Sat | Feb 24, 2018

Editorial | Going too far on Anderson travel ban

Published:Wednesday | January 31, 2018 | 12:00 AM

We sensed that the Government, through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, was grasping for technicalities when it issued a statement suggesting that the controversial United States pastor, Steven Anderson, would have had to secure a work permit in order to preach during a short stint in Jamaica. Such attention to legal details rarely, if ever, happens as annually, incoming foreign evangelists send turnstiles spinning and offering bags jingling.

The Arizona-based pastor, a holdover from the Stone Age, spews invective against the progress of women, seeing them through the prism of pretty playthings best suited for the kitchen and believing that higher education would be surplus to their raison d'etre. His sermons are also repositories of anti-gay venom.

The purported reason for the barring of his entry into Jamaica was, according to a terse statement from an unnamed official in the Ministry of National Security, based on a decision "by the chief immigration officer because the pastor's statements are not conducive to the current climate".

By that we extrapolate that Pastor Anderson's sentiments - including that gays should be stoned - generated enough traction from petitioners and others that his presence here could be inciteful, especially given Jamaica's history of rhetoric and occassional violence towards homosexuals.

But we believe that even though Mr Anderson's doctrines are archaic and inflammatory, he should have been granted free passage to peddle them, for it is unlikely that his small delegation would have had the legitimacy to mobilise masses to unleash savagery on Jamaica's homosexual population. The right to freedom of speech aside, Jamaica's strong democratic tradition embraces diverse opinions. His rambling would be ripe for riposte and vigorous pushback.

We do not believe an immigration officer took this decision without the imprimatur of higher-ups. And having now opened Pandora's box, the Jamaican State has charted new and potentially uncomfortable territory by setting a precedent that vitriolic expression be deemed hate speech.

While Mr Anderson was an American and could be barred from walking on local soil, Jamaican citizens hold and espouse similar views. To its logical conclusion, we wonder whether the State is considering hate-speech legislation to prevent local actors from making offensive declarations regarding a person's sexual orientation, and even on other matters such as race and gender. If this is the trajectory, the Government must say so.

 

EARTH-SHATTERING IMPLICATIONS

 

For it would have earth-shattering implications for the Jamaican Church, many of whose clerics preach revulsion towards gays and even endorse violence. In fact, Wellesley Blair, chief bishop of one of Jamaica's most populous denominations, once said, "Sodomites who are caught should be beaten. I believe that when the court orders lashing, some of those Sodomites who are caught and some of the criminals should be brought in the square of Half-Way Tree and be lashed and send them home."

As reprehensible as those comments are, the Jamaican State should allow all views to contend. Our position is clear. The State should not be a peeping Tom in the bedrooms of adults, who must be free to explore their proclivities, once consensual, without provocation or contempt. It should repeal the buggery law, a piece of backward legislation that also intrudes on the prurience of even heterosexual couples.

Heterosexuals have little to fear from gays and lesbians - unless it is that they harbour deep-seated reservations about the certainty of their sexual status - who generally want to be left to their devices and desires.

Fundamentalists will no doubt make much of the cold shoulder shown to Steven Anderson, and may use it as a cause celebre of state overreach into religious freedom. To prevent that, the Holness administration should speak clearly and loudly what its intentions are, lest mischief-makers exploit the silence and fill the vacuum with fearmongering.