Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Verbal Clash Over God and Gays

Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar sits at head table 
Views on topics such as God and homosexuality were expressed at the first public consultation on constitutional reform on Monday night.

The session was held at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya, where citizens used the opportunity to also voice their concerns on the Local Government system.

Legal Affairs Minister Prakash Ramadhar sat at the head table and listened to the remarks made.
In his opening statement, he said he was there to listen, and the people should feel free to speak their minds. Each person had three minutes to express his or her view.

Assistant secretary-general of the Caribbean Religious Liberty Association Oswald Pierre spoke of this country's need for religious freedom.

"While the Constitution provides for religious freedom and fundamental rights, there are still some very high-profile and prestigious institutions that are not allowing certain minority groups to enjoy religious freedom. Some of these issues are now before the court. I will not make mention of a situation with respect to our Baptist friends in Couva whose church was bulldozed without due process," said Pierre.
He said there must be acknowledgement of the Supreme God and fundamental rights as well as the position of the family—which is endowed by the Creator.

Express columnist and representative of the Humanist Association of Trinidad and Tobago Kevin Baldeosingh shared another view.

Baldeosingh, an atheist, expressed concern with the preamble of the Constitution, which states, "Whereas the people of Trinidad and Tobago have affirmed that the nation of Trinidad and Tobago is founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God."

Baldeosingh said this was not true in 1976 and it is not true today.

He said the preamble contradicts another section of the Constitution, which speaks to conscious belief and observance and freedom of thought and expression.

The preamble, he said, was "philosophically incoherent" and there may be legal implications for non-believers in terms of their rights.

He also noted that the 2011 demographic report stated that the number of people who indicated that they had no religion increased by 33 per cent to 28,000 plus, and others who did not state their religion amounted to over 46,000 people.

Baldeosingh suggested that God be left out of the Constitution.

Pierre immediately got up and said, "If you leave God out of the Constitution, then you have to leave God out of the National Anthem."

David Taitt felt God presided over this country and homosexuality should not be condoned.

"The Constitution must not legalise homosexuality and gay marriages. We are a State that follows God's rule and no way we must have that nastiness in our country," he said.

He said further that one day must be constitutionally allocated for a day of worship.

He also suggested that Trinidad and Tobago be made a federal state with a prime minister for Tobago and another for Trinidad with a president as head.

Integrity Commission member Seunarine Jokhoo said there was need for proper protocol for an incoming prime minister or president. He added that persons appointed by the current president should offer their resignations and let the new president renew their contract.

Jokhoo added that he was "disgusted" by the way Parliament operates and there should be something in place to guide this.

He said further the powers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) should be examined, as well as the appointments of the Commissioner of Police and members to State boards.

Olabisi Kuboni, of the Constitution Reform Forum (CRF), suggested the structure of the Senate be changed. She said there should be reduced emphasis on political parties as, right now, the governing party has the majority both in the House of Representatives and Senate.

The Constitution, she said, must minimise this power and ensure civil society has a greater voice in the Parliament.

Teresina Seunarine supported this, saying she was the mother of an autistic son, and the differently abled should have a voice in the Parliament.

She said prior to the general election, politicians were on the ground meeting the people; and after they got into office, those very people were struggling to meet their representatives.

"I don't think our voices are being heard enough in the community. We need help," she said.
Support for a two-term limit for the prime minister and the right of recall of members of Parliament were widely supported.

A team of commissioners—Dr Hamid Ghany, Justice Sebastian Ventour, Dr Merle Hodge, Justice Amrika Tiwary-Reddy and Carlos Dillon—will continue the consultations throughout the country.
The next consultation is scheduled to take place at the Arima Town Hall on Saturday at 5.30 p.m.


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