The constitution provides for freedom of thought and religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion or belief and the freedom, either alone or in community with others, both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate one’s religion or belief in worship. It prohibits discrimination based on belief.
Parliament, if petitioned, may act to recognize a religious group. Groups may also register with the government. Registration is not mandatory; however, registered religious groups may receive tax-exempt status and other privileges, such as the right of their clergy to visit members in prison. Religious organizations wanting to engage in tax-exempt, property, and business transactions must first register as charities. To be considered a charity, organizations, including religious groups, need to apply to the Cooperatives and Friendly Societies Department at the Ministry of Industry, Investment, and Commerce. Once registered, groups may take their registration to the Department of Customs or apply to the Tax Administration to be considered for tax-free status.
The constitution states that religious groups have the right to provide religious instruction to members of their communities. No individual may be required to receive religious instruction or participate in religious observances contrary to his or her beliefs. The public school curriculum includes nondenominational religious education, which focuses on the historical role of religion in society and philosophical thought. Students cannot opt out of religious education; however, religious devotion or practice is optional. A number of private schools are operated by churches and a number of public institutions have church affiliations. Some public schools also are run by churches but receive funding from the government and are required to abide by the rules of the Ministry of Education. Religious schools are not subject to any special restrictions and do not receive special treatment from the government. Most religious schools are affiliated with either the Catholic Church or Protestant denominations; there are at least two schools run by the Islamic Council of Jamaica and at least one Jewish school.