Christianity’s human-rights heritage

| 22/04/2009

Our proposed Bill of Rights allows discrimination as long as it is “justifiable”. That’s what Section 16 says. What all the fuss is about is who decides what is justifiable.

My guess is, the Privy Council in London will decide on a case-by-case basis – each case being brought by a very rich person who doesn’t need to live here. The Attorney-General’s Office will defend the discrimination every inch of the way and will appeal every time it loses, and will delay payment even when the Privy Council does rule against it. Also, the plaintiff will lose his residency papers within 24 hours of going to court. That’s what happens to people who take on the Cayman Islands Government.

The Bill of Rights doesn’t actually identify gays as the prime target of any discrimination. The British Government wouldn’t stand for that. Anyway, our politicians are rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of having their broad power to discriminate enshrined in the Constitution. Can you imagine? Who wouldn’t want to be best-buds with them, then?

Disguising the target (the gays) compromises the whole purpose of the Bill. Politicians and bureaucrats know that “rights” aren’t worth a hill of beans if they can be arbitrarily withheld. Our FCO masters know it too, and it’s cause for concern that they seem to be going along with this swindle.

This situation arises out of some local church-leaders’ loathing of homosexual men and women. How ironic that is. Christians have led many reform movements over the Centuries: what a shame the tradition looks like coming to the end of the line in Cayman.

Reform movements throughout Christendom would never have succeeded without the leadership of Christians. It was devout Christians who led the fight to abolish chattel slavery in the British Empire, two hundred years ago. In 1772 a judge had ruled that as a matter of common law, slavery was not legal in England. By implication, it had not been legal since the Norman Kings, though it had always been widely practised both in England and its colonies.

That ruling encouraged some liberal Christians to mount the campaign that resulted in the Great Emancipation of 1833. A second campaign promoted the belief that slavery ought to be abolished everywhere in the world. Freedom from slavery was so fundamental a status that it transcended nation, religion, sex, race, and every other consideration. Heathen black African women had as much God-given right to freedom as Christian white English men.

One hundred years before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international campaigners recognised that virtue is not the exclusive preserve of Christianity or any other religion. Rather, virtue derives from rules of behaviour that are common to all mankind regardless of religion.

Belief in the Christian God does not guarantee good “Christian” behaviour. Christianity is not an ethics-based religion, any more than Islam is, or Judaism. Decency and compassion have nothing at all to do with religion, and vice versa. It was this non-religious decency and compassion that was evident in the anti-slavery movements.

The abolition of slavery in nation after nation placed the “civil” right to own humans below the newly recognized “human” right of all humans (even foreigners) not to be owned. Some generations later, in the aftermath of the Second World War, activist Christians led the political battle to agree the contents of the Universal Declaration. What a glorious victory that was, for a religion that is not rooted in an ethical ideal.

There has been no general retreat by Christendom since then, from its commitment to human rights. Some small and introspective communities have found it difficult to overcome their loyalty to their narrow traditional beliefs, and that is understandable. Prejudices harden in cultural isolation.

Native Caymanians comprise one of these communities, resistant to mainstream Christianity’s generosity of spirit towards new ideas that promise greater kindness. Thus, the veneration of selected Old Testament myths and parables that happen to coincide with the community’s prejudices.

Has Cayman forgotten that many of our ancestors were set free by Christian activists? Is there no residual gratitude?

Prejudice and discrimination go hand in hand, don’t they? We see this in the draft Bill of Rights. Our most vocal religious spokesmen are anxious to shore up their prejudices, and our political representatives are anxious to get their fingers on the trigger of unlimited personal discrimination.

But it won’t kill us to wait a few more years to get a Bill of Rights that is free of discrimination against our fellow humans. Our leaders have led us to the cusp of shame, by packaging reasonable new rules of governance with a Bill of Rights that enshrines bigotry and discrimination. The packaging is a trick.

It would be a stunning defeat for virtue and compassion if Cayman were to vote for the proposed discriminatory Bill of Rights. We who value fairness over prejudice must hope with all our heart that the proposal fails.

Let us who respect fairness in our lives honour the Christians of 200 years ago who battled the racial prejudices of their time. In the privacy of the voting booth let us vote NO to the new Constitution and reject the Bill of Diluted Rights.

Let us not be persuaded by “leaders” who are ruled by their prejudices.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Category: Viewpoint

About the Author ()

Comments (12)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. BobRivers says:

    "…We also have rights set out in the international Human Rights Conventions (treaties) signed by Britain on our behalf.  None of those rights are accessible except through the law courts, but nor will any new rights be.  It is plain silly for anybody to claim that we have no rights.

    We would be better off without the proposed new Constitution as it is written now, because it allows discrimination whenever a political or religious leader deems it “justifiable”.  That is unacceptable to me, and ought to be unacceptable to any sensible person…."

    Excellent responce Mr. Barlow – congrats to you on this commentry and this response. Does my heart proud to have someoen standing for what he believes and so does the majority of Caymanians in this country.To vote is not an option in my household. This is difinatedly a no for me and my family as well.


    • Anon says:

      Bob Rivers, you are seriously delusional if you really think Gordon Barlow’s views represent the views of the majority of Caymanians. In any event, his response was clearly addressed and demolished.

      As usual, Mr. Barlow has an imperfect grasp of the issue but proceeds to pontificate nonetheless. There is a world of difference (particularly as regards costs) between having the right to petition the European Courts, having exhausted all recourse in the domestic courts up to the Privy Council which apply domestic law rather than any international treaties, and having access to enforce your rights directly in the Grand Court. There is a major difference between a Human Rights Committee which is not enshrined in the Constitution and has no particular powers and a Human Rights Commission which can investigate human rights infringement complaints and seek to resolve the issue through conciliation. 

      Mr. Barlow’s reasoning is fundamentally flawed and does not provide any logical basis for for voting against the draft Constitution.            

  2. a big YAWN to the ignorant above who believe ethics & morals come from Christianity/Religion

    Altruism & ethics have been proven to have evolved WAY before these ancient superstitions came along, how on earth would we have survived & got here if not….

    and dont tell me "he hath found it on the seas"  = He did not, many things like Plate Tectonics & slavemasters put us here – so educate yourself please, perhaps choose a book from this millenium – one that wasnt written by backwards mysogynist cave dwellers

    It is laughable to defend Christianity as ethical, i can show you many justifications for violence in the "good book" – eg even from Jesus!

    Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear.  Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.  (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)

    I am not religious, and i dont need hypocrites telling me that without faith (belief without evidence) i cannot be moral

    Move to saudi if you want a theocracy, until then lets remember this is a SECULAR DEMOCRACY

    not a "christian island"

    grow up!






    • Anonymous says:

      Bored, a reasoned discussion was presented. You have lowered the tone of the discussion by resorting to name-calling.

      No one has said that without faith you cannot be moral. In fact I have a very good friend who is an atheist who observes a fairly high moral code. However, it is another thing to suggest that (true) Christianity is not ethical. However, if anyone is dependent upon his personal goodness to please God we will all fail. That is why without faith it is impossible to please God.

      Nonetheless, the truth is that most people who either do not believe God exists or that if he exists he is not relevant to their lives and there is no hereafter are guided by selfishness since there are no consequences. The only thing that matters is the here and now so eat drink and be merry.     

      If one is guided by the spirit, and not the flesh, Christianity is highly ethical.  It is compassionate and loving. Christian spirituality is not to be confused with religiosity. What we have seen, for example, in the recent comments from Ms. O’Connor is religiosity.  

      The disagreement occurs when persons, such as Mr. Barlow, equate love with permissiveness and indulgence. It is like a parent believing that he is expressing love for a child by failing to say "no" when it is in the child’s best interest, because it may hurt the child’s feelings. To give in because he cries is to show "compassion". In fact saying "no" in that instance shows that you care about the person and want the best for them. That is love.   

      Why don’t you read the Bible with an open mind and heart rather than looking for proof texts to debunk it? If you are looking for ways to prove that Christianity is barbaric then you will find it, but it will not be the truth.  In your heart say "if there really is a God show me if this is your Word and what it means. The truth of the word cannot be discerned by the carnal mind. To the carnal mind it is foolishness. If you seek Him, His Spirit will guide to all truth.    


  3. Anonymous says:

    Gordon Barlow’s answer to Team Dream is completely wide of the mark, as was his original article. The use of the term "justifiable" is not anything new, either in Section 16 or anywhere else. There is no reason to be afraid of how it is interpreted, and this is evidenced by the fact that this was never an issue by anyone in the negotiations.

    A quick reading of Part 1 of the draft constitution shows that "justifiable" is in at least the following sections: 

    Sections 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 20, 21.

    If Gordon objects to this word, that’s his problem – but apparently nobody else’s, including a great many persons more "sensible" than him. Are eleven sections of the Bill of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities all wrong for him? And why is he the only person that has published this as a reason for saying No? (Answer: because he’s out in left field.)

    The Bill is an exceptionally well-drafted document. Vote YES Cayman!

  4. Gordon Barlow says:

    Team Dream is wrong to say that we have no rights under our present Constitution.  We have a thousand years of legally recognized rights.  We also have rights set out in the international Human Rights Conventions (treaties) signed by Britain on our behalf.  None of those rights are accessible except through the law courts, but nor will any new rights be.  It is plain silly for anybody to claim that we have no rights.

    We would be better off without the proposed new Constitution as it is written now, because it allows discrimination whenever a political or religious leader deems it “justifiable”.  That is unacceptable to me, and ought to be unacceptable to any sensible person.

    • Anonymous says:

      Gordon Barlow says: "Christianity is not an ethics-based religion, any more than Islam is, or Judaism. Decency and compassion have nothing at all to do with religion, and vice versa".

      Wrong, Mr. Barlow. While it is true that Christian is based on faith, that faith is expressed in its ethics. The golden rule "do unto to others as you would that they should do unto you" is a fundamental christian ethic.  Expressed another way it is "love you neighbour as yourself". "Love" in this context is not an emotion it is about what you do.  James says "faith without works is dead".

      It is the interpretation of the ethic and the application of it to practical matters that there is disagreement. In many cases it can be a fine line to tread. When does disapproving of immoral behaviour become hatred (rather than love) towards the individuals that practise it? Mr. Barlow and other human rights activists would suggest that it is unloving ever to consider immoral conduct as unacceptable. "Tolerance" therefore becomes the highest virtue, rather than right conduct. While this a secular humanist ethic, it is not a Christian ethic if it means that fundamental christian moral principles are compromised. 

      On another subject, it is literally correct to say that our present Constitution does not guarantee any fundamental rights and freedoms. However, we do have rights that are not constitutionally enshrined as Mr. Barlow points out. These are not removed by adopting a new Constitution 

      "We would be better off without the proposed new Constitution as it is written now, because it allows discrimination whenever a political or religious leader deems it “justifiable”.  That is unacceptable to me, and ought to be unacceptable to any sensible person".

      This is obviously incorrect. What is "reasonably justifiable" in a free and democratic society will not depend merely on what a political or religious deems justifiable. If Mr. Barlow was acquainted with the case law interpreting such clauses he would know that this is nonsense. Ultimately this will be tested by the courts and unfortunately it will be unelected judges  (and the values upon which their judgements are based) that will deem any particular discrimination justifiable or not. This is why the HRC’s arguments that such clauses will definitely protect preferential treatment for Caymanians in such areas as government financial assistance for emergency medical treatment abroad, are fundamentally flawed.  

      It is plainly illogical to use this as a basis for rejecting the draft Constitution which clearly creates rights which do not now exist and provides an accessible mechanism for the enforcement of all enhrined rights.      


  5. Knal N. Domp says:

    One could put all of this another way, but of course it’s all the same difference. Quod erat

  6. Vox Rox says:

    "Justifiable" will be defined, thankfully, directly by the Privy Council and indirectly by the European Court of Human Rights.  It will be very narrow in scope and will not mean anything like "justifiable in the opinion of the enfranchised minority of the Cayman Islands".

  7. Anonymous says:

    "What all the fuss is about is who decides what is justifiable" says Gordon Barlow. This is just a spectacular example of getting hold of the wrong end of the stick.

    The use of "justifiable" in a constitutional document is not an issue, and in particular, was not an issue from the get-go with our own Human Rights Committee, who from the second round of talks and ever since, said, and documented, that they had no issue with the use of the word "justifiable".

    This means that Gordon Barlow is, frankly, writing from total ignorance. Since his "justifiable" argument is the foundation for his whole article, we, the people of the Cayman Islands, should consign his article to Mount Trashmore.

    Since it is such ignorance that is being used here to fuel disaffection with the Cayman Islands Bill of Rights, we should inspect all other utterances that fuel disaffection with it, for similar expressions of sheer ignorance. A recent example was the article that said that the whole issue was with the words "or other status".

    So who is right, Barlow or the writer of this other article?

    Answer: neither is right. They are both talking nonsense.

    Don’t be fooled by these clowns, people of Cayman. The Cayman Islands Bill of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities is a fine document, and is right for the Cayman Islands.

    • Team Dream says:

      Let me ask what I hope all will understand as some reasonable questions. Then you can decide for yourself what action you should take.

      Do we have any rights under the current (1972) Constitution?

      Does the proposed draft Constitution give us any rights?

      Does the proposed Constitution giveus all the rights that everyone would want?

      Will ANY Constitution give us ALL the rights each of us may want?

      I believe the obvious answers are No, Yes, No and No.

      So far, so good.  I believe we are all in agreement. Now, here is where we seem to have a problem. Anyone who tells you to vote "No" on the proposed Constitution is in affect telling you that you are better off NOT HAVING ANY RIGHTS! 

      How can we be better off by not having any Rights? Sure, the proposed Constitution is not perfect. But no one can deny it is a step in the right direction. Some want to move faster, some want to move slower. But we are moving. If there are major areas that we see are missing, Right to Housing, Right to Health Care, etc, we should strive to add them as soon as possible after it has been approved, not delay all Rights while we try to battle for additional ones. Let us get what has been offered and agreed by the UK now.

      The UK Government is in agreement with the Draft Constitution as is. There can be no denying that fact either.  If it did not meet (or exceed) their expectations (and international obligations) the talks would not concluded as they did. Many of the most advanced Democracies in the World have not embraced the "Free Standing Right" proposal. NOT EVEN THE UK!  Let us not throw caution to the wind. This is one race we do not need to be in the front.  (It is a whole lot more palatable to give people more Rights than it is to try and take away Rights they already have).

      How can anyone in good conscience tell you to vote "NO" for a document that gives you Rights where you currently have none?

      As for me and my House, we will vote "YES" for the draft Constitution.

      I urge all of you to do the same.


  8. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Barlow has once again shown his talent for speaking out ‘where others fear to tread’ and telling the truth in a clear and explicit manner. Clearly this must not be allowed to continue and he must be silenced. Such blatently open honesty cannot be allowed in any respectable pseudo-democratic society. I suggest we invite Fidel to come a few miles south and explain to our ‘leaders’ just how to go about dealing with people who even suggest that true democracy should actually be allowed to prevail.