A local human rights organisation is calling for a sharp shift away from centuries of religious principles and dogma characteristic of colonialism as the country prepares to transition from a constitutional monarchy to a parliamentary republic.
Among a list of bold suggestions from Humanists Barbados is the removal of all references to God in the local law books, the elimination of ‘blasphemy’ as an offence, and the scrapping of all forms of prayer in public schools.
President of the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Maachelle Farley disclosed that the Republican Status Transition Advisory Committee has also been informed of the organisation’s desire to see capital punishment and corporal punishment forbidden, and a full slate of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) rights recognised.
“Barbados has a secular Government and is home to diverse religious and non-religious populations. So using the term ‘God’ is divisive as it begs the question as to which religion is being referred to,” Farley told Barbados TODAY.
Moments after hosting a webinar entitled Freedom of Thought in our Republic and Beyond: No Monarch, No Massa, No God, the activist explained that references to the ‘primacy of God’ as cited in the Constitution fail to recognise that belief in God is a matter of voluntary individual choice and ought not to be imposed.
She added that the offence of blasphemy, though hardly enforced, is a fetter on citizens’ right to freedom of expression.
Among the most controversial suggestion is the longstanding tradition of saying prayers in public schools.
“It is certainly appropriate in the context of the family home, but when you have children from all walks of life, from different religions, from different families, who believe different things, how can you then expect a child who doesn’t pray at home to clasp their hands and pray to a God that they don’t know anything about,” Farley contended.
The organisation is also calling for the removal of “outdated” and “barbaric” corporal punishment in homes and schools. It also made a strong case for the abolition of the death penalty.
“Our stance is that all murder is inhumane and unethical, whether it is carried out by an individual, organisation or a state and the death penalty is a cruel and degrading punishment regardless of the circumstances, regardless of who is accused because the penalty breaches fundamental human rights,” said Farley.
On LGBTQ rights, she added: “It is not fair for society to welcome couples and families of all types to visit, work and enjoy the island as tourists and business persons regardless of their sexual orientation, but then prohibit its own citizens, by law, from the same freedoms and rights. We believe that homophobia is a relic of religious dogma and slave society, and it is something that we need to move on from. We need to allow the LGBT community to have families, to feel fully part of society.”
Addressing Tuesday’s webinar, popular pollster and local talk show host, Peter Wickham declared that the title of the event was most appropriate, contending that the country’s linkages to the concept of God are generally tied to a history of colonialism and slavery.
“God of course is the person who decides that the queen should be queen and that her family and heirs and successors should continue to rule ad infinitum. God gives them that power. So it is important as part of that arrangement. Within the republic, I don’t get it,” Wickham declared.
“God is also the person who decided that as slaves, we should know our place and we should be good slaves. Therefore it was important in the colonial arrangement to make sure there was reference to God . . . So God was important to that arrangement historically.
“Now, as we move into a republic, I am challenged to understand what does God have to do with the secular arrangement in which we have rejected the whole idea of this monarchy,” he added.
Meanwhile, Farley expressed optimism about the level of engagement with the republican committee during meetings that followed the organisation’s recommendations.
The president of Humanists Barbados is also hoping for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission to place the country in the vanguard of the global struggle, based on its history of slavery and indentureship.