Hindu community wants schools declared off-limits to missionaries

-says Steven Anderson preaching violated constitution

Guyana’s Hindu community has called for the country’s schools to be declared off-limits to all missionaries and their preaching and it said the constitution was violated by the recent proselytizing of a controversial American group.

The Hindu community criticized the government for facilitating through the Ministry of Education visits to public schools by members of the Faithful Word Baptist Church, which has been  designated a hate group abroad.

In a full page ad placed in yesterday’s edition of the Stabroek News, 14 Hindu organisations representing 108 temples expressed “grave concern” over access given to the leader of the church, Pastor Steven Anderson to preach and proselytize so as to “win souls for Christ.”

Among the signatories were the Guyana Sevashram Sangh, the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha, the Viraat Sabha, the Guyana Central Arya Samaj, the Guyana Pandits’ Council, the Guyana Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and the Mahatma Gandhi Organisation.

Steven Anderson

The groups noted that Anderson’s views are “extreme and hateful” against women, gays and people of other faith. They specifically expressed concern over the pastor’s “subtle and overt” attacks on Hindus and Hinduism and reflected on the emotional hurt and psychological damage done to Hindu students who had to endure his “tirade against their faith”.

“He has boldly expressed racist views declaring that to call President Obama a bastard would be generous and has sought to demonise one of the greatest modern teachers of peace, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr as wicked, perverted and evil. His website currently contains vicious attacks on Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and persons and traditions of faith other than his own. His organization has be singled out as a “hate group” and he has been banned from several countries including the United Kingdom,” the ad said.

The organisations question why Anderson, a man of such notoriously reprehensible views was invited into so many of the country’s schools. The pastor has claimed to have visited St Rose’s High School, North Georgetown Secondary School, Central High School and Queen’s College. Stabroek News understands that while the missionaries were seen in the Queen’s College compound they never approached the administration and were never given an opportunity to address the students.

According to the ad the ministry has blatantly transgressed and abused the fundamental right of the Hindu child by failing to show regard for their religious sensitivity. It questions whether this is a step towards a return of institutionalized attacks on the Hindu religion as was popular in Colonial period and reminded the government of the separation between church and state guaranteed by the constitution.

“[the] Constitution…proclaims Guyana as a Secular State. The Secular State, in which there is no official state religion, is the only guarantee against abuse and domination, and assurance of equal treatment before the law,” the ad said with reference to Article 145 [3] which states that “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.”

In light of these facts the Hindu community has called on the government to ensure that there is no repeat of incidents of this nature, that “due diligence” is exercised by immigration authorities in screening those who seek to enter Guyana for the propagation of their religious beliefs; schools be declared off-limit to all missionaries and their proselytizing activities; foreign missionaries engage in no activity that is likely to damage religious diversity and immediate disciplinary action to be taken against the official(s) of the Ministry of Education responsible for this outrage.

Stabroek News contacted the Ministry of Educa-tion for a response and was told that a detailed statement would be issued. Up to press time none had been received.

Chief Education Officer Marcel Hutson had previously confirmed to this newspaper that the Ministry had dealt with the issue of students being subjected to preaching from religious leaders within a school setting. Hutson, however, would not divulge details on exactly how the matter was handled.

This issue was brought to the forefront approximately two weeks ago when activist Sherlina Nageer wrote to this newspaper expressing concern over the content of a video she had seen featuring a missionary from the Faithful Word Baptist Church preaching “fire and brimstone in a public secondary school.”

The heart of the matter, she believed, was that Guyana being a secular state, and multi-cultural in identity, space for preaching should not exist in such a forum.

The school named in the particular incident referenced by Nageer was the Central High School.  A week after her letter would have been published, the Headmistress of Central High responded by labelling critics as “narrow-minded”.

The Head Teacher, Kamlawattie Balroop, told Stabroek News that she had seen nothing wrong with the interaction with the missionaries, whom she believed to be a positive influence for the batch of students, the majority of which she related are Christian.

Balroop, who identified as Hindu, said that the missionaries were granted permission to speak at the assembly following a brief meeting with school officials, stating that she would have done the same for any other religious group.

While she admitted that the accepted protocol is for organisations entering schools to first gain permission from the ministry, she said that it is sometimes the case that they are allowed the chance to speak during the assembly time, on the discretion of school officials.

A source within the public school system related that around 2007 it was communicated to teachers and Head teachers verbally that organisations and individuals seeking audience at public schools must first present an authoritative letter from the ministry. Though this request was not documented in writing, it became accepted as protocol.

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