Now the Catholic Church comes under fire from the Dictator
PM says Archbishop’s comments are disappointing; misinformed
Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.
By MAIKA BOLATIKI
The Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama has told religious leaders that they have a special responsibility not to spread misinformation and must uphold that responsibility.
He was reacting to a comment made by the Fiji’s Catholic leader, Archbishop Peter Loy Chong.
Such comments, the Prime Minister said, clearly had the potential to inflame public opinion.
The Archbishop had reportedly said that the Constitution deprived Fijians of the right to practice religious beliefs in the public sphere.
The Prime Minister, this was incorrect.
“Nowhere in the 2013 Constitution is there any limitation on expressing religious belief publicly, individually or in a group,” the Prime Minister said in a statement released yesterday.
The Bill of Rights, the Prime Minister said, expressly guarantees a Fijian’s right to freedom of religion, conscience and belief and the right to freedom of expression.
Section 22 (2) clearly states “Every person has the right, either individually or in a community, with others, in private or in public, to manifest and practice their religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching.”
This section could not be any clearer in its protection of the right to practice religion and to talk about and discuss religion in the public sphere.
The Constitution also protects the right of all Fijians to freedom of expression in all aspects of community life, including in the practice of religion. This right is only limited to prevent the spread of hate speech or incitement to violence.
“What’s more, the fact that the Archbishop is able to freely discuss the role of religion in public life, as he did in the media today, contradicts the very premise of his argument.”
On the secular state, the Prime Minister said that it was troubling that the Archbishop had misunderstood the Constitution’s provision on the matter.
“The Archbishop ought to be aware that the principle that underlines any Secular State is that the State cannot favour any specific denomination, belief or religion. A Secular State means that religion is a matter for people to decide for themselves, not for the State to decide for them.”
He said Section 4 of the Constitution establishes the Secular State. It protects the religious liberty of all Fijians in the State, and provides that religion and the State are separate.
“In this context, the statement that religious beliefs are personal means that they are not for the State to dictate. It means that the State cannot subscribe to a religious belief, force a religious belief on others, or regard a particular religion as the official religion of the State.”
Section 4, including the statement that religious beliefs are personal, is similar to the Ghai Draft.
The Prime Minister said that it was very disappointing that someone of the Archbishop’s stature does not appear to have read those provisions of the Constitution in their totality.
“We fear he is relying on the advice of some who may be deliberately misleading him