What is a secular state? Editorial
Stabroek News
October 9, 2001

Dear Editor,

In the editorial of Stabroek News of October 4th, 2001 on " The Book of Hope", the writer of the editorial stated " Guyana is a secular state. It can be nothing else because its population is multi?faith and all religions are equal under the Constitution. By extension, the public school system has to be secular too".

I find it difficult to follow the logic in these sentences.

Is it not possible for the truly multi-faith people of this nation, had they been asked, to have chosen to have a multi-faith religious state? Because we have many faiths it does not logically follow that we must have a secular state!

Is it not possible too that it is politically expedient for secular politicians, then and now, to continue to separate religion from civic life as a means of keeping power and control?

It does not follow that because we have a secular state religious practice cannot be part of the public school system. It is not impossible for the secular authorities in a multi-faith state to support with public funds different religious schools. In this way they offer parents freedom to have their children to develop not just the brain but the whole person.

The public education system in Scotland is an outstanding example of this type of partnership. The results can teach us much.

Yours faithfully,

Fr Keith Hardless

Editor's note:

Our understanding of a secular state is one in which there is no established religion and the state and education are independent of religion but there is complete religious freedom. Article 145 of the Constitution reads as follows:

145. (1) Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, and for the purposes of this article the said freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
(2) No religious community shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community.
(3) 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.
(4) No person shall be compelled to take any oath which is contrary to his religion or belief or to take any oath in a manner which is contrary to his religion or belief.
(5) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this article to the extent that the law in question makes provision ?
(a) which is reasonably required?
(i) in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or
(ii) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons, including the right to observe and practise any religion without the unsolicited intervention of members of any other religion; or
(b) with respect to standards or qualifications to be required in relation to places of education including any instruction (not being religious instruction) given at such places.
(6) References in this article to a religion shall be construed as including references to a religious denomination, and cognate expressions shall be construed accordingly.