Rev Haley had proposed that Guyana be described in the constitution as a multi-religious state
Stabroek News
October 12, 2001

Dear Editor,

In a letter captioned "What is a secular state?" (SN 9 / 10/ 2001) [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] Fr. Keith Hardless stated "Is it not possible for the truly multi-faith people of this nation, had they been asked, to have chosen a multi-faith religious state? Because we have many faiths, it does not logically follow that we must have a secular state."

I would like the public to know that Fr. Hardless's idea was independently raised in the Constitution Reform Commission (CRC) in 1999 by Rev. Keith Haley of the Congregational Church, who was the chairman of the Guyana Council of Churches. Rev. Haley was chairman of a committee dealing with religious matters and he proposed that the article stating that Guyana is a secular state (which was inserted in the 1980 Constitution at the same time that the reference to God was deleted from the preamble) should be replaced by an article stating that Guyana is a multi-religious state.

Rev. Haley's proposal was vigorously opposed by two members of the CRC who declared that they did not believe in God and did not want any such reference in the Constitution. This in turn caused the representative of the Muslims, Mr. Shahabudin Mc Doom, to jump into the fray with a heated statement that he did not understand what the atheists were worried about. "It is we, who believe in God who have to worry about leaving God out of the Constitution, not you," he said.

At this point I intervened, asking what was all the fuss about since the Constitutions of Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica, and Belize, among others, acknowledged God in the preambles to their Constitutions.

This caused Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine of the WPA to say that he didn't mind a reference to God in the preamble but he didn't want Rev. Haley's article about a multi religious state replacing secular state. This widened the debate with Mr. Bernard de Santos of the PPP/ Civic stating that he did not see any contradiction between acknowledging God and stating that Guyana is a secular state, since all that a secular state meant was that no one religion was the established religion of Guyana. And so Mr. Editor that is the understanding that the CRC came to.

I wish to submit that there could be several other interpretations as to what a secular state should be, in addition to Mr. de Santos's interpretation, and in particular I want to endorse Fr. Hardless's further statement that, "It does not follow that because we have a secular state, religious practice cannot be part of the public school system". Fr. Hardless quotes Scotland which has one model but there are also other models such as in Canada and Germany.

As to Fr. Hardless's contention that the people of this nation, had they been asked, might very well have decided that Guyana should be a multi-faith state, that might have been behind Rev. Haley's suggestion, but was not fully explored by the CRC because of time constraints, as were, sadly, so many other constitutional issues.

Now that the idea has been raised because of the Book of Hope controversy, maybe it should be revisited as part of the ongoing review of the Constitution by a standing committee of the National Assembly as is now provided for in the Constitution.

Yours faithfully,

Aubrey Collins