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Breaking the law in private

Published:Friday | June 27, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Peter Espeut

An often-spouted mantra, of both the ganja and the gay lobby, is that people have a constitutional right to privacy, and should be free to do whatever they wish in the privacy of their homes.

A recent spout of this was by learned counsel Anthony Lord Gifford ('Ganja proposals well intended but flawed', June 24, 2014), quoting the Charter of Rights in the Jamaican Constitution: "The right to 'respect for, and protection of, private and family life, and privacy of the home', is violated by a law which penalises both the homeowner and the user if ganja is smoked in a private living room or grown in a private yard."

The Gleaner, which has joined the gay lobby, spouted in its editorial of Sunday, June 5, that the law against buggery "allows the State ... to invade the privacy of people's bedrooms".

It may make a catchy slogan, but I am not sure how useful it is as a principle of law: that the right to privacy means that that people have a constitutional right to do whatever they wish in the privacy of their homes. I would hazard a guess that, in Jamaica, most laws are broken in private, and many in the privacy of the home. And here I do not only refer to murder and spousal abuse. Many lotto scammers do their dirty work in the privacy of their homes. And I wonder how much political corruption, bribery and graft takes place in the privacy of the home?

Load of nonsense

Are Lord Gifford and The Gleaner editor really arguing that anything done in the privacy of the home should not be illegal, just because it is done in the privacy of one's home? Is snorting of cocaine in the privacy of one's home to be made legal by the same argument? And what about counterfeiting? Should I be allowed to print my own J$1,000 bills in the privacy of my own bedroom?

Of course, it is a load of nonsense! This catchphrase - the 'privacy of the home' - is a propaganda tool intended to play on the feelings of people who may already feel unsafe and insecure in their homes. No one has the right to break the law anywhere - including in the privacy of their homes.

The Charter of Rights does recognise the right of everyone living in Jamaica to "respect for, and protection of, private and family life, and privacy of the home' [13(3)j(ii)]". Respect for the privacy of my home means than no one - including the police - has the right to enter my home, or break down my doors, just like that. What I do in the privacy of my home is my business but, if I do something illegal there, I should be held accountable for it.

ACCOUNTABILITY

The Charter of Rights does recognise the right of everyone living in Jamaica to: "protection of privacy of other property and of communication' [13(3)j(iii)]". This means that no one - including the police - has the right to open my mail or email, or tap my telephone, just like that. What I choose to communicate to others, in written or spoken words, is my business, but if I libel or slander anyone, or conspire to commit a terrorist act, I should be held accountable for it.

Make no mistake, we are fighting a war, where the very health and integrity of our country and its people are at stake. Propaganda is an important weapon in this struggle. Our people - disadvantaged by a substandard education system - are pawns in this high-stake chess game, and special-interest groups are trying hard to manipulate their feelings.

Sex education is important, I delivered it when I was a high-school teacher and I do it now as an integral part of my pastoral ministry in the church communities I administer. I tell my young people about vaginal sex, oral sex and anal sex, among other things - that is transmitting scientific information. But to tell young people that all forms of sex are equally acceptable, and that they have a right to perform whatever sex acts they wish, is trying to transmit norms, values and attitudes. That is one side of the battle of which I am speaking.

Each of us must make sure that we are not bamboozled by propaganda about fake 'rights' and about what consenting adults are allowed to do 'in private'. We need to protect the traditional family and the values that underpin it.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.