Government, others to be recognised for religious liberty
The Government, Opposition and three others - a corporate financial company, a church-owned group and a public 'watchdog' organisation - will be recognised on January 24, during the Festival of Religious Freedom to be held at the National Arena.
The Government and Opposition will be recognised by the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), for keeping the tenets of the constitution for religious freedom intact over the past 50 years. The other awards will be given by the National Religious Liberty Association, an affiliate of the IRLA.
In referring to the award to the Government, Nigel Coke, communication, public affairs and religious liberty director of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventist, said: "Too many times we beat upon government for what they have not done right, but the IRLA is recognising them for doing something good in this instance ... keeping the constitutional right for freedom of religion."
He added: "Perhaps the best way to view the religious freedom that we have in Jamaica is to juxtapose it to having limited or no freedom at all because, without it, the enormous positive impact of the Church and religious denominations would be lost. They would not be able to operate schools, hospitals, and impact communities through humanitarian efforts, which have significantly enhanced the growth and development of Jamaica. Interestingly, even persons who are not of any religious persuasion or do not attend church, would be affected, because they too are among the beneficiaries of the positive influence on society, by the various religions."
Coke was speaking during a press conference to launch the Festival at the East Jamaica Conference headquarters in Kingston on Tuesday.
Liberty since 1893
The event is being spearheaded by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which has been at the forefront of religious liberty worldwide since 1893, and has been integrally involved in organising such festivals with other religious groups worldwide where they thank God and country for keeping religious freedom.
So far, 50 festivals have been held in 41 cites covering all six continents.
In endorsing the event on behalf of the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches (JUGC), Bishop Dr Alvin Bailey said" "Anything that infringes on religious freedom anywhere or in our society is a threat to religious freedom in our own sphere and the world. It represents a statement of peace and unity among religion that we enjoy here in Jamaica."
In her endorsement, chairperson for the Jamaica Council for Interfaith Fellowship (JCIF) The Reverend Dr Marjorie Lewis said all Jamaicans are aware of the many conflicts that take place within the Caribbean and further afield in many parts of the world, in the name of religion.
She said: "It is a sad fact that the passions of religion which have led many throughout the ages to great deeds of valor have also been at times channelled to the destruction of those who did not share the same religious beliefs. The JCIF therefore supports the efforts of the Seventh-day Adventists to spearhead a national movement to guard religious freedoms."
They look forward to celebrating religious freedom at the Festival.
One of the objectives of the Festival is to raise the awareness of the need to be vigilant in guarding our current freedom of religion and worship, as "freedom of religion or belief is also intimately intertwined with other freedoms, including freedom of expression, association and assembly," Coke added.
The National Religious Liberty Association (NRLA), an affiliate of the IRLA, will also be launched on January 24.
Other activities for the day will include a dramatisation, a documentary highlighting the history of religion in Jamaica, as well as presentations from International Evangelist Pastor Glen Samuels, and President of the IRLA Ambassador Robert Seiple.
A free gospel musical showcase, featuring a 150-voice mass choir and artistes such as George Gordon, Judy Mowatt, Carey Sales, Jabez and others will climax the day's activities.
The press conference also facilitated the handing over of sponsorship cheques from LASCO Distributors, Jamaica Bedding Company, First Heritage Cooperative Ltd, LASCO Financial Services and Ojay Coolers.