Freedom of thought and of religion

Article 145 of the Constitution of Guyana provides as follows:

145. (1) Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, and for the purposes of this article the said freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

(2) No religious community shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community.

(3) Except with his own consent (or, if he is a person who has not attained the age of eighteen years, the consent of his guardian), no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion which is not his own.

(4) No person shall be compelled to take any oath which is contrary to his religion or belief or to take any oath in a manner which is contrary to his religion or belief.

(5) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this article to the extent that the law in question makes provision-

(a) Which is reasonably required-

(i) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or

(ii) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons, including the right to observe and practice any religion without the unsolicited intervention of members of any other religion; or

(iii) with respect to standards or qualifications to be required in relation to places of education including any instruction (not being religious instruction) given at such places.

(6)References in this article to a religion shall be construed as including references to a religious denomination, and cognate expressions shall be construed accordingly.

The concatenation of Muslim, Christian and Hindu holidays which we at this moment enjoy are a celebration of these basic human rights.

In a world still plagued by religious extremism of one kind or another we must be thankful that despite the many insecurities and tensions from which we still suffer our citizens can visit their mosques, their churches and their temples free of interference of any kind. Anyone with an awareness of history will sense that this is a blessing we enjoy and for which we must be thankful.

The Muslim, the Christian, the Hindu and the non-believer can and do commingle freely. Indeed, they often participate in each other’s celebrations.

This is the day on which Christians believe that Christ was crucified and died. It is for them, a solemn day and perhaps a day on which we can reflect deeply on the state of our troubled society and our own role in it. Whether there is a day of judgment, as Christians believe, or not we can as far as we are able examine our own conscience and in particular our behaviour towards other human beings. Have we obeyed the biblical injunction to be our brother’s/sister’s keeper?

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