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Jamaica to host 'Festival of Religious Freedom'

Published:Sunday | November 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Dr John Graz (centre), secretary general of the International Religious Liberty Association, shares a light moment with Pastor Everett Brown (left), president of the Adventist Church in Jamaica, and Nigel Coke, public affairs and religious liberty director of the Adventist Church in Jamaica. - Photo by Phillip Castell

Come January 24, 2015, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica will spearhead the globally known Festival of Religious Freedom.

The festival is held for the most part in countries where the citizens enjoy freedom of religion and hence freedom of worship.

According to the United States International Religious Freedom report 2013, approximately 76 per cent of the world's population is experiencing total or some form of religious infringements.

With Jamaica being one of the countries experiencing total religious freedom which is enshrined in its Constitution, it was deemed fitting for the country to be the first stop on the 2015 calendar year.

"With the freedom that exists in Jamaica, it is an example of true freedom of religion," said Dr John Graz, secretary general of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) headquartered in Washington, DC.

"Religious freedom is almost a part of the culture of the Jamaican people where each individual can choose their religion and even have no religion, or to change their religion without being discriminated, arrested, assassinated or executed for blasphemy or apostasy."

Graz, who is also the public affairs and religious liberty director of the World Church of Seventh-day Adventists, said: "The Festival is our way to thank Jamaica publicly for protecting religious freedom for all in the frame of the law."

Countries in all six continents of the world have experienced Festival of Religious Freedom which is characterised by large crowd in national stadiums and arenas involving government, civic groups, non-governmental organisations and various religious groups.

"The festival is for people of all religious persuasion because we cannot celebrate this freedom alone and each person has freedom of conscience ... it is a God-given gift to all," said Pastor Everett Brown, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica.

Brown was emphatic in expressing what the festival is not, in order to remove any doubt or perception. "This is not ecumenism, neither is it a unification of churches in Jamaica, it is plainly a celebration of our religious freedom and all who enjoy it are invited to attend and participate."

Lack of freedom

The festival will be held at the National Arena under the theme 'Our Right ... Our Freedom ... Let's Celebrate.'

"Many people who enjoy religious freedom do not understand how a lack of religious freedom affects society and its people," said Nigel Coke, public affairs and religious liberty director of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica.

"Without this freedom, religious denominations could not operate schools, hospitals, and do community outreach activities, which enhance the growth and development of any country. It is, therefore, important that we thank God and country, and do all we can to preserve this privilege."

The festival is being held in collaboration with the IRLA, a non-sectarian, non political association, which was recognised in 2003 by the United Nations Economic and Social Council and given the status of United Nations Non-Governmental Organisation Category II.