President's Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day Message
Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011
OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
REPUBLIC OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Message from His Excellency Professor George Maxwell Richards TC, CMT, Ph. D, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, on the Occasion of Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day, 30th March, 2011.
Today, in celebrating Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day, Trinidad and Tobago recalls the repeal, on 30th March 1951, of the Shouter Prohibition Ordinance which was enacted on 16th November, 1917.
This day should be a time of deep reflection for the Spiritual Baptist/Shouter community, which needs no invitation to do so, but also for the wider national community, regardless of religious beliefs or even in the absence of religious beliefs. I say this because the fundamental theme that undergirds this celebration is freedom, in this case freedom of religion.
Freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance is a right enshrined in our Republican Constitution and protected by it, in Sections 4 and 5 respectively. It also reflects the spirit of the Constitution, as set out in the Preamble of that document.
As of 16th November 1917, there was no such legal protection for Spiritual/Shouter Baptists. They were on the wrong side of the law and had to depend largely on their own resolve, in order to survive the largely brutal containment of their religious practices. There were many foot soldiers in the struggle, but the names of Albert Maria Gomes, Tubal Uriah “Buzz” Butler and Elton Griffith stand out as champions of the cause of freedom to worship, as it related to this particular group. Their work was rewarded in the repeal of the Ordinance which ensured the legal rights of adherents of the Faith.
But what was the real problem? At the time, diversity of religion was already a fact of life in this country. There are some who say that the real reason for antagonism was because many of the practices were of African origin and a large part of the population did not want to be reminded of the shame and degradation associated with things African, particularly slavery.
Religion and culture being closely intertwined as they are, whatever the merits or lack thereof of the above mentioned view, this should give pause for thought and strengthen our determination, as a country of diverse streams, not to be influenced by any considerations that do violence to entitlement to human rights, in the decision making processes, throughout our systems.
On behalf of the national community, I extend best wishes to Spiritual Baptists at home and in the diaspora, on this day of celebration.
May God bless our nation.
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