic based. The mostly Creole National Party of Suriname is dominated by the Moravian faith, the mostly ethnic Indian United Reformed Party is dominated by the Hindu faith, and the mostly ethnic Javanese Pertjaja Luhur Party is dominated by the Muslim faith. However, parties have no requirement that political party leaders or members adhere to a particular religion.

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.

The Constitution contains two provisions that protect the right to worship freely. Article 18 states, "Everyone has the right of freedom of religion and philosophy of life." The Constitution also forbids religious discrimination. Article 8, Section 2 explicitly states, "No one shall be discriminated against on the grounds of birth, sex, race, language, religious origin, education, political beliefs, economic position or any other status." Members of all faiths are allowed to worship freely.

There is no official state religion.

The Government does not restrict the formation of political parties based on a particular faith, religious beliefs, or interpretations of religious doctrine.

There are five officially recognized religious holy days that are celebrated: Holi Phagwa (Hindu), Good Friday (Christian), Easter Monday (Christian), Id ul Fitre (Muslim), and Christmas (Christian). Citizens of all faiths tend to celebrate these holidays.

The Government does not establish requirements for recognition of religious faiths, nor are religious groups required to register with the Government.

Aside from the standard requirement for an entry visa, missionaries face no special restrictions.

Government leaders attend religious services during religious holidays.

Government employees are not required to take a religious oath, and they are free to display or practice any element of their faith. For example, female civil servants are allowed to wear headscarves.

Adherence to a particular faith does not confer advantage in civil, political, economic, military, or other secular status.

The military maintains a chaplaincy that provides interfaith services for Hindu, Muslim, and Catholic members. Military personnel are welcome to attend other religious services.

The government education system provides limited subsidies to a number of public elementary and secondary schools established and managed by various religious organizations. While the teachers at the schools are civil servants and the schools are public, religious groups provide all funding with the exception of teachers' salaries and a small maintenance stipend. While religious instruction in public schools is permitted, it is not required for all students. Schools offer religious instruction in a variety of faiths.

Parents are not allowed to home school their children for religious or other reasons; however, they are allowed to enroll their children in private schools, which offer religious instruction. Students in public schools are allowed to practice all elements of their faith, including wearing headscarves, crosses, or yarmulkes.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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

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. Most citizens, especially those living in the capital of Paramaribo, celebrate to varying degrees the religious holidays of other groups.

In 2002 police informed Jewish community leaders that they had received a threat to set fire to the country's main (and only active) synagogue. Synagogue leaders increased security. No suspects had been identified by the end of the period covered by this report.

There is an Inter-Religious Council (IRIS) composed of representatives of various religious groups. Council members meet once a month to discuss planned ecumenical activities and their position on government policies.

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. The U.S. Embassy maintains a dialogue with leaders of the country's religious communities. In 2003 the Embassy sponsored a Fulbright Senior Specialist who conducted a course at Anton De Kom University, in which human rights principles, including religious freedom, were taught to students and policymakers.