Bill of Rights debated

Religion a key issue

A bill of rights enshrined in a new constitution will help protect Cayman’s Christian values, residents were told on Wednesday evening at a special meeting hosted by the Constitutional Review Secretariat.

The main speaker for the evening was constitutional reform consultant Professor Jeffrey Jowell, who spoke about several human rights issues including religion and then answered many questions from the audience of approximately 300 people.

But it was Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin who made the most impassioned argument for why the Bill or Rights was necessary for the Cayman Islands after Pastor William Peguero commented on how Lebanon used to have a Christian majority population but no longer does.

Mr. McLaughlin said he could not think of a more compelling argument of why Cayman needed a bill of rights.

‘That is an example of a reality that could happen to this place,’ he said, adding that Cayman has changed a lot from 1970 when there were only about 10,000, mostly indigenous, people living here.

‘Now the population is about 60,000 by most people’s estimates.’

Mr. McLaughlin said that Cayman 10, 15 or 20 years from now would likely be a lot different than it is now.

‘Cayman can face a situation in which the Christian faith is not the majority faith. It’s a reality. It’s a real possibility.’

By having a bill of rights containing a freedom of conscience – also known as a freedom of thought – provision, Mr. McLaughlin said Caymanians could be assured they would always have the right to practice their Christian faith. He warned the audience that Cayman should not ‘leave it to chance’ that they would always be able to practice their faith.

‘The Cayman of today is not what I grew up in,’ he said. ‘We need constants; guarantees. That’s why you need a bill of rights.’

Mr. McLaughlin also warned that unless Cayman negotiated with the United Kingdom a constitution with a Caymanised bill of rights, the United Kingdom might impose a constitution on the country that had ‘extreme laws’ in it that could create situations similar to the recent one with the Bishop of Hereford, who was ordered by a UK court to pay a large fine and attend equal opportunities training because he refused to hire a homosexual man for a church youth officer position.

Mr. Jowell explained that a freedom of conscience provision in a bill of rights would allow everyone in the Cayman Islands to manifest their religious belief any way they wanted to as long as it did not infringe on the rights of others or break laws such as those dealing with morality.

Reverend Nicholas Sykes asked Mr. Jowell if he thought it was possible for Cayman to maintain a Christian society if there were a bill of rights in the new constitution.

‘There is no obstacle that I can see to prevent what you are trying to achieve,’ Mr. Jowell replied.

The question of whether faith-based schools would be able to hire only people of a particular faith was raised.

Mr. Jowell explained that the bill of rights generally only gives people rights against the government and would therefore only apply to government schools, not the faith-based schools.

However, former attorney general Richard Coles commented that when private schools receive public funding – as all private schools in Cayman do – the UK government treats them like public schools with regard to Human Rights issues.

Mr. McLaughlin said the Cayman Islands had some leeway to write into the bill of rights certain provisions that would limit the application of certain rights.

Mr. Jowell agreed that it would certainly be permissible for faith-based schools to be allowed to hire people of a certain faith, even if the school did receive government funding.

The issue of whether prayer would be allowed in public schools was also raised. Mr. Jowell said prayer could be allowed – and could not be prevented – but that children of other faiths who attended the school could not be forced to pray or practice a certain religion if they did not want to.

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