US State Dept report says Samoa leaders don’t welcome new religions into the villages
Washington, D.C. — While the Constitution of Samoa “provides for the right to choose, practice, and change one’s religion,” the US State Department says there are continuing reports that in many villages, leaders forbade individuals to belong to churches outside of the village or to exercise their right not to worship.
This is according to the federal agency’s 2018 International Religious Freedom Report, which describes the status of religious freedom in every country in the world, including Samoa.
The report was released last Friday to the US Congress, as mandated by federal law, and covers issues such as government policies violating religious beliefs and practices of groups, religious denominations, and individuals; and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world.
“Reportedly, matai councils [in Samoa], the traditional governing body of villages, frequently continued to resist attempts to introduce new religious groups into their communities on the grounds of “maintaining harmony within the village” – a duty prescribed in legislation,” according to the State Department’s report.
Furthermore, “Observers continued to report that in many villages, leaders forbade individuals to belong to churches outside of the village or to exercise their right not to worship.”
Villagers in violation of such rules faced fines, banishment from the village, or both, according to the report, which notes that Samoa’s Constitution defines the country as a Christian nation.
The report also referred to a dispute between the government and the largest church —Congregational Christian Church of Samoa — over a new tax on the income of ministers of religion, based on a 2017 income tax amendment.
Last June, Parliament adopted a law that amended the taxation of pastors to exempt income they receive as donations from funerals, weddings, and other traditional occasions.
During November last year, based on media reports, authorities charged 8 pastors of the Congregational Christian Church for not filing their tax returns. The Minister of Revenue subsequently charged additional pastors, bringing the total to at least 16 charged by the end of 2018.
The report also referred to the 2018 Public Inquiry into Domestic Violence by the National Human Rights Institute/Office of the Ombudsman, which states several times that “financial pressures associated with church contributions and family obligations are unique underlying causes of family violence in Samoa.”
Some individuals expressed concern that church leaders abused their privileged status among the congregation and village, the State Department report notes.
In November, one youth leader reportedly told a synod of Catholic bishops in Rome that in Samoa, reporting on “clerical abuse and widespread corruption” amounted to “professional and cultural suicide.”
Regarding U.S. government policy and engagement in Samoa, the report says the US Embassy maintained contact with various religious groups, including all major Christian denominations and members of the Baha’i Faith.
The federal government estimates Samoa’s population at 201,000. Based on Samoa’s 2016 census, the top 4 religions are: Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (29%); Catholics (18.8%); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (16.9%0); and Methodist (12.4%).
The full report can be accessed online at <www.state.gov>