Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Sean Major-Campbell | Don't yield to religious tyranny

Published:Wednesday | June 28, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The call by Dr Carolyn Gomes regarding the unfinished business of constitutional reform is a most timely one!

We are at a place in Jamaica's history where our social and economic development is inseparable from the protection of the rights and freedoms of our people. It is sad that groups such as the Church and other arms of civil society remain silent in the face of crass declarations that support inequality and injustice. Often, it is those speaking from mere emotion and prejudice who shout in public spaces such as the media.

Our Jamaican vision ought to protect and promote respect for such positions as freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Freedom to eat pork and freedom to feign not eating pork, and freedom not to eat pork are all different approaches that a civilised democracy protects.

It is we, the people, who must call the Parliament to respect the Charter of Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, when said Parliament is tardy or gaining more ground in hypocrisy versus effecting the duties and responsibilities for which it was employed by the people!

In a short-sighted response, Shirley Richards failed to comprehend the timely observation of Dr Carolyn Gomes, "Parliament, however, appears to be timid. It has not acted on the recommendation to ensure that all citizens are protected from discrimination on the basis of disability, health status, if they speak Patois, have a mental illness, or are different in sexual orientation and gender identity."

That so many of us have remained silent on the long-overdue inclusion of the Disability Act (2014) in the anti-discrimination provisions of the Constitution, while investing much passion in alienating the LGBT community, is an indictment on us, as some promote a conservative modus operandi while keeping a failed right-wing agenda alive in poorer, underdeveloped, or so-called developing countries.

 

Deafening silence

 

Is it the silence in the arena of Church that has caused such groups as the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS) to be often mistakenly identified in the media as representative of the Church? Even this group rightly identifies itself as a society coalition. Conversely, human-rights organisations are also open about declaring their identity and interest in the work of human rights. While human-rights organisations would, generally speaking, advocate for freedom of religion, they would not necessarily pronounce themselves as being religious adherents or representatives. This is because even an atheist who is true to the work of human rights would understand the importance of protecting freedom of religion. I am a Christian, but as an agent of human rights, I am able to protect the rights of others regarding freedom from religion!

 

Limited interests

 

Many quasi-human interest groups are only limited to their particular bias, especially where deemed religious and, therefore, superior to all other concerns. The joint select committee of Parliament has in its hands the great opportunity to act for Jamaica and not for the fearmongering and scare tactics employed over the years by individuals who have never even engaged any critical thinking or research in the social sciences and human sexuality, in particular.

Why would anyone need to inform you about heterosexuals or homosexuals regarding their multiple short-term partners? It's not even as if legislation can stop such risky behaviours. The most any concerned individual or organisation may do is promote and sensitise awareness around condom use for persons who will still be operating with multiple short-term partners.

We now need to move beyond arguing about whether it is okay to acknowledge the fact of marital rape.

We now need to move beyond arguing about whether it is okay only to treat the fact of rape of little boys and men under the archaic provisions regarding buggery.

We now need to move beyond arguments from silence and emotional platitudes to seriously engaging what will promote equal rights and justice for all.

Yes, we must seize this opportunity to broaden the anti-discrimination provisions of the Sexual Offences Act, and do all in our power to work without prejudice; remembering that a safer, kinder, more peaceful Jamaicais one in which the privacy and human rights of all persons are protected.

The motto 'Out of Many, One People' remains a project yet to be realised to any significant degree. May we together seek to challenge violence, injustice, and oppression; and work for peace and reconciliation for all our people.

- Sean Major-Campbell is an advocate for human rights and minister of religion. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and seanmajorcampbell@yahoo.com.