Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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Should a leader impose belief over reason?

Published in Trinidad Express • 28 March 2006 • 514 words

As a citizen, Patrick Augustus Manning has the right to believe whatever he wants. But, as the Prime Minister, Mr Manning should not have the right to impose his religious beliefs on other citizens.

It appears, however, that Mr Manning believes otherwise, since he has once again stated that he will does not approve of the Draft Gender Policy because of its “flexible interpretation” of gender. “My religious beliefs do not allow for a flexible interpretation of gender,” Mr Manning said at a conference organised by the National Association for the Empowerment of African People (NAEAP).

So not only is Mr Manning suggesting that homosexuals do not even exist, but that he will use his power as Prime Minister to ensure that people of same-sex orientation do not enjoy the same rights as heterosexual citizens. His ‘reasoning’ is of the same type used just 20 years by white South Africans, when it was suggested that black South Africans should have the same rights as whites. It is the same attitude which had the Afghanistan government planning to execute a man who converted from Islam to Christianity (until overruled by the Afghan courts – at least for now).

The underlying principle - using religious belief rather than ethical reasoning to decide right and wrong - is no different in all three cases. Moreover, the same religious texts that prevent Mr Manning from tolerating homosexuality also commands that homosexuals be put to death for same-sex acts. It is only enlightened secular norms which prevent Christian believers from insisting that this 3000-year-old law be put into practice - but in the tribal Islamic culture of Afghanistan, such barbaric beliefs still hold sway.

Were Mr Manning a leader for whom “attaining developed country status by 2020” was more than a slogan, he would understand that promoting secularism is essential for Trinidad and Tobago to progress. We cannot improve our education system, reduce crime, provide efficient health care, or even ease up the traffic flow without applying rationality, ethics, and compassion to all our political actions. The intrusion of ancient religious beliefs in public policy stymies that goal.

Moreover, a secular state is the only political system which can treat all religions equally. When it comes to politics and social issues, religious organisations of course have the same rights as any other group to present arguments. But such arguments should be based on reason and evidence, since this provides common ground. Religious beliefs, since they are based solely on authority, do not allow the finding of common ground through rational argument and compromise.

This point about finding common ground is crucial to creating a stable society. And a secular system is the only one that provides such a basis, because secularism treats persons first and foremost as citizens with equal rights. That is the common ground from which all other issues have to be worked out. It is a pity that Mr Manning apparently did not learn this at his recent Cabinet retreat to discover the meaning of life.

See Sunday Express Editorial

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