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Editorial | Stand with Prof Albert

Published:Monday | April 17, 2023 | 8:16 AM
Professor Richard Albert
Professor Richard Albert

The late appointment of Elaine McCarthy to the committee reviewing Jamaica’s constitution will be interpreted as a move by the Government to appease the anti-LGBT rights lobby and people who are against liberal abortion laws.

If this is indeed a bid to assuage the religious right, the administration cannot allow it to become a mission creep and the foreclosing of debate on these matters by a committee of educated, thoughtful and mostly experienced adults in a presumably intellectual environment.

Put starkly, Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his constitutional affairs minister, Marlene Malahoo Forte, must forthrightly reject the calls for the removal of the Canadian, Richard Albert, from the Constitutional Reform Committee. Malahoo Forte’s signal to that effect must become a definitive and resounding no.

To be clear, this newspaper does not believe that the committee, in its current configuration, is the best that could have been crafted. Nor does it offer the best optics. But in neither case does this concern apply to Professor Albert, an expert in comparative constitutional analysis, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Texas at Austin.

Professor Albert was one of the 14 initial members of the committee, which has now increased to 15 with the appointment of Dr McCarthy, the president of the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches (JUGC), whose members are mainly Pentecostal and other fundamentalists.


Last week, several leaders on Jamaica’s Christian right launched a campaign to dislodge Professor Albert – a Canadian whose mother is Jamaican – from the committee, on the grounds that he has in the past supported gay rights and abortion – as has this newspaper. And the fact that he is not Jamaican.

Among the most prominent, and loudest, anti-Albert voices was that of Albert Bailey, the president of the Jamaica Evangelical Alliance and a group called CAUSE (Churches Action Uniting Society for Emancipation), which campaigns against gay rights and abortion and has attempted to rally conservative and fundamentalist Christians into a political force.

“This man must be removed from the Constitutional Reform Committee with immediate effect,” Dr Bailey said, “His presence … compromises fairness, objectivity and sensitivity to the present laws of Jamaica.”

He was also against Professor Albert, Dr Bailey said, because he was a “non-national”.

“The constitution is our local document, which will be sacrosanct, legal and binding,” he said. “I believe that no outsider should have a part to play in its construction.”

This ostensibly anti-foreigner bigotry was echoed by Phillipa Davies, a spokesperson for the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, an advocacy group on the religious right, whose positions and rhetoric generally mirror those of its cousins in the United States.

“Why is it that we are having a non-Jamaican on this committee that is looking at such a sensitive and important issue?” she asked on television.

Davies’ real concern, though, appears to be Professor Albert’s “world view” – the fact that he criticised the decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn a long-standing ruling of the constitutionality of abortion, and his warning that rescinding of same-sex marriage would infringe people’s right to privacy.

Dr McCarthy did not specifically attack Professor Albert’s position, but said that they were being discussed within her organisation. In the circumstance, her accession to the committee is notable, suggesting that the presence of David Henry, a lawyer and pastor of Swallowfield Chapel, a Pentecostal church on the more liberal wing of the movement, was insufficient.


If the arguments of the religious conservatives were taken to their logical conclusion, the other members of the committee – people like the eminent constitutional scholar Lloyd Barnett and the former judge and lawyer Hugh Small – are without intellectual agency. In which event, they, and others, would absorb Professor Albert’s position by osmosis.

Or that in a group that takes decisions by consensus, Professor Albert will be so hypnotically persuasive that everyone will automatically or unconsciously accede to his positions.

In this vein the churches might perhaps call for the exclusion of the committee’s co-chairs, Ms Malahoo Forte and former Chief of Defence Staff Lieutenant General Rocky Meade, for their past remarks in support of the suspension of the fundamental rights and freedoms of large swathes of Jamaicans to fight crime.

Like many Jamaicans, this newspaper will keenly follow the positions of Ms Malahoo Forte and Lt Gen Meade in these debates, insofar as their arguments become public. We, however, expect that those positions, if advanced, would not be uncritically embraced by Nadeen Spence, a civil society/social activist, or Donna Scott-Mottley, the shadow justice minister.

On the point of Professor Albert’s nationality, the churches may consider it worthy for Jamaica to recall its national serving in critical positions in other countries, or circumscribe the activities in Jamaica of people who were not born in the island.

There are many things about the Constitutional Reform Committee worthy of hot debate. Professor Albert’s membership is not one of them.