Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley has taken the Government to task for leaving “God” out of the Charter of Barbados, declaring that God cannot be thrown out with the monarch as Barbados prepares its transition to republican status next week.
But Prime Minister Mia Mottley countered that the lone opposition MP was seeking to mislead the House of Assembly as lawmakers debated a resolution to endorse a charter that will not have the force of law.
Visibly upset that the charter does not make reference to the supremacy of God, Bishop Atherley said he has serious issues with the section of the charter that refers to all being equal by virtue of “our humanity, in the eyes of the Creator”. He said this phrasing is watered down and departs significantly and tragically from that which appears in the preamble of the 1966 Constitution.
Atherley said: “We acknowledge God in the National Anthem; am I to be led to believe from the language of this Charter that we will address that line with the part that says ‘The Lord has been the People’s Guide”. Are we going to remove that too because we are of the view that we are excluding others? Is this what we are not saying? And if we are not saying it there, we need to make sure the language here is correct so that we don’t give people the opinion that we are saying it here. Because I tell you, if you trifle with the National Anthem with respect to that line, you are going to have some problems in Barbados. I humbly say that and you can take that for what it is worth.”
Debating a House resolution that “Parliament take note and approve the Charter of Barbados”, the Opposition Leader said the charter includes no expression of a sense of duty, devotion, or dependence on God who is supreme and sovereign.
He said: “It is humanist; it represents a mindset in this world today that is prominent, it represents a value that we are importing from abroad and it is a departure from that to which we have always premise our lives. It gives no primacy to God. This charter needs, in my humble view, very clearly, to express that we who share in my view this binding sense of values recognize that we share these values commonly under the eyes of him who is supreme and sovereign to all of us. For me, he is called God.”
Bishop Atherley argued that all major religions in Barbados acknowledge a sovereign being to whom devotion is due. He warned those responsible for writing the charter against trying to paint a picture that Barbados is not a Christian state.
The separation of church and state was formalised in 1969 when the Anglican Church, then the official church since English settlement in 1627 was disestablished.
But the politician-cleric said: “Don’t come with this watered-down garbage that we are not a theocratic society. Hello, it is garbage. All of the major religions subscribe to the view that there is a supreme and sovereign being. They may call him God, they may call him Jehovah, they may call him Allah, whatever they call him he is supreme and sovereign and worthy and deserving of their devotion and sense of duty and to him they acknowledge their dependence. Don’t come with this imported folly.”
He referred to the 2010 census which said the Anglican community made up 23.9 per cent of the population; the Pentecostal denomination accounted for 19.5 per cent; six per cent are Seventh Day Adventist; 4.2 per cent Methodist and Catholics accounted for 3.8 per cent.
Bishop Atherley said: “Out of 277,000 persons, 75.6 per cent or 209,000 persons admitted to being believers in that supreme and sovereign God. Twenty per cent confessed to having no religion. Barbados is a Christian country. The concept of God is not foreign to us. You can’t water it down or dilute [it]. So, in this charter, we need to move beyond celebrating our equality and our humanity and also give primacy to the God who is sovereign.”
He added that it is being propagated by the uninformed whose education Barbados has paid for, that the concept of God is aligned to colonial institutions, and that the Bible is the product of a colonialist mindset used by the same institutions. But Bishop Atherley said it must be known that the concept of God and the church has been around pre-colonialism.
But Prime Minister Mottley, who accused Bishop Atherley of attempting to mislead the House by suggesting that her government is trying to move away from the supremacy of God, said nothing was further from the truth, asking him to withdraw his statement.
She said the charter, which is not a legal document, was drafted by several people, including a distinguished Anglican cleric, Senator Reverend Dr John Rogers.
Mottley said the use of the word “Creator” was not intended to be disrespectful, but rather to respect the fact that credit is being given to a creator who is above all. In fact, Prime Minister Mottley suggested that the Opposition Leader has the opportunity to state what he wants the word Creator to be changed to.
Mottley said: “This is not intended to be divisive. But what will not go into the records and stay in the records of the public of this country, is that this Government is trying to deny anybody in this country their right to determine who is their God and furthermore that we are seeking to recreate a preamble for the constitution. This is not the Constitution.” [email protected]