Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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"Leave ‘beliefs’ out of public office"

Shane Collens • 04 April 2006 • 336 words
Published in Trinidad Guardian "Letter of the Day"Newsday

Patrick Manning’s statement: “My religious beliefs do not allow for a flexible interpretation of gender,” at a conference organised by the National Association for the Empowerment of African People, brings to question the separation of his right to private belief and his responsibilities in public office.

Do we not expect the same standard of debate from our Parliament as we expect from the Hall of Justice? As far as I know, the only deliberation in a court of law is that of the process of enquiry and evidence, reason and ethics and hopefully compassion in the decision. Beliefs, emotions and hearsay are not admissible.

Therefore, bringing “belief” to the forum that formulates law and public policy, is not only inappropriate, but also a shameful display of insecurity and indecision in leadership: “I can’t think without a Higher Being?” This is the arrogance of authoritarianism that panders to a perceived majority of religious sensibility, in order to ensure political security, rather than to an international convention to which T&T has been a signatory for over 20 years.

I refer to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted by the United Nations in 1979 (Reference: Why, therefore, do we not have a policy? Is there something more special about us over the other 182 state parties to this UN convention? Or do we not want to debate the definition of gender and the rights of those who disagree?

Refusing to debate at this forum is not only undemocratic, but it is a threat to the freedom of choice to pursue any line of thought and activity (as long as it causes no harm to others).

Remember that humanist and secular thinking does not deny “freedom of religion” for those who want it, but also ensures “freedom from religion” for those who don’t want it. And, under our present leadership, for those who need it.

Shane Collens, Cascade



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