Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter
The JAMAICA Urban Transit Company Limited (JUTC) has applied the brake on the practice of lay preachers using the public transportation system as their platform to spread the Gospel.
Robert Lawson, a blind lay preacher complained to The Gleaner yesterday that he was stopped in his tracks by a JUTC driver at the weekend. He said the JUTC driver told him he could no longer preach on the buses.
Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, managing director of the JUTC, told The Gleaner that a directive has been given to the drivers to "politely" tell preachers that they could no longer trumpet their divine messages on the state-owned buses.
"I am all for evangelising but they can't use the bus as their platform," Lewin said in a Gleaner interview.
"I have sent a memo to the drivers, basically, telling them to politely request that the people do not preach on the buses," he added.
According to the JUTC head, there was no policy that allowed persons to preach on JUTC buses.
He said the bus company had received complaints from some commuters about the preachers on the buses.
Lewin argued that when persons board a JUTC bus they become a captive audience. "I think this is what makes the bus an attractive mobile church and I suppose you can't just get off because you have spent your money."
In the meanwhile, the blind lay preacher has not lost faith and is not taking the edict from the JUTC management sitting down. Lawson has argued strongly that the bus company is seeking to infringe his constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
He is insisting that there is no provision in the Jamaican law that can prevent a person from preaching the word of God on public transportation. He contended that his right to freedom of religion is also being violated.
"We won't be going back on the bus until the matter is resolved because we are being verbally abused, and the last thing you want is to be physically abused," Lawson said.
"If the driver says 'don't come on the bus, we don't want you here because yuh a mek noise and a disturb people and a disturb we', we just won't go in there," the lay preacher said.
Lewin, however, said "If somebody feel that his constitutional rights are being breached he should seek remedies". He said persons aggrieved could approach not only the courts, but the JUTC board or the Ministry of Transport and Works.
Respect others rights
In the meantime, Shirley Richards, president of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, indicated that while the Constitution guarantees certain rights in relation to freedom of expression and freedom of religion, the objections of the audience should be respected and taken into account.
"However, I wonder if this couldn't have been resolved by dialogue as distinct from a total ban especially bearing in mind what seems to be a move to secularise the country?" Richards questioned.
Section 17 of the Charter of Rights in the Constitution states: "Every person shall have the right to freedom of religion including the freedom to change his religion and the right, either alone or in community with others and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion in worship, teaching, practice and observance."
However, while the foregoing right is secured in the Charter, attorney-at-law Bert Samuels argued that it should not be exercised at the expense of other persons' rights.
Samuels quipped that it would be a very interesting matter to test in the courts. However, he said: "I am leaning towards that you don't have a right to just go in the bus and preach and disturb others."
Samuels said he was "strongly of the view that you can't be exercising your rights while inconveniencing other people."
The Reverend Clinton Chisolm said it was a delicate balance because one has to respect both sets of rights.
However, he contended that a person could not assert a right which was in violation of another person's right.
Bishop Herro Blair suggested that permission should be sought from the management of the JUTC to preach on the buses. However, he said if permission was granted to Christians to preach on the buses, questions could be raised if Muslims and Rastafarians did not get a similar platform to deliver their messages.