EDITORIAL: Freedom of conscience – the other side - EntornoInteligente
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Search form Search Main menu Home News Business Sports Columns Contact Us EDITORIAL: Freedom of conscience – the other side Sun, 01/05/2020 – 12:46am ONE of the justifications offered for the recent enactment of the statute legalising the sacramental use of cannabis by members of the Rastafarian religion under certain conditions is that such an initiative may be regarded as wholly consistent with an appreciation of this group’s guaranteed fundamental right to their freedom of conscience. Under our supreme law this includes the individual right, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

The jury is still out as to whether the legislation has succeeded in granting the group the full intendment of this right but, as we have suggested before in this space, this cautious approach was understandable, given the uncertain political implications of the move.

Now, from the neighbouring jurisdiction of Grenada, comes what we have chosen to term “the other side of freedom of conscience” with a fiat dated January 2, 2020 from its Ministry of Education, Human Resource Development, Religious Affairs and Information that all of the island’s schools must begin the upcoming Hilary term with an hour of prayer.

According to a report in the publication, Now Grenada, the purpose of the edict is “to highlight the importance of spirituality in the lives of young people”, although the proclamation itself asserts that the activity is geared at “highlighting the Ministry’s affirmation that prayers must be embraced as integral to the holistic development of young people”.

Unsurprisingly, as we conjecture would be the response here, there has been a seeming majority acceptance of the initiative by those readers who have cared to comment online, with one tersely dubbing it “very good” while another comments, “Excellent mandate from the Ministry of Education both in terms of spiritual and physical health and wellness!!! The education system is definitely heading in the right direction.”

This reaction is not universal, however. According to one reader, “Making first-century superstitions and mythology mandatory in the twenty-first century is progress? Time would be better spent on coding instructions”, while one Pancy Cross wonders, “Are you kidding me??? (sic)

As aforementioned, we have no doubt that given the current state of affairs in Barbados, not least the recent tragedy at a northern school, many Barbadians will readily urge a similar course of conduct for our several educational institutions.

Few will care to be reminded that the affirmative right not to be hindered in the enjoyment of one’s freedom of conscience also includes the freedom not to participate in the manifestation and propagation of another’s religion or belief. And while our constitutional text is not as definitive as that to be found in the First Amendment to the US Constitution that enjoins the making by Congress of “any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”, it is not to be seriously contended that freedom of religion does not also permit an opt-out of religious observance.

The Grenadian provision in its 1973 Constitution is instructive. This provides at section 9 (2): “Except with his own consent (or, if he is a person under the age of eighteen years, the consent of his guardian) no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion other than his own.”

The notice from the Ministry, referred to above, makes no reference to this provision nor does it, as should be expected, include an opt-out provision for those not of the Christian faith. It is a matter worthy of further debate.

LINK ORIGINAL: Barbados Advocate

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