Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

tt.humanist :: forum :: commentary :: secularism

A church service is inappropriate for the Opening of the Law Term

Published in Trinidad Express and Newsday
14 September 2007 • 465 words

The Ceremonial Opening of the 2007-2008 Law Term, which is to be held on Monday 17th September, will begin with a "Service of Divine Worship". Members of the Inter-Religious Organisation will each have a representative of major and minor religions – Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Baptist, Orisha, and so on – delivering a homily that has nothing to do with law.

The Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association views this as a pernicious precedent to bind the country by, since it flouts the line between State and religion which is drawn in all modern societies. It is bad enough that religion is allowed to intrude on ceremonies such as the opening of Parliament to staff meetings in Government Ministries, but it is more worrisome that the country’s judicial officers feel the need to have the Law Term opened in a church and to seek “divine guidance” in carrying out their duties. After all, the laws laid down in the various holy books are not suited to a modern society (unless we agree that homosexuals should be executed, as enjoined in Leviticus; or that thieves should have their hands cut off, as laid down in the Qu’ran; or that women should not be allowed to testify in court, as specified by the Laws of Manu).

Moreover, these religious homilies exclude those officers of the court who are agnostics or non-theists and are therefore a form of bias. While it would be best to have no religious homilies at all, why is there no individual included in the ceremony to give a secular sermon on the proper duties of the country’s judicial officers? Such a speech could be given without the need to invoke “divine guidance” which, given the religious laws which have been abandoned as societies have become more civilised, cannot in fact serve as a proper guide to any judge, magistrate, or lawyer. Despite this, we have frequently seen judges citing religious texts, or admitting that they prayed before making a decision, in the nation’s courts. Yet, strictly speaking, judges should use no guide but the law in reaching a decision. Invoking religion runs the risk of making a decision appear biased, especially if the judge’s religious persuasion is different to the defendant’s or plaintiff’s.

Finally, Trinidad and Tobago is a republic: meaning a state run by laws rather than by the whims of a monarch – monarchs, like some Prime Ministers, having historically claimed to be appointed by God.

For these reasons, our Association would recommend either that the Law Term opening not include religious homilies or, if such homilies are to be kept, that a suitable individual be asked to deliver a secular sermon. We would also advise that a more suitable venue than a church be used for this important annual event.

T&T Humanist Association

See Should a leader impose belief over reason?

See TT Humanist : Views : Governance

See TT Humanist : News : Launch : The Virtues of Secularism (PDF)

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