EDITORIAL - Liberty for all
This newspaper believes in, and supports, religious freedom. So, we have no issue with any group established to promote the right thereto.
However, we believe in the right to pursue the religion of one's choice in the context of a secular society. It is against that background we note last week's launch by the Seventh-day Adventist Church of an organisation called the National Religious Liberty Association (NRLA) and will take a keen interest in what emerges as its agenda.
It is unclear as yet what specific issue and/or event that may have caused the Adventists to feel the need to promote this association or encourage them in what they called a festival of religious freedom. Two facts, however, are worthy of note.
First, the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of religion is guaranteed in Section 13 (3) (I) (ii) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of the Jamaican Constitution. Adventists, any other Christian denomination, or any other group, have a fundamental right to observe their religion, so long as what they do is in accordance with the laws of the country and do not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others.
The other observation is that while the support of the NRLA's launch seemed to have been ecumenical, it seemed not to have been inter-faith. Rastafari and Revivalists were present. We, however, discerned the presence of no Muslim, or Baha'i, or Hindu or other non-Christian groups, who may have been invited, but did not turn up. Or, their presence may not have been conspicuous.
An obvious question in the circumstance is whether the agenda of the NRLA is the promotion of religious liberty in its broadest application, or the promotion of Christian, and more so Christian fundamentalist, values.
And that brings us back to this newspaper's fundamental position: its secularist framework.
We support, unwaveringly, the separation of the State from religious institutions and feel that people, whatever their beliefs, should be equal under the law - be they Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist or agnostic, or whatever else. Indeed, our view is that within such an equality of conscience is to be found the greatest opportunity for tolerance and protection of freedoms.
While Jamaica, as a liberal democracy, largely subscribes to secularist precepts, the State is not all-embracingly secular. Indeed, no one would question its institutionally Christian bias. Oaths of office are state sworn, by default, to a Christian God, to whom legislators and other officials look to guide their deliberations and work. The moral code by which Jamaica organises its society and which, largely, influences is laws, is essentially Judaeo-Christian.
Barrier against encroachment
The essential secularism of the State, however, provides an important barrier against a deeper encroachment by the religionists, especially those of a fundamentalist hue, who might wish to invoke Old Testament values on its structure and management.
Nonetheless, the NRLA marks the continuing evolution of fundamentalist Christians as a potential political force in Jamaica's democratic space. Last June, for instance, a group calling itself Churches Action Unifying Society for Emancipation, some of whose key figures had previously campaigned against liberalising the abortion laws, staged an anti-gay march in Kingston.
Such is their right. It is for the rest of us to be aware and to offer the appropriate counterbalance.
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