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Just speak the truth!

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Editor: While listening to the “New Times” Programme on Nice radio on Thursday the 4th of May, Mr. Lynch expressed disagreement with an expression that the Prime Minister used in parliament during the Malaysian Prime Minister’s visit. He said that the Prime Minister said that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a secular state. By the way Mr. Lynch, the PM’s exact words were “Similarly there is freedom of religion in our respective countries though with a difference:{{more}}St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a secular Christian nation and Malaysia is a secular Muslim one in which are present other major religions, namely Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism.”

According to Mr. Lynch, this is surprising and represents some attempt on the PM’s part to denigrate and sully Christianity’s name. My intention in this article is to clarify certain terms and show the truth to the public in this matter. Vincentians, I appeal to you to open your mind towards having an intelligent understanding of things and not be so bent on supporting or being against a particular party that you find yourselves fighting even against the truth.

It is a truth that all democracies are and must be secular states. To be a secular state is to have a government which does not enforce religion by civil law. This is true of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We do not enforce Christianity by law although it’s predominant here. So for example, if a Vincentian who is a Hindu were to worship an idol in his yard – which is against Christianity, he will not be penalized by the law of the land. This is so because the law of the land does not support Christianity against Hinduism for example. It acknowledges the right of each citizen to practice his religion according to the dictates of his conscience.

What we must understand is that a position like this on the government’s part does not constitute an anti-Christianity attitude. In fact the preamble in our constitution states, “Whereas the peoples of the Islands of Saint Vincent, who are known as Vincentians – a) have affirmed that the nation is founded on the belief in the supremacy of God and the freedom and dignity of man.” The Constitution acknowledges the nation’s respect for God. What the government does not do is to pass laws with respect to religions (for or against). It is simply showing that the government knows its place.

It is this same respect or acknowledgement of God in the land which allows, for example, prayer in Parliament. Now, subscribing to prayer in Parliament is not passing a law saying that only Christianity should be followed in the land. It’s simply men and women of government, who are human beings with religious liberties by the way, acknowledging as is stated in our constitution that the nation regards the supremacy of God. Thus the state remains secular – not enforcing religion by civil law yet at the same time allowing it to flourish.

On the other hand, religious states are known to have problems of state sponsored religious intolerance and religious persecution against other religions. To practice Christianity for example in an Islamic state is to find oneself in contravention of the laws of the land. On the other hand our secular state would not punish a Muslim girl for publicly wearing her hidjab (the name of the head covering they use) even though we are predominantly Christian. This brings me to explaining the difference. One may say that S.V.G. is a Christian country because indeed Christianity is the predominant religion here.

Yet one cannot suggest or claim that the PM and the government is bashing or fighting against Christianity by saying that SVG is secular (state). To claim this is to show that one is ignorant of the meaning of that term. Not to mention one would be placing themselves on slanderous grounds. I beg of you Vincentians to think carefully about what I am saying and do not follow people with loose, unintelligent tongues. Criticize the PM and the government if you must but make sure you are speaking the truth when you do so and that you are not being slanderous in your statements. Save yourself from hasty, emotional persons whose sole interest is to maintain political divisions while not being humble enough to acknowledge that they themselves can make mistakes.

As the definition of a secular state which Mr. Lynch refers to shows, in a secular state there is a separation/distance between the state/government and religion and secondly, that this separation does not involve a banishment of religion from the land. So instead of harping upon one expression in the definition, “distances itself completely from,” you should see that the rest of the definition qualifies or contextualises the meaning of the first part. Thus, whatever complete distance from religion means it does not include attacking religion in the land. It is simply saying that the government does not touch religion as far as passing legislation regarding it is concerned. Let careful and objective understanding temper your explanation of things lest you find yourself saying what the definition does not even say. May God have mercy on us all.

Anesia O. Richards

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