Antigua and Barbuda

Last Updated 13 September 2018

Antigua and Barbuda is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy, a former British colony. The government is constitutionally secular; however current government organization and practice illustrates preferential treatment in favour of the Antigua Christian Council.

Note: Barbuda, one of the nation’s two main islands and home to around 1,600 people, was devastated by hurricane Irma in September 2017. Considered one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded, Irma is said to have damaged around 95% of the buildings. Prime Minister Gaston Browne said: “It’s absolute devastation… The island is literally under water. In fact, I’m of the view that, as it stands now, Barbuda is barely habitable.”

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

The Constitution provides for religious freedom in general. It prohibits members of the clergy from running for elected office.

However, the government maintains a close relationship with the Antigua Christian Council, which excludes non-Christian groups as well as some smaller and newer groups which identify themselves as Christian. A recent press release illustrates the level of collaboration between the government and the Council, extending beyond simple recognition well into the territory of privileged access to matters of social policy:

“A week ago, the Ecclesiastical Affairs Division within the Office of the Prime Minister assembled church leaders in Antigua and Barbuda to organize the national day for the nation to seek divine intervention and spiritual guidance from God to arrest the anti-social behavior that is creeping into the society.”

— Official website of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, March 2013

The role of the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs is to coordinate greater interaction among churches, other religious organizations, and the government.

Religious privileges

Religious groups are required to incorporate in order to own property. They can register with the government to receive tax and duty-free concessions, especially for building and renovation. There do not appear to be similar concessions available to explicitly secular or non-religious groups.

Education and children’s rights

Public schools are secular; religious education is not part of the curriculum.

Family, community and society

Various other human rights concerns, often related to conservative religious or regressive attitudes, remain active concerns.

“The most serious human rights problems involved poor prison conditions and violence against women. Other human rights problems included trial delays resulting from court backlogs and reports of mental, physical, and sexual abuse of children. There were also laws that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons.”

— Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Antigua and Barbuda, 27 February 2014

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The Antigua and Barbuda government generally respects freedom of the press. However, defamation is a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison, and politicians frequently file libel suits against opposing party members. Prime Minister Spencer was said to be committed to repealing the defamation and libel laws in April 2013, but this had not been undertaken by June 2014.

Media outlets are concentrated among a small number of firms affiliated with either the current government or its predecessor. There are no restrictions on access to the internet.

Blasphemy law

The Small Charges Act criminalizes blasphemous language.

Article 9 (“Abuse and bad language”) of the Small Charges Act reads:

Any person who makes use of any abusive, blasphemous, indecent, insulting, profane or threatening language-

(a) in any public place; or

(b) in any place to the annoyance of the public; or

(c) tending to a breach of the peace;

shall be liable to a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month.

Though it remains on statute, as of 2017, the US International Religious Freedom Report maintains that the law is not enforced for blasphemy.

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