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Tensions remain between Fa'a Samoa and individual religious rights

fili@samoanews.com

The US State Department released its 2011 report on freedom of religion in 2011 on Tuesday covering all countries in the world, including Samoa.

Because American Samoa is part of the United States, there was no separate report about the territory.

The report found that while the Samoa government generally respected religious freedoms and did not demonstrate a trend toward either improvement or deterioration with respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom, implementation of Christian-oriented educational policies demonstrated a clear government preference for Christian ideology and teachings. 

 “There were occasional reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice,” the report says about Samoa. “The constitution favors Christianity and public statements by prominent societal leaders emphasized the country’s Christian principles.”

According to the report, minor tensions remain between Fa’a Samoa (the Samoan way) and individual religious rights. “One of the elements of Fa’a Samoa is the traditional, tightly-knit village community. Often village elders and the community at large were not very receptive toward those who attempted to introduce another denomination or religion into the community,” it says.

“While underreported, it was common knowledge that in many villages throughout the country leaders forbade individuals to belong to churches outside of the village or to exercise their right not to worship,” the report notes. “Villagers in violation of such village rules faced fines and/or banishment from the village.”

The report further states that there is strong societal pressure at the village and local levels to participate in church services and other activities, and to support church leaders and projects financially.

“In some denominations, such financial contributions often totaled more than 30 percent of family income,” the report says. “This issue has gained media attention as some members of parliament have been outspoken about the unrelenting pressure on families to give disproportionate amounts of their incomes to churches.”

A recent news report also told of a local businesswoman having to replace her entire staff due to theft and in this case, as in many others, meeting church financial obligations was cited as a significant reason for such theft, said the State Department report.

The report states that the US Embassy in Apia discussed religious freedom with the government and also maintains contacts with representatives of the country’s various religious communities.



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