Archive for May, 2008

MLAs fear right’s impact on religious radio

| 30/05/2008 | 0 Comments

Minister for Communication, Works and Infrastructure, Arden McLean,
said that it was anybody’s guess what would happen with a Bill of
Rights, but added that it was not plausible that it would affect the
number of hours of Christian programmes on the station.

Coming to his support, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts
said categorically that Radio Cayman would still continue its
programmes as they have been to date. However, Julianna O’Connor
Connolly, Opposition Member for the Sister Islands, asked if the Bill
of Rights would allow other religions equal broadcast time to promote
their faiths and how it would affect the current situation of
exclusive Christian broadcasting.

“Does it mean it will open it up to other religions, be it Hinduism,
Satanism or whatever type of ‘ism?” she asked. “I cannot understand
how it won’t affect it, especially considering how much it is likely
to affect the Sunday Trading Laws. Why is this in isolation – I just
don’t follow the logic.”

McLean noted that Radio Cayman controls the content of its
broadcasting and he suspected that other recognised legal religions
would be able to purchase air time, but he expected Christianity would
compose the bulk of religious programming.

Cline Glidden, opposition member for West Bay asked him to clarify
whether or not a Bill of Rights would prevent government from
discriminating, and how Radio Cayman could not offer equality to other
religions. He said that, as a government radio station, it would have
to give equal time to other recognised faiths.

McLean acknowledged that other religions would have a right to
broadcast but not necessarily in equal weight, provided Christians
remained in the majority. “It is obvious that if there are other
religions which are currently recognised in this country they have the
same right as any other religion,” he said. “But there is no
indication here that Christianity will not be the predominant religion
in the Cayman Islands – it depends on how many Christians are here,
doesn’t it?”

Glidden suggested that there was a disconnect over the understanding
of the Bill of Rights as it was designed to protect minorities, but
the Minister was suggesting thatthe majority of Christians would
dominate. He said that it was clear that more discussion was needed to
understand what it would really mean to broadcasting equality.

“No one is saying that Christianity will not be allowed to be
practised. What we are saying is that it won’t be exclusively
Christian. It would mean there will be equal airtime given to all
religions,” said Glidden.

Tibbetts emphasised that the Bill of Rights was about protecting
citizens against the actions of the government. However O’Connor
Connolly noted that this was exactly the issue. “With the greatest
respect, this would then be a prime example,” she said. “This is a
government radio station coming for government funding for 100%
Christian broadcasting, which I agree with. Once we have a Bill of
Rights proposed by the PPM, I cannot see how this situation can
continue. If the PPM hasn’t considered the ramifications, then they
need to because this is going to radically change our community.”

Tibbetts said that the Bill of Rights would recognise the Christian
heritage of the people of the Cayman Islands. Radio Cayman would
remain the same and continue to have the right to broadcast Christian
programmes. “It does not mean that because of a Bill of Rights that
Radio Cayman will have to give equal airtime to any other religions,”
he said.

Stepping into the discussion, Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush
said he could not follow the logic of the LoGB’s argument, and he
noted that once they were in the UK everything could be different, and
no one would know what would really happen here once a Bill of Rights
is in place.

The LoGB did acknowledge some uncertainty when he said he did not know
for sure what the UK would say about the proposals, but based on the
2003 negotiations and the constitutions of other territories, he
concluded that the Bill of Rights is simply about the actions of the
government against its citizens.

The opposition said they perceived that other religions will have to
be given equal opportunity under a Bill of Rights and that is was
clear more advice was required on the subject. They asked the
government to check if exclusive broadcasting of Christianity on Radio
Cayman would be considered institutionalised religious discrimination.
The LoGB confirmed that he would seek advice and prove that Radio
Cayman could continue on its current path even under a Bill of Rights.

The Human Rights Committee confirmed to CNS that, according to
accepted international principles, a government entity should not
discriminate in its policies where fundamental rights, such as freedom
of expression, are concerned.

 

 

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Freedom of Religion

| 30/05/2008 | 0 Comments

By Gordon Barlow – Posted Friday, 30 May 2008

In the modern world, ancient religions retain a strong hold – together
with their holy texts and the priests etc who interpret them. 
Conversions from one religion to another are rare; even conversions
from one sect to another within the same religion are rare.  And
where conversions are rare, so is tolerance of the competition.

Religions are essentially tribal.  Most times, a religion is the
cement that holds a tribe together against the centrifugal forces of
secular education and exposure to foreign ideas.  The word
“religion” derives from the same ancient root as “law”. 
Religions began as manifestations of the laws of ancient tribes. 

Tribal laws were the laws of the tribal gods; enemy tribes had enemy
gods, with different and inferior laws.  By and large, that is
still the case today. 

Today we have coalitions of tribes called nations; and in much of the
world tribal gods have been joined together in what is reckoned to be
a single god, called (in English) God.  In some nations, there
are communities that draw no distinction between social laws and
religious laws.  Their clergies interpret their gods’ laws and
apply them to the everyday lives of all members of the
community. 

In “Islamic” countries, all political decisions are overseen by the
priestly caste.  “Islam” literally means “submission [to God]”,
and of course it’s only the priests who know the mind of God. 
Most Christian communities, too, rely on their clergies to interpret
the mind and will of God.  In the US, they lay down the law to
church congregations larger than the entire electorate of
Cayman. 

A religious believer’s primary loyalty is to his tribal community and
its god.  It is extremely hard for a devotee to turn his back on
his religion and tribe.  That would amount to treason to both of
those entities.  In the Bible the essential Commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” – and, it is understood,
“… or their laws before my laws“. 

When a community is fiercely loyal to its traditional gods and laws,
it’s highly unlikely to abandon them for any outside body of
rules.  That would be heresy.  Hence, tribal Caymanians’
insistence that a Constitutional Bill of Rights be “Caymanised”, so as
to ensure that the legal rights are fully compatible with their
religious laws. 

Individuals who have somehow cast off their inherited tribal loyalties
and religions find it hard to sympathise with religious stubbornness,
and impossible to concede any claim to exemption from international
standards of human rights.  The result is a stand-off, with each
side despising the other. 

I’m afraid the composers of the Universal Declaration took religion
much too lightly as an opponent of secular human rights.  Everyone has the right to freedom of religion, it says.  By
implication, it expects religions to be tolerant, whereas religions by
their nature are not tolerant. 

Least of all are they tolerant of any competitors, whether religious
or humanist belief-systems.  The Declaration says they ought to
be tolerant so that they themselves will be tolerated.  Well,
good luck.  There are some religions that buy into that argument,
but not many.

Judging by their reaction to The Gay Kiss, Cayman’s religious
spokesmen are decades away from being ready to tolerate any departure
from their god’s laws.  Their god will have no truck with non-
Caymanian standards of behaviour: universal human rights be
damned.  It’s going to be a tough sell.

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A failure to win the real hearts and minds

| 27/05/2008 | 0 Comments

During the recent consultation period, the people of the Cayman
Islands were given a fair opportunity to air their thoughts and
opinions on the way forward with the country’s new constitution. With
the PPM government’s road show now over it has come up with its final
proposals and a sample ballot paper, which gives a reasonable outline
of what the referendum questions will be.

It is fair to say that, as far as the government proposals for a new
constitution document go, the referendum paper gives voters a
reasonable chance to say clearly what they do and don’t agree with,
except of course for the one thing that can’t be up for discussion –
the Bill of Rights.

It is rather ironic for the government, which has gone to some
considerable lengths to ensure that the people will be behind the key
points they intend to negotiate in London, that the one area which
cannot really be debated is the one area where they have failed to win
the hearts and minds.

The UK has already stated quite clearly that any proposals for a new
constitution must come with a Bill of Rights, and herein lies the
problem.

It is probably true to say that the government has won the people over
with a number of their propositions for the actual constitution
document, including ideas of re-balancing power between governor and
elected leaders as well as one member one vote. Moreover, the
government has also come up with a relatively democratic way of
measuring the proposals the people don’t like in the upcoming national
ballot.

But the elephant in the room, so to speak, as far as the coming vote
is concerned is the Bill of Rights.

Even at this eleventh hour there is little evidence to suggest that
the church or the vast majority of people who are entitled to vote
here (which, is must not be forgotten, amounts to only around one
quarter of the population) are convinced that Cayman should have a
Bill of Rights.

It may seem utterly absurd to the vast majority of people who won’t be
going to the polls, but it is very clear that the loudest objections
throughout this process have centred on how a Bill of Rights will
undermine the local culture.

Never mind that the bill will only apply vertically, that it is
designed to protect the people from the worst excesses of state power
or that a Bill of Rights boils down to protecting freedoms, something
that Caymanians generally hold dear.

The fear that enacting such a bill could in the future herald rights
for homosexuals or other religions has undermined any support that
most people would naturally have for human rights.

When a prominent member of the opposition political party is standing
up in public and demanding some form of discriminatory clause in the
Bill of ights against homosexual behaviour, one can only conclude that
the principle in this argument has been utterly lost. Unfortunately
for government, this one item could also be the ballot loser. And
while keeping the issue well away from the ballot paper may help the
government to gain an overall yes vote for their proposals, there are
many who will see through this and, of course, vote against the entire
process simply because of an irrational fear that accepting a Bill of
Rights means ‘yes’ to gay marriage or a mosque opening on Crew Road.

The campaign to convince the people of Cayman that a Bill of Rights
would not necessarily affect these two examples or any others that
have presented themselves over the past four months or so has failed.
The overriding fear that Cayman’s Christian culture is about to go to
hell in a hand basket if the bill is passed has sadly prevailed.

The failure of the campaign to explain the difference between rights
and protections and discrimination and prejudice is illustrated by
numerous letters to the media, calls to radio talk show discussions
and, most forcefully of all, by the opposition which has categorically
stated that the government is failing in its duties by not finding a
way to integrate specific discrimination into the Bill of Rights –
which of course is an oxymoron.

Sadly, the progress of the nation’s constitution could be severely
undermined by this issue because the opinion of those who are entitled
to vote has not been won.

And moreover, as the opposition makes plans to take its show on the
road where, no doubt, they will be doing their level best to seek a no
vote and will have no reservations about using the Bill of Rights as a
weapon in their campaign, the government may just be wishing, on this
occasion at least, that all those liberal ex-pats were enfranchised
after all.

 

reply@caymannewsservice.com  

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Freedom of Conscience

| 23/05/2008 | 0 Comments

I, for one, would do anything and everything that I could do to see
that another human being has food or water. There are so many
really important things that need attention in our society; I would
think that this would – or certainly should be – a “right” that should
be implied because there are some things in life, whether you like it
or not, that should go without saying. 

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Immigrants are human not units of labour

| 20/05/2008 | 0 Comments

By Wendy Ledger – Posted Tuesday, 20 May 2008

4 comments

Although it is still early days and there will be many revisions and
debates about the policy directives that will emerge from the
comprehensive National Assessment of Living Conditions, a few key
points are already apparent. The report’s major findings are quite
clear: Cayman has a relatively low level of poverty and the majority
of the very poorest among us are immigrants.

In the first public airing of this extensive document, it is already
easy to detect a little discomfort between civil servants from the
Ministry of Health and Human Services and those who wrote the report –
based on the evidence and research – and, more importantly, drew the
conclusions. The findings make for uncomfortable reading, not because
we have large swaths of people living in desperate poverty, but
because the ones that are in that position may well be there as a
direct result of certain government policies, in particular
immigration policies.

Denis Brown, one of the authors of the report, a lecturer at the UWI
and an expert in migration and development, said the people who come
to Cayman as migrant labourers, in particular Jamaicans and more
recently those from the Philippines, cannot be regarded merely as
units of labour and we must remember they are people with needs,
desires and responsibilities. They are people who have ambitions and
expectations and want, no less than Caymanians do, a better life for
their children.

Considering the combination of push and pull factors that bring so
many migrants to our shores and our own dependence on international
labour at both the top and bottom of our economic structure, Brown
warns that we need to take a long hard look at how we create a more
equitable environment for those we invite here. What Brown advocates
is a better appreciation of their needs and an understanding of why
people are forced to remit their earnings home when they can’t bring
their families here, and how without security of tenure they will cut
their lives to the bare bone and live in poverty because they don’t
see a choice.

Cayman is not unique in its dependence on foreign labour. It is,
however, unique in that the expatriate and immigrant working
populations exceed that of the local population, which creates
exaggerated concerns about being swamped by outsiders and a desire to
keep ‘foreigners’ out of the mainstream of society.

These fears have over the years created untenable positions for many
migrants. Before the rollover policy was introduced, many people lived
here, year after year, with absolutely no definable rights. The
introduction of more confirmed policies has both helped and hindered
the current situation. In some respects, people coming now know the
rules, but because the rules are relatively harsh regarding dependents
and the right to settle, we are creating a smash and grab attitude.

As workers cannot bring their families and because the likelihood of
settling and making a new life in Cayman is very limited for those at
the bottom of the economic heap, the rules encourage workers to save
and remit as much as possible to their respective nations. They will
see their suffering here as short term and their only possible way to
improve their future prospects and that of their children in sending
all their money home.

This means we may well see an increase of slum living as migrants
reduce their living situation to the minimum. The appearance already
of advertisements in the local classified columns for three-bedroom
homes that sleep twelve people will become increasingly more common as
landlords move to take advantage of the social phenomenon.

Managing migration is an important part of the evolution of a
civilised society. Referring to it as “enlightened self interest”,
Brown explained that you cannot disregard your migrant labour when you
have invited them into your community. These people are not illegal
immigrants or people trying to “pull a fast one” on the Cayman
community, they are human beings who are offering their services on a
free and open labour market, and unless we recognise their humanity,
Brown says we will be setting our society up for future trouble.

Demonising the foreigner does not protect Caymanian identity and, as
the story of the Good Samaritan tells us, the foreigner is not always
a stranger.

Chris Randall: Poverty is relative. A person (or
team) assessing poverty does so based upon their own perceptions and
experiences; thus pronouncements purporting to define
levels of poverty must be viewed with caution. This is particularly
true when considering the living conditions of migrant workers. 
What may appear to the western observer as appalling might, to the
people living there, be no different to their home situation in their
country of origin. This is not to say that anyone should be taken
advantage of, but it is important to realise that in many parts of the
world it is quite normal for whole families to live in one room,
sharing facilities with others and perhaps sleeping in shifts. 

The low level of pay for some occupations is to be deplored, and the
diligence with which workers from overseas save and send money home
must be greatly admired. There is, however, a fine economic
balance and if a given country finds that the remittances from it’s
expatriate workers upsets that balance vis-a-vis the
resident working population, restrictions will be imposed either on
actual travel or by means of exchange control.  This has happened
more than once already. Whatever we may think of the living
conditions our foreign workers are prepared to tolerate, we cannot
lose sight of the fact that there is a bigger picture.

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Constitutional debate neglects environment

| 20/05/2008 | 0 Comments

By Wendy Ledger

As the officially scheduled public meetings drew to a close last week,
the secretariat representative said that while the balance of power
between the governor and the elected officials and single member
constituencies were often raised at meetings, it was human rights that
was by far the most debated topic throughout the process.

Anyone who has attended the meetings will know that issues regarding
rights of same sex marriage and the freedom to worship have caused the
most consternation.  Although a Bill of Rights is designed to
protect the people from the powers of the state being misused, the
debate here in Cayman has more often than not focused on the idea of
avoiding giving too many rights to the people.

Another interesting element of the debate around human rights has been
the idea of “Caymanising” the Bill of Rights. This has manifest itself
in trying to find a way of limiting religious freedoms for non
Christian faiths and avoiding a situation that would extend any kind
of rights to people that would erode what are considered the tenets of
Caymanian society. The suggestion in the proposed document about
environmental rights, which would be unique to Cayman, has very rarely
come up.

At the second to last meeting held in Bodden Town, Charles Clifford,
Minister for Tourism was asked what ideas the government had
considered for environmental rights and what had come up in the
meetings regarding that subject. Offering an ambiguous response he
said that there were numerous things that could be considered, such as
the right to clean air, and although nothing had been defined he was
certain that environmental issues are much higher on people’s agenda
than they used to be.

The issue of the Ironwood Forest in George Town and the proposed road
development was also offered as an example at a number of meetings of
how the people could instigate a referendum about environmental
issues. The idea has been proposed by government that if petitioner
could get 20% of the electorate to sign up for a people’s referendum,
the government would be forced to put the question to the vote.

However, in light of the support that the campaign to save the forest
has received, the outpouring of shock and grief over the slaughter of
seven critically endangered Blue Iguanas and growing collective
awareness throughout the community about environmental issues, it is a
shame that the forum has neglected the specifics of what shape
environmental rights could take in Cayman’s new Bill of Rights and
lost the opportunity to discuss this crucial issue.

Perhaps, for example, if environmental rights were enshrined, the
Minister would have known from the very start that he could not
propose to build a road through a endangered habitat. Perhaps the
Turtle Farm would be shut down until it found a way to address the
affluent it is pumping in the ocean, not only saving government
several million dollars but also forcing the company to find a
solution instead of carrying on regardless. Perhaps environmental
rights would also have forced the owners of the Dolphinariums to
submit an anti-degradation report before they open the doors of their
facility. And perhaps if we had defined rights to protect the natural
world around us, no one could mow down the protective mangroves no
matter how much they paid or who they paid to do it.

Protecting the people’s right to clean air, non polluted oceans,
preserving the mangroves and endangered flora and fauna in an
enshrined Bill of Rights would ensure that these types of issues would
not be up for debate. While we all continue to wait on the much
discussed, but still not enacted National Conservation bill, and while
the Department of the Environment has been silenced regarding their
feelings about the Ironwood Forest, we can surmise that the
environment does not appear to be as much as a priority for many in
government as we may hope.

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The constitutional battleground

| 20/05/2008 | 0 Comments

George Town (CNS): Although issues such as the
balance of power between the elected and non-elected members of the
government and single member constituencies have been widely debated
at many of the constitutional public meetings over the past few
months, it is the Bill of Rights, which has, time and time again,
proved to be the subject that has dominated the constitutional road
show. With the open public consultation period now at an end and the
creation of a proposed document ready for referendum imminent,
regardless of the government’s confidence, it still has a long way to
go to win over hearts and minds for an enshrined Bill of Rights.

Whatever the feelings of the PPM or even the silent majority over this
bill, the church has been vociferous in its opposition to enshrining
rights in the constitution and, moreover, has a very high degree of
influence over a large number of people. Pastors, reverends, church
ministers and priests have significant power and their opinion is one
the government must win over if it is to safeguard human rights for
the population at large.

The importance of how the Bill of Rights is formed was highlighted at
a meeting held at the Family Life Centre in Walkers Road on 26 March
with members of the Cayman Ministers Association (CMA). Literally
hundreds of people showed up to voice their concerns over the issue,
by far the biggest turn out for any of the constitutional forums.
While the numbers alone illustrated how suspicious the community is of
“rights”, the meeting also revealed that the battleground for the
constitution would be in the pulpit and not the political arena.

There is little doubt from the evidence of the public consultation
period that the government must now secure the support of the church
community in order to get a ‘yes’ vote in the forthcoming referendum.
However, with only a few months to go before the country’s 14,000
voters go the polls to offer their opinion, the church is still a long
way from being convinced that Cayman needs a Bill of Rights.

Reverend Nicholas Sykes from St Alban’s Church and a prominent member
of the CMA says he believes there simply has not been enough
discussion regarding how Cayman deals with this issue.

“Unfortunately, the idea of having the Bill of Rights in legislation
rather than enshrined in the constitution seems to have simply been
dismissed, and I do not think there has been enough public discussion
about this option,” he tells CNS.

Sykes is not alone. Most of those in the church community have
significant doubts about how Cayman deals with human rights. Sykes
also admits that while he and his colleagues do not necessarily tell
their congregations what to do, the people of Cayman are more likely
to listen to their church ministers than their political ones, and as
such Sykes and his colleagues have considerable influence over those
that come to worship in their churches. Sykes says it is important to
use that influence responsibly but he has no reservations in answering
the queries of his flock, and he says if the final proposals do not
address his concerns, he will advice his congregation accordingly.

While government Ministers, in particular the Leader of Government
Business Kurt Tibbetts and Education Minister Alden McLaughlin, have
said they believed they had allayed the fears of the church and can
move forward with a Bill of Rights that will satisfy their concerns,
there is some disagreement with that position from the church
ministers. Sykes says that if the government thinks that CMA is on
their side regarding the idea of an enshrined Bill of Rights, it is at
the very least overstating the matter.

However, McLaughlin believes the government can and will reconcile the
differing opinions before the referendum. “We are confident we can
develop a Bill of Rights which will meet all the major concerns,”
McLaughlin said recently.

Pastor Bob Thompson, Chair of CMA, says that while he was happier that
government was at least talking to the church and taking their
concerns seriously he still feels that the Association had not
necessarily been won over to the government position.

Unless the Bill of Rights was written in such a way that would satisfy
their major concerns, he says he would still be against a ‘yes’ vote
and is still more comfortable with rights being laws rather than
enshrined in the constitution.

“If we must have this in the constitution document, we have to get the
wording right in order to avoid the unintended consequences that can
arise from the interpretation of rights, as has already happened in
some jurisdictions,” says Thompson. “We need to be very wary of rights
without discussing responsibilities, and we have concerns about the
Human Rights Committee that will oversee this. They are setting
themselves up as a quasi court, they should be there to advise and
help people to understand rights, but not to make rulings.”

The Human Rights Committee (HRC) told CNS that it is not a court but
an advisory body, there to help people peruse the right legal channels
to protect their rights. “The HRC envisages that it can play an
important role in the resolution of concerns involving human rights,
providing informed opinions and the making of recommendations in
respect of complaints received. In addition, if human rights are to be
enshrined in the constitution, the HRC should also be able to assist
individuals in enforcing these rights under a new constitution. The
feedback that the HRC has received from the public has indicated that
this type of assistance is both welcome and necessary,” said the
Committee.

The HRC also noted how important enshrining rights is, as oppose to
having them enacted in law.  “If the Bill of Rights is simply
created as an ordinary law, there is a real danger that it can be
altered or repealed relatively easily by the legislature,” said the
Committee. “This means our so-called ‘rights’ might be redefined or
changed after every election. Moreover, the rights will also be
vulnerable to gradual or potentially inadvertent erosion unless the
legislature remains continually vigilant and focused on how new laws
impact upon individual rights.”

However, it is exactly for that reason that the CMA wants the rights
in legislation and not in the constitution. Thompson, Sykes and other
members of the CMA believe that enshrining rights will lead to
arbitrary judgments that could undermine the local community’s morals
and cultural particularisms.

“Having these rights enshrined leaves it to the judiciary to decide a
rights case, as oppose to our elected officials in the legislature,”
said Sykes, who believes that having the balance of a decision resting
with judges could have unintended consequences.

“You can adjust a law in the legislature but it is very difficult to
change a constitution. While rights are enshrined in law there is room
for conversation about how they impact society,” he added. “We really
need to have a balance of power when it comes to our ethics and morals
that rests with the legislature and not the judiciary, which could
ride roughshod over what the people had intended.”

However, human rights advocates would argue that very point
conversely: if the judiciary cannot make rulings based on enshrined
rights then the people cannot be protected from the legislator – aka
the government, which is the fundamental principal behind a Bill of
Rights.

The HRC also recommends enshrining the Bill of Rights directly into
the Cayman Islands Constitution to ensure that human rights take
precedence over potentially conflicting ordinary laws and, the
Committee told CNS, it is important for the country to ensure that all
future laws take proper account of fundamental human rights before
being passed by the legislature.

The representatives from CMA remain unconvinced, and aside from their
concerns over same sex marriage, Sykes believes that Cayman’s
Christian heritage could easily be undermined if we were to enshrine
certain things into the constitution because of how they could be
interpreted at a later date.

“We could see Sundayclosing, prayer in school and many other elements
of our Christian society lost if rights are enshrined,” Sykes warns.

He says there are numerous examples in Canada where the intentions of
the legislatures when they drew up the constitution are now being
distorted by rulings in the court. He says this evidence has not been
put before the people of Cayman, and that we need to look more closely
at this and many other issues before the people face a referendum.

“We also need to find a way of preserving our Christian culture within
a future constitution that will prevent judicial rulings from
undermining that position,” he says. Although Sykes maintains he is
not advocating a Christian theology, he insists that there is a way of
protecting Christianity as the country’s religion.

Thompson also says he wants to see Christianity enshrined as the
dominant culture in some way. He agrees with the principle of the
freedom to worship, but he says, the intolerance of some religions
would make it difficult to allow those people to worship freely. He
also believes Satanism should be against the law and that the
“fundamentalism of Muslims” made it difficult for Cayman to welcome
the idea of mosques. Furthermore, he says that allowing religious
freedom would make it hard to preserve the local Christian heritage.

“We have to define religious freedom. We don’t want the society to
become anti-religious. We have to choose the wording carefully so we
can preserve what we are,” Thompson adds.

The recent controversy over the law and the now infamous kiss that
occurred in public between two visiting gay tourists illustrates how
ambiguous legal language can be open to various interpretations. Many
here believed that when the laws against homosexuality were repealed,
they were only done so for acts committed behind closed doors.
Furthermore, although the penal code sates that: “Whoever publicly
does an indecent act or, whoever in a public place conducts himself in
a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace,” is committing an
offence, whether or not a kiss constitutes an indecent act is
certainly open to interpretation.

When Professor Jeffrey Jowell QC, a constitutional legal expert from
the UK, visited Cayman recently he tried very hard to reassure CMA
that a Bill of Rights would not affect prayer in school, what the
church could preach from the pulpit, or enforce same sex unions.

However, CMA remains unconvinced because they believe interpretation
in the hands of lawyers would spell the end of certain values they say
Cayman holds dear. Thompson says that, as yet, no one has been able to
defend themselves against breeches of human rights in Canada, and in
every case the judiciary has ruled in favour of the person bringing
the human rights complaint. Therefore, he has serious concerns that
with an enshrined Bill of Rights this could happen here too.

Whether the misgivings of the church are well founded or not is, at
present, less important than the power of the pulpit. Even though CMA
has made more conciliatory noises to government in the last few weeks,
Sykes is not the only member of CMA that has very serious reservations
about guiding his congregation towards voting ‘yes’ to rights
enshrined in the constitution. He and Thompson, as well as many other
members of the church community and lay people continue to voice their
desire to see Christianity enshrined in some way in the constitution.

The difficulty for the government on this issue is that the demands of
CMA will not be easy to reconcile with the UK government. There are a
number of issues on which the British government will stand firm, and
human rights, such as religious freedom, that are considered be
fundamental will be virtually impossible to “Caymanianise”, as has
been suggested.

Jowell noted recently that no one could force anyone to worship in a
specific way and that Christianity could not be forced on society or
enshrined as the only way to express worship.

“I’m sure you don’t want a Christian dictatorship,” he said at the
March CMA meeting. “You cannot impose religion on someone. Freedom of
conscience and freedom of speech protect faith, but you can’t force
your will or discriminate against other faiths. Freedom of expression
is very important. Do you want to suppress all views?”

Moreover, as the opposition United Democratic Party prepares to take
its constitutional proposals on the road at the end of this month with
a similar stance to the church regarding the Bill of Rights,
government faces an uphill battle to persuade the people of Cayman
that enshrining rights in the constitution will not pull the rug from
under their perceptions of what it means to be Caymanian and above all
not undermine the Christian culture.

Rightly or wrongly, winning support for the Bill of Rights at present
remains in the hands of religious, and not political, ministers.

reply@caymannetnews.com

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People power and the Ironwood Forest

| 12/05/2008 | 0 Comments

By Wendy Ledger (Posted Monday, 12 May 2008)

There were favourable indications this past week that the Minister for
Communications and Works may be giving up on plans to build a road
through George Town’s remaining ancient Ironwood Forest. Speaking at a
recent Finance Committee hearing, Arden McLean said he was not
prepared to take anyone’s land and the government was looking at
alternate routes around the northern boundary of the forest. Following
that statement on Thursday, 8 May, his ministry invited all interested
parties to a public meeting this week Wednesday.

From the outset there has been persistent and strong opposition to the
road from concerned citizens across the islands, as well as the
private landowners. There has been a significant amount of
correspondence with the local press, calls to talk shows, and a
turnout of more than 200 people at a recent rally outside the Glass
House last month, where a number of people pledged tolay before the
bulldozers if necessary, in addition to adding their names to a
growing petition to save the forest. An information website
established to inform people about the campaign received literally
hundreds of comments from Caymanians, residents and overseas visitors
in support of this unique environment.

The crown owns a considerable amount of the land in the forest but a
large percentage remains in private hands – but untouched. From the
outset, the private landowners have stated their position and desire
to protect the forest and have pledged not to develop land they own
which lies within its boundaries. However, confusion and
misinformation has surrounded this proposed road development. The
actual definition of the forest boundary and its delicate eco-systems
versus what some consider inconsequential land, the government’s
desire to create a heritage forest, its plans to build the road and
develop the University College of the Cayman Islands (UCCI) site, and
the long term intentions of the private landowners have been part of
accusations and counter accusations. 

The Minister has even suggested that many of the protestors had hidden
agendas because of their own desire to develop parts of the forest,
though these accusations appear to be unfounded. At the weekly
televised press briefing on 1 May, McLean said the real forest needed
to be protected from other development in the future, since at present
there were no guarantees that the owners would not build. 

Andrew McGregor Yates the largest private landowner affected by the
proposed road has said neither he nor any of the other landowners in
the forest have any intentions of building on the land. “This land is
ours to preserve. We don’t want to build on it and we don’t want the
road. The forest has already suffered from encroachment. There are
incredible species in this forest found nowhere else in the world and
I want to preserve it,” Yates said. “Only God knows why these
beautiful things are growing in this forest and we should not disturb
them.”

One very well qualified localexpert told CNS that the reason why the
forest had evolved this way was because it is part of a mosaic of eco-
systems. While he said that some of the land in question was indeed
swamp, that very swampland gave rise to the diversity of life in the
forest itself. “You can’t have one without the other, the systems are
a mosaic and it is the moisture and humidity levels from the swamp
that have given rise to the diverse species in the forest,” he said.

Although the area in question is very small in the grand scheme of
conservation, this tiny patchwork of dry wood forest and swamp is the
end result of millions of years of evolution and the expert described
some of the unique elements.

“There are more than 70 different species there and about twenty are
critically endangered, with another 25 endangered. We also have some
endemic species, not just to Cayman but to the forest itself. Old
George (Hohenbergia caymanensis) is a type of bromeliad that
grows naturally only in the forest.” He also noted that much of the
flora, such as the Ghost Orchid, is there for a reason and attempts to
move them have generally failed.

“Nature chooses places for good reasons, and we can’t replicate those
reasons as we don’t always know what they are. We are not even sure
exactly what pollinates a Ghost Orchid,” he added.

This uncertainty about the orchid applies to numerous other species.
While experts in the public and private sector are making it their
life’s work to study the islands’ flora and fauna, they don’t know
everything, and unless they can continue to observe species in their
natural habitats they will continually be hampered in their
understanding of our bio-diversity.

Around the world the drive to preserve the planet’s bio-diversity is
being fuelled by myriad reasons. Many species on earth are sources of
food, medicines, cosmetics and other things we need and want. Around
90 percent of our food was domesticated and crossbred from wild stock,
found by trial and error. Again, about 50% of the drugs and other
pharmaceuticals that we depend upon were developed in some way from
the genetic resources of wild plants. However, almost 90% of the
plants we know about have never even been chemically evaluated.

Preserving species requires the preservation of their ecosystems, and
experts say that this is also good for our general human health in the
long term. Aesthetics play an important part, too, in the argument for
preserving bio-diversity. The vision of an earth with only a few very
similar plants and flowers on it is at best an ugly thought, but could
even be dangerous. Other reasons reach into moral, philosophical and
religious realms. It is, after all, arrogant of us as humans to assume
the role of judge and jury over what is worth preserving and what
isn’t. Moreover, according to the scriptures of most religions, Man
was given guardianship of the earth by God.

However, as many as 50-200 species are lost every day and it
takes between 2,000-100,000 generations for higher species to evolve.
Across the world, scientists admit they lack knowledge about species
in the most bio-diverse and at-risk areas, so preserving even the
tiniest area could prove crucial in years to come.

When CNS contacted the Department of Environment to talk about the
species diversity in the Ironwood Forest, we were informed that the
Department had been specifically instructed by the Ministry not to
make any public comment on this subject until further notice is given.
In the wake of the shocking tragedy at the Botanic Park, where seven
Blue Iguanas were murdered in a brutalattack, the Minister in
question, Charles Clifford, said that the pending National
Conservation Law had been drafted to help safeguard Cayman’s endemic
and endangered plant and animal species.

“As united as we are in our grief, Caymanians stand together in our
resolve to protect our endangered and endemic fauna and flora,” the
Minister said on Friday 9 May. We can hope, if this is how he feels,
the restriction he has placed on staff speaking out about the species
in the forest will be lifted before next Wednesday’s meeting so the
public will not be deprived of a valuable source of expertise with
respect to the ecological value of the forest and its endangered and
endemic fauna and flora.

Meanwhile, as silent as the DoE staff has been instructed to be, its
website is very informative and explains that the Cayman Islands
enjoys a rich and varied natural heritage and all three islands are
unique. In addition to spectacular marine resources, Grand Cayman,
Little Cayman and Cayman Brac all boast plants and animals that are
found nowhere else in the world. “Protection of our local natural
resources is part of our global responsibility towards maintaining a
healthy and diverse planet, both now and for benefit of future
generations,” the site says.

Under the Darwin initiative, one where countries that are rich in
biodiversity can receive funding and assistance from the UK to help
implement the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the DoE is now
carrying out an assessment of the key biodiversity elements of Cayman
with a view to learning how the country can conserve the environment
and raise awareness. The Ironwood Forest is one just place where the
project is working to preserveand understand what is left of Cayman’s
natural habitat so that we can all begin to appreciate a little more
what we have – before it’s too late.

There is no doubt that the forest is a place of exceptional peace and
beauty in the heart of the country’s busy capital, and well worth
preserving for that alone, never mind all of the other sound and
sensible reasons. Those wishing to preserve the forest are also in
favour of creating a small limited boardwalk or hanging bridge, which
would enable more people to enjoy a small piece of this forest without
causing damage because, they say, its unique nature needs to be
promoted and that it would form an excellent educational exhibit.
Anyone brave enough to venture in will be rewarded with nature’s
bounty very quickly, as both Old George and the Ghost Orchid are
growing close to the forest’s edge. There is, however, plenty of
Maiden Plum and Lady Hair, neither of which are quite as friendly as
some of the other species, making it a little dangerous for those who
are not familiar with these plants – hence the need to find a way for
people to enjoy the forest safely.

At present, the future of this unique forest, which is clearly very
special to many people, as demonstrated by the outpouring of support
to conserve it, hangs on the decision of the government to build or
not to build a road. According to Minister McLean, to alter the route
would require taking out four or five homes and not taking the Linford
Peirson Highway through to Walkers Road and could amount to more
traffic woes for drivers coming in from the eastern districts. “If we
were to do it without taking out houses, it would mean sharp 70 degree
corners. If you’re going to do it that way you’re going to have to
take out at least four or five homes,” he said recently.

Some, however, would and have said that this is a very small price to
pay to preserve George Town’s Ironwood Forest. The environment is no
longer something people in Cayman want to take for granted, and the
issue of conservation is beginning to take precedence over development
at any cost. While we may not yet be able to collectively call
ourselves real “Friends of the Earth”, we are, at least, trying hard
to get to know her a bit better.

For more details on the campaign to preserve the ironwood forest visit
www.ironwood-
forest.com
. The public meeting will take place at 7:00 pm on
Wednesday 14 May at the Sir Vassell Johnson Multipurpose Hall on the
UCCI campus.

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Private property

| 09/05/2008 | 0 Comments

Not every culture in the world recognises the concept of private
ownership of property.  Some religious communities require their
members to take vows of poverty.  Communist nations famously do
not recognise the right of individuals to own land; that is a monopoly
of the state.

Much of the land in Fiji and neighbouring islands is owned by native
villages who by unwritten custom-law have no right to alienate the
ownership.  The “common” lands attached to English villages are
held on the same principle.  The native Indians of Manhattan
didn’t mean to sell their island outright to the earliest
Dutch settlers.  They thought they were selling just the right to
use the land.

Nowadays, in Western nations, most land is owned by individuals as
“freehold”.  The days are long gone since all lands were held by
permission of the local king, who could (and often did) refuse his
consent to a sale or bequest of “his” land. However, even in Western
nations, ownership of land and any buildings on it are not
absolute.  “Freehold” doesn’t mean a king or a government can’t
take it back if they want to.

English “common law” is a nine-hundred-odd-years body of judges’
interpretations of the customs of the natives of England in 1066 –
that is, at the time of the Norman-French invasion and permanent
occupation.  When the first formal written laws were
promulgated by the kings’ new national legislatures, called
parliaments, those customs were recognised as the existing law.

One of the common law’s recognised precedents in force today is that a
monarch or a government (the nation-state, in other words) has an
inherent right
of disposal of all land, and the buildings on
it.  Strange but true! This is called the right of eminent
domain
or compulsory acquisition, and exists in opposition to any
absolute private ownership.  It is not recognised by Article 17
of the Universal Declaration.

Why did the composers of the Declaration not allow for eminent
domain?  It wouldn’t have caused too much fuss if they had. 
It’s quite usual for governments to confiscate private property if
it’s for the good of the community as a whole – for roads, parks and
the like.  Perhaps the composers hoped the word “arbitrarily”
(meaning despotically, in this context) would protect the ideal, at
least in the liberal-democratic countries.

The owner of George Town’s “ironwood forest” seems to be defying (so
far) the Cayman Islands Government’s wish to arbitrarily deprive him
of his property, and the Declaration clearly supports his
defiance.  Interesting.

The trouble with the principle of “eminent domain” is that one can’t
trust politicians to use their discretionary powers either wisely or
fairly.  Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.  Even
the most liberal and democratic-minded of them will defy even the
sacred right to life when it suits them to go to war, or arm their
policemen, or shoo Cuban boat-people out to sea to drown. 

They will defy the prohibition of slavery when they conscript soldiers
for their wars, or force convicts to work for no wages, or turn a
blind eye to human-trafficking.  They practise torture and evade
fair trials, when it suits them.  And they confiscate private
property in the form of taxes, or to clear space for new roads. 

Private property remains part of the Western ideal, but it comes with
conditions.

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The way of the dinosaurs

| 06/05/2008 | 0 Comments

By Nicky Watson (Tuesday, 6 May 2008)

1 comment

The brutal and senseless slaying of six Blue Iguanas has touched the
heart of many people in these islands. It is unimaginable to most of
us how anyone could have such utter disrespect for life that they
could simply torture these magnificent and beautiful creaturesto
death, and such disregard for one of the great symbols of the Cayman
Islands.

However, the death of these iguanas represents much more than the loss
of six much loved animals. The dead – Yellow, Pedro, Digger, Eldemire,
Sara and Jessica – were part of a programme to save a critically
endangered species endemic to the Cayman Islands, and many people
involved in the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme have worked diligently
to rescue it from possible extinction.

Meanwhile, the risk of losing endangered plant species and what’s
left of George Town’s ancient forest to make way for a road has
awakened activism in these islands, and a number of people have
pledged to lie down in front of bulldozers if necessary to protect
them. And marine biologists here and elsewhere are working
overtime to understand the amazing corals reefs that breath life
into the oceans and to prevent their apparent decline.

In two weeks time, the world – or at least the part of the world that
cares – will celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity.

“It is said that every human being on Earth owes one breath to forests
and a second to the oceans. The loss of coral reefs and the
destruction ofintact forests and mangroves will exacerbate climate
change, biodiversity loss and their impacts,” said Ahmed Djoghlaf,
Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, in a
message to the world for the occasion last year.

Human activity is causing species to become extinct a hundred times
faster than the rate shown in the fossil record. In fact, scientist
are now classifying this period, the one we are living in right now,
as the sixth great dying, in which we are losing species quicker than
at any time since dinosaurs exited the earth forever. Extinction rates
are rising by a factor of up to 1,000 above natural rates. Every hour,
three species disappear. Every day, up to 150 species are lost. Every
year, between 18,000 and 55,000 species become extinct.

Following last year’s UN report, Global Environment Outlook (GEO) 4,
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director,
said, “The systematic destruction of the Earth’s natural and nature-
based resources has reached a point where the economic viability of
economies is being challenged and where the bill we hand on to our
children may prove impossible to pay.”

The Cayman Islands government has, to an extent, responded to some of
these challenges with the tabling in the Legislative Assembly of the
draft National Conservation Bill in March 2007, with
an invitation for public input. The draft bill includes, among other
measures, greater protection for endangered and endemic species, the
establishment of terrestrial protected areas (similar to marine
parks), and mechanisms to better manage and fund conservation efforts.

Amazingly, however, the bill has still not been passed, and though
MLAs find the time in the Legislative Assembly to debate whether to
criminalize the burning of the National Flag, the real symbols of the
Cayman Islands – its unique and fragile flora and fauna – are allowed
to slip away. Today’s politicians are charged with preserving these
islands in all their splendour for the generations of
tomorrow, and lip service is simply not good enough.

The vandals that killed the iguanas, if caught, will face a maximum of
a few thousand dollars in fines and a year in prison. If the National
Conservation bill had been passed into law, they would be facing a
possible fine of $500,000 and five years in prison – a far greater
deterrent. But loss of habitat, just as much as inadequate
protection, is a death sentence for endangered
plants and animals.

The foot-dragging in the House is as destructive in its way
as the boots that stomped the life out of the Blue Iguanas last
weekend.

**********************************************************************
*

Claudette Upton: Well said. And with every species we
lose, with every square foot of concrete that covers what once was
bush, we lose a little bit more of something essential: our reverence
for life. As a species, the human race needs nature as much as any
four-legged, winged, or finned creature. Hatred for other, “lesser”
species, and violence in general, are less likely to arise, I believe,
in a world–a country–an island–where nature is respected and
honoured. I hope it isn’t too late for Grand Cayman.

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