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EDITORIAL - How much religion is too much?

Published:Saturday | January 12, 2013 | 12:00 AM

One of the great failings of successive Jamaican administrations has been their inability to find suitable solutions to ensure the humane treatment of children in state care. From suicide to deadly fires, the State has not been able to take care of these vulnerable members of society. After each crisis, the nation reacts with outrage, yet the problems prolong.

Lisa Hanna, who currently heads the Ministry of Youth and Culture, has generally received a poor grade for her handling of the portfolio.

It is, therefore, understandable that Ms Hanna is anxious to demonstrate to the country that she has the smart answers and creative initiatives to deal with the recurring problems at the Ministry of Youth and Culture and erase the image of it being an uncaring and incompetent department. By now she would have realised that a 'salting ritual' is definitely not the answer.

This newspaper reported yesterday on a Tuesday morning ceremony which included prayers by the Rev Dr Marjorie Lewis, head of the United Theological College of the West Indies, and the sprinkling of salt in offices. This unusual ceremony turned out to be a major irritant and caused unease for many workers who, because of fear of reprisal, have chosen not to be identified.


Whoever organised the salting ritual does not fully understand that although religion plays an important role in the daily lives of many people, there are scores of people who are not religious and are non-Christians. We now live in an era where the religious expressions which were once acceptable are being questioned and even rejected.

Because there are many diverse religions emerging each day, employers must now consider how the religious sensibilities - and sensitivities - of its workforce will be impacted by its actions. So the question is this: How much religion is too much?

The curious are asking why salt was used for the ritual. Salt has a long tradition of being used in rituals of purification, magical protection, and blessing. Some say it is a valuable ingredient in cleansing people from negative energies and bad luck.

Now if Ms Hanna feels that bad luck has tumbled down on her to render her ineffective in her job, she is free to have salt and other condiments sprinkled in her office as often as she chooses, and in whatever quantity. This is a personal matter and it cannot be forced on employees, many of whom were reported to be sceptical about placing containers of salt on their desks.

In today's world, great emphasis is placed on choice. Employees, even if they work for the Government, should be free to choose whether they want to be part of any religious ceremony.

Given the negative connotations of salt even during the Middle Ages, ministry workers may not like the analogy of being described as the 'salt of the earth', which was derived from the Gospel of Matthew. Indeed, what is needed by the entire civil service is the motivation to become more productive and to deliver service in an efficient and customer-friendly manner.

The ministry's faux pas should be a lesson to others to understand the complexities of religion and respect religious diversity and employees' right to choose.

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