The Preamble of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ Constitution (“SVG’s Constitution”) states the following:
“WHEREAS the Peoples of the Island of Saint Vincent, who are known as Vincentians have affirmed that the Nation is founded on the belief in the supremacy of God…”
Many Vincentians and persons living in SVG hold religious beliefs that they may practice in public or private, alone or in a community with others. However, in terms of demographics, Christianity is the dominant professed religion for the majority of persons living in SVG. Nevertheless, other religious groups or persons with no religious affiliation at all, exist and live in SVG.
As noted earlier in the Preamble of SVG’s Constitution, reference is made to the “supremacy of God”. However, what exactly does this mean? Does it mean that SVG is to be governed solely by “Christian morals and values” or that SVG is a theocracy? Let us examine these questions closer below.
From the Preamble of SVG’s Constitution, we can see that one of the supposedly moral values or aspirations of Vincentians is that they affirm that the nation is built on the belief in the “supremacy of God”. Note that the Preamble of SVG’s Constitution does not say the supremacy of religion or any specific religion such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or even Buddhism. It simply makes reference to the “supremacy of God”.
In the Belizean case of Caleb Orozco and A.G of Belize et al , the judge agreed with the Claimant that “reference to the Supremacy of God does not import any specific religious perspective, but rather, it acknowledges the historical origins of the fundamental rights in natural law and that rights are derived from sources beyond the state and its laws”.
Like SVG, Belize is an English-speaking Commonwealth Caribbean territory and therefore I submit that a similar interpretation of the phrase the “supremacy of God” may also be applicable to SVG.
Christianity is the dominant religion practised amongst Vincentians, however, anyone who claims that SVG should be governed solely by Christian morals and values to the exclusion of other religious groups or against persons who may not hold any religious beliefs at all, is treading on dangerous ground and will not find any authority in SVG’s Constitution to support such a proposition.
What about the question about whether or not reference to the “supremacy of God” in SVG’s Constitution means that it is a theocracy? In the Canadian case of G. O’Sullivan v M.N.R. (No. 2) , Justice Muldoon analysing the phrase “the supremacy of God” affirmed that Canada is a secular state notwithstanding the reference to God. His Lordship had this to say:
“The preamble to the Charter provides an important element in defining Canada, but recognition of the Supremacy of God, emplaced in the Supreme law of Canada, goes no further than this: it prevents the Canadian state from becoming officially atheistic. It does not make Canada a theocracy because of the enormous variety of beliefs of how God (apparently the very same deity for Jews, Christians and Muslims) wants people to behave generally and to worship in particular. The preamble’s recognition of the supremacy of God, then, does not prevent Canada from being a secular state”.
SVG is a secular state based on democratic principles, it is not a theocracy. Many persons from diverse religious backgrounds or who may not hold any religious belief at all, live and exist in SVG. I therefore submit that a similar interpretation as exposited by Justice Muldoon in the Canadian case of G. O’Sullivan v M.N.R. (No. 2) , may be applicable to SVG’s Constitution when it makes reference to the “supremacy of God”.
Reference to the “supremacy of God” in the Preamble of SVG’s Constitution must also be interpreted in light of section 12 of SVG’s Constitution. This section protects freedom of conscience, which amongst other things, protects persons’ freedom to hold, change or not subscribe to any religious beliefs at all in SVG’s democratic society.
I, therefore, submit that reference to the “supremacy of God” in the Preamble of SVG’s Constitution does not mean that it is solely governed by “Christian morals and values”, which could mean different things depending on who one is talking to, and it definitely does not mean that SVG is a theocracy.
Today, I encourage us to read the Preamble of SVG’s Constitution so that we can know the contents thereof.
Author: Jeshua Bardoo is a Vincentian Barrister-at-law and Solicitor. He is also the President of Equal Rights, Access and Opportunities SVG Inc. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]