There has been no cause for immigration authorities to vet visiting missionaries upon their arrival here, Minister of Citizenship Winston Felix has said, in light of calls made by the Hindu community for immigrants seeking to enter Guyana for the “propagation of their religious beliefs” to be screened.
On Tuesday, a full page ad placed in Stabroek News by 14 Hindu organisations representing 108 temples expressed “grave concern” over access given to the leader of the Faithful Word Baptist Church, Pastor Steven Anderson, to preach and proselytise so as to “win souls for Christ.”
Among other requests, the ad had called on the government to ensure that “due diligence” is exercised by immigration authorities in screening those who seek to enter the country with the intention of spreading their religious doctrine.
While noting the difficulty in screening every visitor that enters the country, Felix stated on Thursday that missionaries are not usually vetted. “I am not going to allow media reports and people who got their own issues to determine that x and y has to be vetted.
“Missionaries are not normally vetted and they have not given reason for us to vet them. So if x or y got a problem with the missionaries, there is no need for us to vet them because of that problem,” Felix stated.
Asked to respond to the specific case where the missionaries were banned in several other countries, Felix stated that he is unaware of such, and would need to be provided with documentation verifying this before an action of that nature is taken. “In the meantime, so far they have done nothing here for us to either ban them or vet them. [If] a situation arises, we will deal with it, but so far the situation has not arisen where we should either vet them, investigate them or ban them. And I assure you if the occasion arises, we will so act,” the minister commented.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Education released a statement relating that a circular was sent to all public schools on the need for strict adherence to the policy which requires permission from the Ministry of Education before persons are allowed in to conduct activities, in light of the furor over the missionaries visiting some local schools.
The ministry said it was in the process of establishing clear guidelines that would avert any future incidence of hate groups being allowed to “evangelise” in public schools. According to the statement, the ministry was aware of the matter even before it was publicised in the media, as Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine had been made aware of it on March 16, by advisor Ruel Johnson.
The first letter regarding the issue titled “Who gave an American missionary permission to preach in Georgetown schools?” by Sherlina Nageer, was published in the March 21 issue of the Stabroek News.
Nageer, in her letter to this newspaper, expressed 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, Nageer noted, was that Guyana being a secular state, and multicultural in identity, space for such 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 was published, the Head- mistress of Central High Kamlawattie Balroop, responded by labelling critics as “narrow-minded”.
Balroop, who identified as Hindu, said that the missionaries were granted permission to speak at the assembly following a brief meeting with school officials, and that she would have done the same for any other religious group.
Meanwhile, among the signatories to the ad placed by the 14 Hindu organisations 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.
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”.
The organisations questioned why Anderson, a man of such notoriously reprehensible views, was invited into so many of the country’s schools. The pastor 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.