International Religious Freedom Report 2006
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected 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 religious groups 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 43,483 square miles and a population of approximately 6.8 million. According to the 2002 census, 27.1 percent of the population was Roman Catholic, 24.4 percent Muslim, 17.3 percent Vodun, 5 percent Celestial Christian, 3.2 percent Methodist, 7.5 percent other Christian, 6 percent other traditional religions, 1.9 percent other religions, and 6.5 percent claimed no religious affiliation.

Many individuals who nominally identified themselves as Christian or Muslim also practiced traditional indigenous religions. Among the most commonly practiced was the animist Vodun system of belief, also commonly known as voodoo, which originated in this area of Africa. There were few atheists.

More than half of all Christians were Roman Catholic. Other religious groups, both Christian and non-Christian, included Baptists, Methodists, Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah's Witnesses, Celestial Christians, Rosicrucians, the Unification Church, Eckankar, and Baha'is. Nearly all Muslims adhered to the Sunni branch of Islam. The few Shi'a Muslims were primarily Middle Eastern expatriates.

There were Christians, Muslims, and adherents of traditional indigenous religions throughout the country. However, most adherents of the traditional Yoruba religion were in the south, while other indigenous faiths were followed in the north. Muslims were represented most heavily in the north and in the southeast. Christians were prevalent in the south, particularly in Cotonou, the economic capital. It was not unusual for members of the same family to practice Christianity, Islam, traditional indigenous religions, or a combination of all of these.

Foreign missionary groups known to be operating in the country included the Watchtower Society, Mormons, Assemblies of God, Mennonites, Church of the Nazarene, Seventh-day Adventists, Society in Mission, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Baptists.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The Government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no state-sponsored religion.

The constitutional court has ruled in several cases that it is unconstitutional to block the access of any group to its religious services. In November 2004, the court ruled that religious groups could not deny access to public properties or facilities to other groups because such denial of access violated the constitutional principle of secularism. In this case, the chief priest of a Vodun group had tried to claim possession of a lake as religious property and refused other groups, including evangelical Christians, access to it.

In 2003, the constitutional court upheld a Defense Ministry decision permitting its gendarmes to intervene in conflicts between religious groups only as a neutral peacekeeping force. Any intervention needed to be neutral to comply with the principle of state neutrality in the management of religious affairs while ensuring public order and social peace.

In 2003, the constitutional court ruled that simple discussions on religion, even when they turn into mockery, cannot be deemed to be violations of religious freedom, because of the right to free speech.

Persons who wish to form a religious group must register with the Ministry of the Interior. Registration requirements are the same for all religious groups, and there were no reports that any group was refused permission to register or subjected to unusual delays or obstacles in the registration process. Religious groups are free from taxation.

Government officials accorded respect to prominent religious leaders of all faiths by attending their induction ceremonies, funerals, and other religious celebrations. The president regularly received religious leaders of all faiths, and police forces were assigned to provide security to any religious event upon request.

Missionary groups operated freely throughout the country.

In accordance with Article 2 of the constitution, which provides for a secular state, public schools are not authorized to provide religious instruction. Religious groups are permitted to establish private schools.

National holidays include the Christian holy days of Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Whit Monday, Assumption Day, All Saints' Day, and Christmas; the Islamic holy days of Ramadan, Tabaski, and the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad; and the indigenous celebration of Traditional Religions holiday. State-operated television features coverage of the celebration of religious holidays and special events in the lives of prominent religious leaders, including ordination anniversaries and funerals.

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 in the country.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor United States 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.

Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination

The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom. Due to the diversity of religious affiliations within families and communities, religious tolerance was widespread at all levels of society and in all regions. Interfaith dialogue occurred regularly, and citizens respected different religious traditions and practices, including syncretistic beliefs. Many Vodun followers also were Christian and Muslim and tolerant of other religions.

Ecumenical Day has been celebrated every first Wednesday of May for the past thirty-seven years and traditionally includes a large celebration of interreligious cooperation in the historic town of Ouidah. Individual religious leaders make an effort to bridge the divide between Christians and Muslims and preach a message of tolerance.

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. ambassador and other embassy representatives regularly attend ceremonies associated with various faiths, often attended by government representatives as well, and stress in their public remarks the value and importance of interfaith dialogue and cooperation. The embassy sent two religious scholars to the United States as participants in the International Visitor's Program "United States Political Process for Emerging Muslim Leaders."