Sat | Aug 19, 2017

It’s the Constitution, stupid!

Published:Tuesday | November 17, 2015 | 11:00 AMGordon Robinson, Contributor
Arlene Harrison Henry, Jamaica's public defender.
Ian Boyne
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What's to be done with Booklist Boyne?

Every time I convince myself to stop trying the impossible, namely, to educate him, he writes something so hostile to logic, so religiously dogmatic that I'm obliged to correct the record for those who might've been misled. It's a dreary job but somebody must do it. Take, for example, his October 25, 2015 column, 'Principal, public defender wrong on St Hilda's':

Remember St Hilda's? Its head girl's appointment was revoked because the school assumed she was a Jehovah's Witness. Booklist began:

"If [the principal] had understood anything about Jehovah's Witnesses, she'd have spared herself, her school and the Anglican community the severe public embarrassment."

Wrong jungle, Booklist. Nobody, certainly no public servant, is obliged to understand anything about any religion. This isn't about Jehovah's Witnesses' tenets. It's about constitutional rights. If the principal had understood anything about Jamaica's Constitution, she'd have spared herself and her school the embarrassment.

The Constitution provides:

(1) "All persons are under a responsibility to respect and uphold the rights of others ... .

(2) "The State has an obligation to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms."

(3) "... No organ of the State shall take any action which abrogates, abridges or infringes those rights."

Those rights include:

"The right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of! ... (ii) ... religion or political opinions."

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand no school can consider students' religious beliefs in making school appointments.

Booklist argues that the principal should've known the student was NOT a practising Jehovah's Witness: "Ignorant principal. She should have known no practising Jehovah's Witness would have accepted the position of head girl ... . Anyone who accepts such a position knowing it entails participating in devotions and civic ceremonies, even if that person bears the name of a Witness, isn't going to be strict in following that religion's tenets"

 

'Scrise!

He presses on regardless. "I keep bemoaning the fact that people won't educate themselves on religion." Why, Booklist? NOBODY is obliged to educate themselves about any religion, except out of curiosity.

It IS an obligation to keep religion out of decisions regarding head-girl appointments. In that regard, maybe it's best NOT to know anything about the Jehovah's Witness or any religion's tenets. Booklist may be correct that "no practising Jehovah's Witness would have accepted the position of head girl..." BUT that's a decision for the student, NOT the school.

St Hilda's revocation of its head girl's appointment was a clear breach of constitutional rights, and the TENETS of any faith were irrelevant to where the school went wrong. The public defender was spot-on in her assessment:

"The exclusion/disqualification of girls from leadership positions based on their denomination is a discriminatory practice and has no place in our schools and our democracy ... . Whether the child is or is not a Jehovah's Witness is of no moment."

Detrimental decisions because of individuals' faith (regardless of that faith's tenets) is a constitutional, NOT a religious, issue and Booklist's rant about Jehovah's Witnesses and his anxiety to show off his knowledge of its tenets is as irrelevant as Mariah Carey in concert.

In attacking the public defender's impeccable legal opinion, Booklist writes, "How can it be of 'no moment' if that child can't participate in devotions, flag-raising ceremonies and do other important duties disallowed by the religion?"

"Can't participate"? Rubbish! A Jehovah's Witness may decline an appointment based on religious beliefs, but NO CITIZEN is disqualified from anything based on religion. From St Hilda's High's perspective, a student's religion is "of no moment". To the student, it may be all important or "of no moment". Her choice. My religion forbids adultery/fornication but, if I get offers from Beyonce or Charlize Theron, guess what I'll choose?

In nations governed by law, constitutions, not religion, rules. The constitution protects your religion, not the other way around. If a Cabinet minister refuses to speak at a Jehovah's Witnesses convention due to his religion's bigotry (oops, sorry, 'belief'), the PM can't dismiss him because his religion is constitutionally protected.

Similarly, the St Hilda's head girl's appointment can't be revoked if she conscientiously objects to participating in devotion. A deputy/acting head girl should substitute. Her religion should be "of no moment".

If Booklist is correct, Sir Patrick Allen wouldn't be governor general. Yet, he's performing his duties with dignity and effectiveness. When those included assenting to the casino gaming bill, he was missing in action, and the acting GG signed. What's wrong with that, Booklist?

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.