This gathering in the National Arena is rightly called a Festival because we are here to celebrate the freedom of religion and belief we Jamaicans are enjoying. This is a fundamental human right enshrined in our Constitution. We do not take this lightly, especially as we know that millions of people across the world are denied that freedom and are even being martyred because of their belief.

We come today, representing all faiths which are practised in this country, to give thanks for that freedom which is so essential to peace and stability. Non-believers can also celebrate the exercise of their right to be unattached to any religion. We have come to declare that as a people we shall protect our freedom of religion and belief and shall demonstrate respect for religious liberty for all.

Centuries ago, Micah, a Bible prophet, predicted a time of peace. The words of his prophecy’s are inscribed on a famous statue in the gardens of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City:

“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

But Micah continues on a note which is relevant to what we are doing here today: “For all people will walk everyone in the name of his god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.”

This illustrates the importance to peace not only of religious freedom, but also of religious tolerance both locally and internationally so people can be undisturbed and practise their religious belief.  It is in this spirit that we welcome to Jamaica, Ambassador Robert Seiple, President of the International Religious Liberties Association, Dr. John Graz, General Secretary, IRLA and local and national leaders for today’s launch of Jamaica’s chapter of the International Freedom of Religion Association.

Someone once wrote that “religious freedom is not freedom from religion”.  Yet in today’s world people of faith are being pressured to be “politically correct” and be silent observers of their faith. Some who claim to advocate religious tolerance and human rights, use their platforms to condemn Christians and other faith communities.

It would seem, as American writer, Alexander Chase, said that:

More and more people care about religious tolerance as fewer and fewer care about religion.”

One wonders if Church communities are aware of civil strife, oppression, atrocities and wars have resulted from religious intolerance than from anything else. The heinous crimes committed by terrorists recently in Nigeria and France come readily to mind.

We extend our deepest condolences and our solidarity to the Governments and peoples, especially the bereaved.

There is no religion which does not prioritize love in their sacred texts, yet misguided extremists have created their god in their own image of hate. They direct their venom and violence at all who even question their belief, or who might be ignorant of their sacred literature. We must guard against this in our country. We dare not act as if this could never happen here.

Jamaica fully subscribes to the 1981 United Nation’s Declaration for the Elimination of all forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion and Belief. We recognize that religious freedom is not absolute, as the right of others under the law must be respected and upheld.

However, we have a duty to ensure that this freedom is not undermined whether by the enactment or the implementation of laws and regulations.

This is a fundamental ‘human right’ which successive governments of Jamaica have respected, supported and encouraged with the expectation that employers will respect and facilitate the full enjoyment of that right.

Everyone is called upon to collaborate in the protection of our fundamental rights and freedoms, public safety and justice. I close by citing the first article of the already mentioned UN Declaration:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.  This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

I trust that this will be an absolute truth for each of us and that it is reflected in the way we will treat and respect each other.

Thank you and I wish the IRLA and the local chapter to be formed, abundant success in your endeavour.