The Barbados government has presented a new Charter of Barbados to Parliament that has led to a war of words between Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley.
Prime Minister Mottley, who presented the Charter to legislators on Tuesday, one week before the island becomes a Republic, said that the document promotes the concept of active citizenship and is a guide for how people should treat each other and the country, but is not a constitution, the preamble to a new or the existing constitution, or a legal document.
“It is a document, however, that reflects how the majority feel, but that is committed to the protection of all, not just the majority, because the role of a government is to confer the benefits of the protection of the rule of law, the precepts of fairness, on its people while insisting that order remain to avoid anarchy,” she added.
But Atherley said the document, while not legally binding and outlines citizens’ rights and responsibilities leaves out “God” insisting that God cannot be thrown out with the monarch as Barbados prepares its transition to republican status next week.
The Opposition Leader said he has serious issues with the section of the Charter that refers to all being equal by virtue of “our humanity, in the eyes of the Creator”. He said this phrasing is watered down and departs significantly and tragically from that which appears in the preamble of the 1966 Constitution.
“We acknowledge God in the National Anthem; am I to be led to believe from the language of this Charter that we will address that line with the part that says ‘The Lord has been the People’s Guide”. “Are we going to remove that too because we are of the view that we are excluding others? Is this what we are not saying? And if we are not saying it there, we need to make sure the language here is correct so that we don’t give people the opinion that we are saying it here.
“Because I tell you, if you trifle with the National Anthem with respect to that line, you are going to have some problems in Barbados. I humbly say that and you can take that for what it is worth,” the Opposition Leader argued.
He told legislators that the Charter includes no expression of a sense of duty, devotion, or dependence on God who is supreme and sovereign.
“It is humanist; it represents a mindset in this world today that is prominent, it represents a value that we are importing from abroad and it is a departure from that to which we have always premise our lives. It gives no primacy to God.
“This Charter needs, in my humble view, very clearly, to express that we who share in my view this binding sense of values recognize that we share these values commonly under the eyes of him who is supreme and sovereign to all of us. For me, he is called God.”
Atherley said that all major religions in Barbados acknowledge a sovereign being to whom devotion is due. He warned those responsible for writing the Charter against trying to paint a picture that Barbados is not a Christian state.
But Prime Minister Mottley, who accused Atherley of attempting to mislead the House by suggesting that her government is trying to move away from the supremacy of God, said nothing was further from the truth, asking him to withdraw his statement.
She said the charter, which is not a legal document, was drafted by several people, including a distinguished Anglican cleric, Senator Reverend Dr John Rogers.
Mottley said the use of the word “Creator” was not intended to be disrespectful, but rather to respect the fact that credit is being given to a creator who is above all, saying that the Opposition Leader has the opportunity to state what he wants the word Creator to be changed to.
“This is not intended to be divisive. But what will not go into the records and stay in the records of the public of this country, is that this Government is trying to deny anybody in this country their right to determine who is their God and furthermore that we are seeking to recreate a preamble for the constitution. This is not the Constitution,” Prime Minister Mottley added.
But The Opposition Leader maintained his stance, saying “don’t come with this watered-down garbage that we are not a theocratic society.
“Hello, it is garbage. All of the major religions subscribe to the view that there is a supreme and sovereign being. They may call him God, they may call him Jehovah, they may call him Allah, whatever they call him he is supreme and sovereign and worthy and deserving of their devotion and sense of duty and to him they acknowledge their dependence. Don’t come with this imported folly.”
Atherley referred to the 2010 census which said the Anglican community made up 23.9 per cent of the population; the Pentecostal denomination accounted for 19.5 per cent; six per cent are Seventh Day Adventist; 4.2 per cent Methodist and Catholics accounted for 3.8 per cent.
“Out of 277,000 persons, 75.6 per cent or 209,000 persons admitted to being believers in that supreme and sovereign God. Twenty per cent confessed to having no religion. Barbados is a Christian country. The concept of God is not foreign to us. You can’t water it down or dilute [it]. So, in this charter, we need to move beyond celebrating our equality and our humanity and also give primacy to the God who is sovereign,” the Opposition Leader said.
Earlier Prime Minister Mottley told legislators that the “one major departure of this Charter from the Constitution that currently exists and the other things that we have done as an independent nation is that there is no document that says to Barbadians that you have not only rights but you also have a duty to take care of each other and you have a duty to take care of this nation and you have a duty to participate in the affairs or nation-building as a form of active citizenship”
She said the Charter “seeks to set out very, very clearly the precepts of not only rights but the recognition that the only people that will take care of this fair land are Barbadians themselves and those choosing to live here”.
The Charter of Barbados is premised on five articles, the first of which states that all Barbadians are born free and are equal in human dignity and rights regardless of age, race, ethnicity, faith, class, cultural and educational background, ability, sex, gender or sexual orientation.
“We must have a guideline to ensure that we must never, never, never, never reflect any ounce of discrimination against any human being in this nation if we are to be fair to the battles and to honor the battles fought by our ancestors and if we are to be fair to the precepts of human dignity that we believe in, whether as a nation or spiritually so,” Mottley told Parliament on Tuesday.
Barbados will become a Republic on November 30.