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Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Rebuttal of the Foolishness Touted at the Lawyers Christian Fellowship symposium

The following article was written by an attendee at the Lawyers Christian Fellowship symposium on Saturday December 10 (2011) under the title Human Rights, Sovereignty and the Politics of Truth at the University of the West Indies Faculty of Law . The individual has asked me to publish the article under my name, for the sake of their safety.

The first few words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes the basic premise of international human rights law, it says; “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. Article 2 goes on to say “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status...” Yet having attended a symposium put on by the Lawyers Christian Fellowship (LCF)and the Issachar Foundation, it is very clear that they would like nothing better than to limit the scope of availability of human rights to non-Christians, and people who do agree with their ideology.

The presenters at the symposium, were Shirley Richards, co-founder of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship; Piero Tozzi, legal counsel for the US Christian lobbying group, Alliance Defense Fund; and Paul Diamond, a UK barrister who specializes in religious liberties cases, Rev. Clinton Chisholm and Dr. Wayne West.

From left to right: Clinton Chisholm, Shirley Richards, Piero Tozzi, Paul Diamond

The basis, it seems, for the Christian Right’s attempt to limit the rights afforded to homosexuals, is that homosexuality is a choice. If we work on that premise, then where is the justification for protection of Christianity, or for laws that follow the Christian religion? Is religion not a matter of choice? The act of becoming a Christian begins first with a choice. One chooses to believe in a particular religion, and one chooses to continually believe in a religion or faith.

It has been argued by those in the Christian right, that the major document on human rights, to which Jamaica is a signatory, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) does not explicitly state non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and as such there is no need to protect non-heterosexuals under the law. This argument can be rebutted by taking a quick look at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, it states under ‘Combating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity’, that:

While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and United Nations human rights treaties do not explicitly mention “sexual orientation” or “gender identity”, they do establish an obligation on the part of States to protect people from discrimination, including on the basis of “sex … or other status.” UN treaty bodies, whose role is to monitor and support States’ compliance with treaty obligations, have issued a series of decisions or general comments all confirming that such language is sufficiently broad as to encompass “sexual orientation,” effectively establishing sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination under relevant human rights treaties. This view has also been endorsed by 17 special procedures (independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to monitor and report on various human rights issues), as well as by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Secretary-General.

The fear mongering tactic adopted by the Christian and Religious Right would like us to believe, as was so cleverly insinuated by Paul Diamond at the above mentioned symposium, is that by protecting people of all sexual orientations, the rights of others will be trumped. Rather, it seems to me that what the Christian right is trying to tell us is that their rights are special rights and their ideology (which is a choice) deserves a special place in the laws of the land. You see, right now the issue is about homosexuality and whether these persons deserve protection under the law, and whether sections 76, and 77 of the Offences Against the Person Act (2006) should be repealed. Do not be fooled, however, because there is a Christian Right agenda (oh yes), it is an agenda to see all laws, and customs reflect Christian ideology. It’s an agenda, to get rid of dissenters, to get rid of non-Christians (see Christian Dominionism and Reconstructionism below).

Human rights and non-discrimination does not operate in a vacuum, the violations of the rights of people of different sexual orientations are not the only violations which occur and which are condemned, which the panel at the symposium seemed to want us to believe. After all Paul Diamond when asked (by Maurice Tomlinson) whether he thought the murder of 16-year-old Oshane Gordon on October 18 "due to questionable relations with another man" was a result of the existence of Jamaica's anti-sodomy law, responded "That's a stupid question as the most persecuted group in the world are Christians" (Tomlinson’s Blog at Aids-Free World), the panel went on to accuse the UN of not protecting the rights of Christians. I guess they ignore the UN’s statement on discrimination on religion or belief, since it doesn’t speak solely of Christianity. After-all, the UN recognises that:

In their everyday life, many members of religious or belief communities face discrimination based on their religion or belief. They are unduly restricted in the enjoyment of their civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. As such, members of certain religious or belief communities suffer discrimination in their access to public education, health services or public posts. In extreme cases, some of them are also arrested or killed due to their religious affiliation. 

The United Nations has been concerned with this issue since its foundation and the prohibition of religious discrimination is enshrined in all core international human rights treaties. 

There is also recognition of discrimination against women and the UN also works to combat discrimination against women, women are –in my opinion- among the most discriminated population in the world, coming from the historical (religious, and culturally influenced) view of women as second class citizens and less than men. The UN on their website states:

Women form the majority of the world’s poorest people and the number of women living in rural poverty has increased by 50% since 1975. Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours and produce half of the world’s food, yet they earn only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property. Violence against women throughout the world and in all cultures prevails on an unimaginable scale, and women’s access to justice is often paired with discriminatory obstacles – in law as well as in practice. Multiple forms of discrimination based on gender and other factors such as race, ethnicity, caste, disability, persons affected by HIV/AIDS, sexual orientation or gender identity further compounds the risk of economic hardship, exclusion and violence against women.

It is hypocrisy and a shame that Jamaica stands on the world stage and lies about a documented policy to protect women, girls and homosexuals, when no such policy exists, that “Jamaica does not condone discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation”, and that “there is no legal discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation”.  Further-more on the Ministry of Justice’s website site, under Human Rights it is written:

Jamaica continues to stand in solidarity with other nations in its commitment to respect and preserve human rights as demonstrated by the fact that Jamaica is a party to the major international conventions concerning the protection of human rights, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Jamaica’s Constitution as well as other laws seek to protect and preserve basic human rights. This confirms Jamaica’s faith in fundamental rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women. 

Surprisingly the Government states it recognises “that protection of the most vulnerable is of highest priority for Jamaica”, why is it then that the Government has allowed itself to be bullied into passing legislation that does not protect the rights of one of the most vulnerable groups?

The Ministry’s website states:

The Government of Jamaica remains committed to ensuring that it conforms to both the spirit and letter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and will continue to work with human rights organizations and individuals to raise awareness and ensure that the protection of human rights in Jamaica is guaranteed.

Shirley Richards in her presentation titled “The Role of Law in Society,” sought to provide ‘natural law’ justifications for the retention of the laws against sodomy and abortion. Maurice Tomlinson in his blog at Aids-Free World stated:

In this quest, she ignored modern jurisprudence and relied, for example, on the 3rd edition of a core criminal  law text now in its 12th edition, which defined a crime as an action which is “morally blameworthy; a sin.”

Natural law is defined as:

The unwritten body of universal moral principles that underlie the ethical and legal norms by which human conduct is sometimes evaluated and governed. (The Free Dictionary)

There are three types of natural law:

Divine natural law represents the system of principles believed to have been revealed or inspired by God or some other supreme and supernatural being. These divine principles are typically reflected by authoritative religious writings such as Scripture. Secular natural law represents the system of principles derived from the physical, biological, and behavioural laws of nature as perceived by the human intellect and elaborated through reason. Historical natural law represents the system of principles that has evolved over time through the slow accretion of custom, tradition, and experience. (The Free Dictionary)

In their argument against the protection of homosexuals; proponents of natural law believe that nature endows humans with reason, and all you have to do is consult that reason to know that homosexuality is morally wrong. There are at least two problems with natural law as highlighted by Nathaniel Frank in Gay Rights and the Natural Law Farce:

First is that it is utterly circular: it relies on broad agreement about what is a human good, from which natural law theorists deduce morally right action as anything that leads to that good; but how do we decide in the first place what is a moral good? Conservatives might posit that human goods include procreation or religion, while liberals might include tolerance, pleasure, or equality. That this latter good was Thomas Jefferson's top "self-evident" good when he wrote our founding natural law document, the Declaration of Independence, does not seem to convince conservatives like [Robert] George that gay people should be included in the enjoyment of equality. Most of us may agree on friendship or knowledge as human goods, but the test of a good theory is whether it's applicable when the tougher stuff comes into play. Natural law fails this test, as it's totally incapable of actually answering the question of how nature or reason resolves the question of what is morally good.

The second problem is that the link that natural law makes between observation and valuation relies on privileging one natural act over another as your starting point, and insisting that act is supreme, to the exclusion of other acts that some view as good. Those like Freud and [Robert] George, who apparently view the world through a telling prism of sexual fixation, choose the procreative act as supreme. They reason that this act is central to the "biological good of the whole," as [Robert] George puts it, and is therefore morally good for individuals to engage in. (Of course, it's only deemed moral if you're married, and while I don't have room to address this here, note that conservatives use a bait-and-switch to toggle sloppily between marriage and sex, which really must not be used interchangeably.) The trouble is that urinating is also central to the biological good of the whole, because if we didn't eliminate waste, we'd all perish. But we don't hear much about this in natural law. Instead, we hear that the penis was naturally designed for procreation, so the only morally proper use of it is an act that leads to procreation (or resembles an act of procreation, if you're straining to give straight, infertile sex a moral pass). Yet since the penis was also designed for urination, why not claim its only moral use is anything that involves wetting the bed? By natural law reasoning, using your mouth to kiss instead of eat is unnatural and immoral, and should perhaps be illegal. Same for using your hand to shake someone else's, instead of restricting it to hunting, gathering, and feeding oneself. And so on.

After leaving this symposium, I felt completely drained and frustrated. You see, I believe in each person’s right to express their views, and to hold beliefs which may not necessarily reflect those I hold. However, what was exposed at this event was a call for the complete intolerance of anything and anyone who disagreed with the views of the Christian right. I saw at this event the masquerading of Christian Dominionism; I find it curious that when it comes to issues of rights (specifically abortion and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues), our North American and European neighbours are accused of exporting anti-Christian views into our borders, yet this attempt of gross violation of the human rights of every non-Christian is allowed and welcomed within our borders.

I know I’ve mentioned Christian Dominionism in this article without explaining what it is. Dominionism is a term used to describe politically active conservative Christians that are believed to conspire and seek influence or control over secular civil government through political action, especially in the United States, with the goal of either a nation governed by Christians, or a nation governed by a conservative Christian understanding of Biblical law. Dominion Theology is a grouping of theological systems with the common belief that the law of God, as codified in the Bible, should exclusively govern society, to the exclusion of secular law, a view also known as theonomy. The most prominent modern formulation of Dominion Theology is Christian Reconstructionism, founded by R. J. Rushdoony in the 1970s. Reconstructionists themselves use the word dominionism to refer to their belief that Christians alone should control civil government, conducting it according to Biblical law.

Christian Reconstructionism is a religious and theological movement within Evangelical Christianity that calls for Christians to put their faith into action in all areas of life, within the private sphere of life and the public and political sphere as well. The social structure advocated by Christian Reconstructionism would have the clergy, laity and government, individually and corporately, to be in ultimate submission to the moral principles of the Bible, including the Old Testament, while retaining their separate jurisdictional spheres of authority and roles in society as inferred from principles of Biblical law, both Old and New Testaments.

The stated aims of the symposium were to:

  • v  Re-examine the role of law in society
  • v  Increase public awareness of the potential danger that exists if human rights are freed from their traditional moral foundations
  • v  Examine the subversive effect of the “fallacies” of popular human rights rhetoric on the democracy and sovereignty of nations
  • v  Examine major human rights treaties

I don’t know what logic I expected to hear at this symposium which, as the event proceeded, seemed to be aimed to create fear and irrationality. I guess if I were a biased, unquestioning, sponge, that sopped up Dominionism without thinking of how it will affect the life of every person in Jamaica; I would have joined in the chorus of Amen echoing from ‘congregation’.

I believe that Christian and other religious views can positively influence the laws of the land, without ascribing to any one religious view, and without mandating that even non-believers follow a specific set of ideologies.

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