Tue | Nov 13, 2018

Human rights protect us from each other

Published:Wednesday | August 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM


The protection of universal human rights and the separation of Church and State are foundational for a robust democracy. As a normative framework, a human-rights approach to law and governance, by design, protects the rights and freedoms of all groups - including Christians. Contrary to the divisive rhetoric coming from Jamaican religious leaders, the human-rights movement is not a war against the Church.

It has been argued that Jamaica is a majority-Christian country and as such, a Judaeo-Christian world view should dictate law, particularly in the context of Jamaica's buggery law. This is not new. Oftentimes, groups in positions of superiority find it difficult to consider the plight of disadvantaged groups. They either cannot identify with minority causes, have no real reason to care, or have an incentive to perpetuate the status quo.

In Jamaica, an archaic, strict majoritarian vision of democracy has been advanced as a solution to resolving social tensions. That is, the interests of minorities are unimportant because of their minority status. This approach is exclusionary.

The dangerous implications become clear when, in alternate cultural contexts, the roles are reversed, and these groups experience widespread discrimination and persecution at the hands of some other majority. They clamour for equality, human rights, and an end to the same discrimination they exhibit when they are in comfortable majority settings.

The pervasiveness of discrimination across societies demonstrates that discrimination, as a phenomenon, does not discriminate. Depending on the context, minorities, of any identity group, face the prospect of prejudice. Political systems should, therefore, be designed to protect against the tyranny of the majority. They should be secular, creating a neutral public sphere in which all people can exist on equal terms. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

This is why Steve Lyston's recent column, 'Religious freedom and global economy' (Gleaner, July 28, 2014), is so bizarre. Lyston was decrying the persecution of minority Christians in Iraq, Syria and Egypt, urging Christians to be vigilant. Lyston, a biblical economist - whatever that means - blasted the media and human-rights groups for remaining silent on the persecution of Christians, claiming, "Their only focus is 'freedom of sexual choice' - so sexual choice has now taken precedence over religious freedom."

He said:

"In light of what is happening, if the Caribbean believes that Christians are safe in this region, think again! ... If the Caribbean and the other Western nations are not vigilant, very shortly we will see our schools being infiltrated and freedom of choice will be taken away! ... Bibles will be banned and only Qur'ans will be in the schools."

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Discrimination against any group is tragic and inexcusable. This holds true for Muslims in Myanmar who face persecution at the hands of a majority Buddhist population; the Roma, a minority ethnic group who face displacement in parts of Europe; Christians and Buddhists, who face criminal sanctions for organising or preaching in North Korea - considered a threat to 'North Korean values'; and the LGBT community in Jamaica who live under discriminatory colonial laws. When there is a clash of values, only a system of universal human rights can limit the capacity for abuse.


Christian advocates such as Lyston and those who gathered in Kingston to protest a loss of religious rights cannot, in one breath, decry the discrimination against Christians in minority settings and then, in another breath, advocate that Christian majority status gives them the right to call the shots in Jamaica. That is special pleading - having your cake and nyamming it, too.

Also, accepting the ability of differing world views and lifestyles to exist does not equate to support or endorsement for them. It simply recognises that diverse interests can coexist without 'the majority using criminal code to suppress others - even if they find each other absolutely disgusting.

Because such a system, when normalised, poses an inherent risk of injustice, and because no society is perfectly homogeneous across religious, ethnic and sexual lines, a secular, human rights approach to navigating differences is necessary.

The religious lobby is correct; LGBT rights must never stifle freedom of speech of Christians. In the same way, religious freedom cannot infringe upon the sexual rights and the right to privacy of LGBT people. We cannot become so entrenched in our positions that we become polarised.

When the only thing that (usually bickering) Christian denominations can find to unite around is the fight against 'the gay lobby', our priorities are warped. This national paranoia has led to division, when engagement and discourse are needed.

Let's re-evaluate the type of political system we desire - one that will protect, not subordinate, the interests of all.

Rodje Malcolm is a director of Jamaicans for Justice(JFJ. The views above do not necessarily reflect those of JFJ. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rodjemalcolm@outlook.com.