The state’s decision to prosecute a Rastafarian couple for refusing to send their children to school is a “classic case” of discrimination against Rastafarianism, former parliamentarian Hamilton Lashley is claiming.
On September 24, both parents were found to be in breach of Section 41 Clause (b) of the Education Act, Chapter 41 on the grounds that there was no record of the children – a boy and a girl both under the age of ten – ever attending formal classes. The case has since become a topic of national discussion as questions about religious freedom have surfaced while the two await sentencing.
In an emotional interview with Barbados TODAY, Lashley called for an amendment of the law to ensure that people were not deprived of their religious freedoms.
“In my view this was classic case of Rasta profiling in this country. The impression was given that these two children are illiterate, they can’t read and write, they backward, only because they are Rasta. It was not until later that it was discovered that the children are very intelligent and they are not illiterate and they have been schooled well at home and that is the important point,” the former Minister of Social Transformation said.
In addition, Lashley contended, that the court of public opinion rushed to judgment based solely on societal stereotype rather than fact.
“Many Barbadians did not expect to hear that contrary to their [preconceived] belief, that the children were so well learned and had such a high educational standard for their age. This is because psychologically in most Barbadians minds, they profile Rastas in this country as outlaws and persons who don’t conform to the norms of society.
“Therefore, I thought it was a wicked thing, the type of profiling and misinformation that was passed on. Of course, it raises the questions of religious rights and privileges. So if as part of their religion they are keeping their children at home as part of their faith, I think they have a valid point,” he stressed.
However, the social activist said he was happy that issues facing fringe religions such as Rastafarianism are finding their way into the public discourse.
“For years in Barbados, Rastas have been profiled as criminals, gangsters, basically everything evil under the sun. Rasta’s rights in this country have been violated in the early days. In some instances they were forced to cut off their locks to conform to the system . . . I am now seeing 180-degree turn around because when the Rastas were talking about eating ital and eating healthy, they labelled them as bad people. Now everybody is obsessed with getting that same healthy food.
“The same locks that they wanted to cut off because it didn’t conform to society, is now being sold commercially. I am sure that Rihanna did not grow locks in three weeks. Now it is fashion,” the former Member of Parliament for St Michael South East said.