AFTER EIGHT years in gestation, Parliament has finally passed a bill which will give legal standing to the Church of Haile Salassie I.
Following passage in the House of Representatives on October 8, the Senate last Friday passed the bill, which will, among other things, pave, build, operate and maintain places of worship, schools, social centres, and such other buildings to facilitate the purposes of the church.
The bill claims that members of the church have associated together for the teaching and spread of belief in the Bible the moral laws of God, the fatherhood of God, and the brotherhood of man.
Justice Minister Mark Golding, in piloting the bill through the Senate, congratulated Ascento Foxe, the church's overseer, for steadfast leadership in pressing for incorporation.
"The legislative establishment of the Church of Haile Salassie I will further legitimise the faith and religious practices of Rastafarians and their families giving their offspring and aides security and religious status both in the workplace, community and schools," Golding said.
When signed into law by the governor general, the church can be sued and may be sued in all courts in Jamaica.
The law will also provide for all property given to any person for the benefit of the Church to be deemed the property of a corporation which will manage the affairs of the Church.
Among other things, the corporation will have the power to acquire, lease, purchase, possess and enjoy lands, and may borrow, raise or secure the payment of money.
Opposition Senator Robert Montague, who supported the bill, said the Rastafarian movement has contributed significantly and positively to Jamaica's history.
"There have been incidences in the past that would need maybe some investigations and lessons can be learnt from that," Montague said.
But for government Senator Lambert Brown, Montague's comments did not go far enough. He said an apology should have been made to Rastafarianism for the atrocities of Coral Gardens.
The Jamaica Labour Party Government, led by Sir Alexander Bustamante, is said to have persecuted Rasta during the 1963 Coral Gardens uprising in St James.
Last year, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller announced that the Government would appoint a special team to meet with the leaders of the Rastafarian community to discuss the Holy Thursday rampage in the community of Coral Gardens that left eight persons, including two policemen, dead.
"We have come a far way from the days of Coral Gardens when the Rastaman was abused, oppressed and trimmed," Brown said.
He said that despite the persecution, Rastafarians have led the way, adding that Jamaica would have been a better place had the country followed many of the teachings of Rastafarianism.