Our Readers' Opinions
April 24, 2012
Anesia Baptiste’s letter to Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace

Tue, Apr 24. 2012

Anesia O. Baptiste
Belair, C/O P.O. Box 2622, St. Vincent.

Hon. Arnhim Eustace & The Strategy Committee
New Democratic Party
17th April, 2012

Dear Hon. Eustace & the Strategy Committee,

Following the meeting held today Tuesday 17th April, 2012 at the NDP Headquarters I write to express the following sentiments concerning the policy position you dictated to the meeting.

After indicating that a statement was made by Shefflorn Ballantyne on Cross Country Radio, with which you said you were unhappy, you proceeded to indicate that it is the policy of the New Democratic Party that no candidate or potential candidate of the party should make any public statements which are averse to any religion.{{more}} You also said that if you have to take action you will and that you do not care who it is you will have to take action against. When I sought clarification on the matter, raising a concern about the anti-religious liberty characteristic of the policy position you dictated, the meeting became a discussion on the matter at some length. At one point I attempted to share with the meeting the tape recording of Mr. Ballantyne’s actual words because I felt Hon. St. Clair Leacock was misrepresenting what Ballantyne had said. However I was not able to do so after it seems there was something wrong with the computer Senator Vynnette Frederick offered to use to give amplified sound to the tape that I was ready to play. Senator Frederick simply returned the recording device to me (I am not sure why) and nobody showed interest in pursuing hearing the tape afterwards.

What Shefflorn Ballantyne Really Said

The first thing I am pleased to do is provide a transcript of the actual words spoken by Mr. Ballantyne on the program “Cross Country Meets the Media” on Cross Country Radio on Saturday night 7th April, 2012. A truly intelligent position can only be arrived at having heard Mr. Ballantyne’s words as they were used in their context. I present his words from the time he entered the studio and any interchange from other panelists along the way:

Shefflorn Ballantyne: “Yeah, goodnight to you St. Vincent and the Grenadines and goodnight to ahmm members of the panel. Once again, thank you…for having me on tonight Joel. Ahmm, good night to everybody. I…I don’t know if opening statements mean I go straight into…

Joel Abraham (Moderator): Yeah, go straight..yes, yes.

Shefflorn Ballantyne: Alright. Ahmm, in the papers this week, ahmm I’ll begin with the News Newspaper, I heard a bit of the comments while… on..on my way. First of all, let me apologise for being late, right..I’m just coming straight from church…

Joel Abraham: I did that already for you…(laughter)

Shefflorn Ballantyne: yeah, ahmm the front page of the…of the News “PM condemns Satanic Cult- People could get injured through them” And below that you have “Satanic Cult creates stir”. I read this article..I,I, I read this article this week. I read the first article in the week in the News last week and I find that there is a very strong level of hypocrisy in our society. I do not know who…who this group is that they are referring to. Based upon the article from last week. it..it’s alleged that the woman who is leading the group declares herself to be neither male nor female and that she is divine and she takes an angelic form or something to that effect. Ahmm and you have a public outcry from the general public and even the Prime Minister weighing in. But, my issue here is that here you are branding a group as being a cult and the group bears certain characteristics that are shared by the Roman Catholic Church itself. Take for instance, her cl…her alleged claim that she is divine is a claim that is repeated by the very office of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. They themselves say outright that they are… Pope Leo for instance declared that he is god on earth and the very office ‘Vicarius Filii Dei’- the vicar of the son of God- is one that identifies the holder of that office as a substitute Christ. So, when we are thinking of the injury that can take place by persons following certain religious groups or doctrine, we must not be hypocritical about it. We look at the Evangelical religions as well and back in the year 1900, they would have been seen in the very same light as this little group is being seen. I am not endorsing this group, I do not believe that any human being is divine, I do not believe that a human being…in…in her case, that she is neither male nor female…but the fact of the matter is…what I am trying to highlight here is the level of hypocrisy that exists in the society. Persons are quick…why, why, why do you brand this group as being a satanic cult in the very first place?

Philbert John (a panelist): Could…could I ask you a question? Are you accepting the basic facts as outlined in the story? Were you able to verify?

Shefflorn Ballantyne: Well, I…I wasn’t able to verify but I am just highlighting a similarity that I see between the alleged…the alleged facts outlined here and what exists in certain religions in our society and ironically the Prime Minister himself who is a Roman Catholic, should be calling upon the society to vehemently criticize his very own religion because they bear the same…in, in, in, relation to the woman identifying herself, allegedly, as being divine, the popes have identified themselves as being god and as being divine on earth as well. The issue with our society is this, there is a…there is a new group, it is small, fairly recent, it is quickly branded as a cult. Twenty years from today, when it becomes established, it is no longer seen as a cult. It, it…ahmm, currently it bears characteristics to established religions- it is seen as a cult, the established religions is seen as established and well…well accepted. It is this sort of hypocrisy that I am highlighting. I’m no way condoning if these prac…if, if this story as outlined in the News is correct…I am no way condoning nor promoting this religion. I, I, I do not agree with it but I just want to highlight that level of hypocrisy that exists. And that’s, that’s what I want to say concerning that…so, in other words the Prime Minister should condemn the Roman Catholic Church as well.”

It is important, for context, to note that in the News newspaper of Thursday 5th April, 2012, the Prime Minister was reported thus: “Dr. Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security, said such groups “should be opposed, be denounced, be criticized”. To denounce the group is to ‘condemn’ and ‘attack’ it according to the online www.thesaurus.com. Here are the facts in summary about Ballantyne’s words above:

a. Ballantyne lamented a level of hypocrisy in society in the way the new religious group (called satanic cult) was being branded as a cult, although its alleged religious teachings proved similar to those of the established Roman Catholic Church.

b. He particularly compared the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching about the Pope (a historical and indisputable fact) with the alleged claim of the leader of the new group.

c. Ballantyne neither called the new group a cult, nor was he interested in joining others in so doing. Instead he asked why were persons so quick to brand them as a cult.

d. Ballantyne did not ever call the Roman Catholic Church a cult.

e. Ballantyne particularly exposed the Prime Minister’s hypocrisy by inference to his weighing in on the topic, and indicating that to be fair, the PM should also call for criticism of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching about the Pope’s divinity and should condemn it for that teaching, in the very same manner in which he called for the criticism and denunciation of the new religious group called satanic cult.

f. Ballantyne called for fairness, intelligent approach to the view and treating of the subject and a refraining from hypocrisy in position thereon.

Despite the above facts sir, you have taken a position against the statement by Shefflorn, which you admitted in meeting today that you did not even hear yourself. Hon. Leacock has described to me Mr. Ballantyne’s words above, which he claimed to have heard, as him having “launched an attack against the Catholic Church”. Today you raised the matter in the meeting attended by at least 17 high level party members, including executive members and parliamentarians present and past, including lawyers, and a policy position was dictated to us on the matter, although most persons present had not even heard the actual statement of the young man. This does not show fairness. As a matter of fact, persons seem to have pronounced on Ballantyne’s statement, clearly not even having heard what he said. A case in point is the comment by Hon. Daniel Cummings, who at one point described Ballantyne’s statements as having called the Roman Catholic Church a cult- a thing which is NOT true. It is evident to me that, quite apart from concerns you said callers expressed to you sir, party members may have also propagated the view that Ballantyne called the Catholic Church a cult when he did not in fact do so. Furthermore, despite the fact that you sir did not hear the original statement and that you alone (apart from myself) have had the benefit of speaking to Mr. Ballantyne privately, the matter of what he said was raised today before us and judgments were cast on it without Mr. Ballantyne himself having the opportunity to be there to answer for himself. Again, that is not fair and just. I am left to conclude that false perception, and indeed propaganda, rule and dictate our party policy in this matter and not truth based on facts accordingly.

Besides, since Ballantyne basically pointed out the Prime Minister’s hypocrisy in being quick to condemn the group by calling for its denunciation, do you wish to support the Prime Minister’s position by taking a stance against Ballantyne’s wise call for fairness in dealing with our people? Furthermore, have you not seen how the very thing Ballantyne asked for carefulness with is causing people suffering? Did you not see the piece on the front page of the Friday 13th April, 2012’s News newspaper where a group is making it clear that “We are not the Satanic Cult” because they are suffering from assault against their property because some have jumped on the Prime Minister and others’ bandwagon of denouncing the so called cult? The story shows that Rev. Dr. Victoria Rothwell claims people have broken their church window and left feathers of slaughtered fowls and blood on their property. I suggest you read it.

On The Policy You Dictated Today

As I indicated today, I never knew that the New Democratic Party (NDP) had a policy which says that no candidate or potential candidate should make any public statement that is averse to any religion. I was most shocked to hear you say this sir as I considered the negative implications for religious liberty of candidates and potential candidates, even myself. In fact I indicated that such a policy would seem to disqualify even me, who was selected in November, 2011 by 100% of members present of the West St. George Constituency Council’s Executive and members. You seem not to appreciate the implications of such a policy position taken by you as president of the party, waiting to take governance. I say this because based on what you said today, you seem to think it is safe to purport that people are free to believe what they wish but public statements that are averse to religion are forbidden. You seem to think that religious liberty is limited to private belief and you seem to think that as a political leader you have authority to manage the freedom of speech of your candidates and potential candidates in the exercise of their religious Liberty. You are wrong on many fronts and I wish to point out the following to you accordingly:

1. The Constitution of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines clearly, legally protects the fundamental rights and freedoms, including that of religious liberty, of ALL its citizens, regardless of color, race, creed and “political opinions” according to Section 1.

2. Our Constitution also declares in the preamble that our Peoples “(b) desire that their society be so ordered as to express their recognition of the principles of democracy, free institutions, social justice and equality before the law;” (emphasis supplied). And it is upon democratic principles that our Constitution goes on to outline the fundamental rights and freedoms which it recognizes, not least of which is the protection of Freedom of Conscience.

3. In Section 9- Protection of Freedom of Conscience-it clearly protects not only freedom to believe privately but also to EXPRESS PUBLICLY one’s religious views. It says in subsection (1): “Except with his own consent, a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in company with others, and both in PUBLIC and in private, to MANIFEST and PROPAGATE his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” (emphasis supplied)

4. The New Democratic Party’s constitution Article 2. Principles, says it shall be made up of “progressive-minded people of any race, color or creed who are dedicated to the principles of democracy”

5. Furthermore Article 3. Objects, declares that the party’s objects include “ (3)To guarantee the maximum expression of democratic liberties by all citizens”

The policy dictated today by you sir contravenes every truth established in SVG’s Constitution regarding religious liberty, freedom of speech and expression and it even contravenes the principles and objects of the party you preside over as shown in its constitution. To dictate that candidates and potential candidates must not make public statements which are averse to any religion is in fact to limit their freedom of speech in the exercise of their religious liberty. Since we speak our thoughts, opinions and beliefs, the policy position is also in effect an effort to limit and dictate to the freedom of thoughts, opinions and beliefs of candidates and potential candidates. Moreover, since thoughts, opinions and beliefs are based on conscience, the policy seeks to dictate to the conscience- a thing only the CREATOR GOD has jurisdiction over and authority to do. Not only does this policy fail to show a guarantee of maximum expression of democratic liberties by all citizens, it is also unconstitutional in characteristic.

So tell me Mr. Eustace, how can your party, which hopes to take office to govern all of SVG under the above cited constitution of SVG, which protects Vincentians freedom to believe and express their religious teaching privately and publicly- how does your party justify taking a policy position that in effect limits its candidates and potential candidates’ freedom of speech in religious liberty? And tell me sir, how will you guarantee these freedoms with their scope constitutionally, if you take governance in SVG, when, now while in Opposition, you dare to limit the scope of your members and candidates’ legitimate freedoms?

The essential reason given for this out of place attempt to limit God-given and constitutionally protected freedoms is the claim that it will damage the party. Here, you are seriously mistaken but before I tell you why, consider this: If you seek to limit our freedom of speech now, claiming it is not politically advantageous to the party’s aim of gaining government, what will you do if you get into office and your sole interest then is to keep government? Will not keeping government be a higher stake that attaining it? Is it not safe to infer that you will have the tendency to limit your Ministers freedoms then? How will public servants who wish to be constructively critical of your government fare, when that criticism can ‘hurt’ or ‘damage’ your government, in the same way you argue that public statements averse to religion can ‘hurt’ or ‘damage’ your party now? Do you realize the implications of what you are saying? My ultimate question is what will become of an Anesia Baptiste public servant under your government if this is your policy now in the NDP in Opposition? Have you forgot what I suffered and why? The Prime Minister was under pressure by his members to ‘deal with’ me because of my pronouncements during the referendum. He did and the rest is history.

During the referendum I stood and fought for protection of inalienable rights and freedoms which were under threat in the proposed constitution bill 2009. I fought with all my heart, convictions and voice and I did not look at consequences because I knew I stood for the truth and for righteousness- for the protection of our people’s rights and freedoms. I have suffered persecution for it and you said you stood by me. Now I am shocked to hear you espouse and dictate to the party a policy which amounts to a similar attack on constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms and which when followed to its logical conclusion can result in the same victimization and persecution of persons who may, just following their convictions, make public statements which you do not consider helpful to your political advantage.

And yet, the position you take is riddled with error in so far as political advantage is concerned. You see, to say no public statement should be made which is averse to religion is in itself a problem:

A statement that is averse to a religion will always be subjective. Different religions teach different things and accordingly, what one religious group considers averse to them, another group may not so consider.

Averse- “having an active feeling of repugnance or distaste” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/averse?show=0&t=1334710487. So for example typical Seventh-day Adventist teaching in crusades show that the office of the Pope is that of the anti-Christ. They teach this to their members along with the doctrine that the Roman Catholic Church is the one who gave the world Sunday keeping instead of Seventh day Sabbath keeping and that this change is against God and the Ten Commandments. A Roman Catholic may find this teaching averse to him. A Rastafarian on the other hand will not find it averse to him to teach that the Pope is the anti-Christ.

So, essentially, any action you take on your policy would result in you taking sides with religious doctrine. That will hurt the party, not help it. It would make the party’s policy position based on the protection of religious doctrine. This makes no sense because your duty as a political leader is to protect people’s rights from infringement, not to protect religious teachings from being criticized publicly (one cannot protect a doctrine anyway). Besides, who will you protect the most? Catholics, Seventh day Adventists? Rastafarians? Who? You will run the risk of offending one or more by standing for one or the other. This will hurt you.

Political policy is supposed to protect the rights and freedoms of all to hold and manifest and propagate their religion according to the dictates of their consciences. To stand for the rights of all is helpful to the party. On the contrary, to give in to pressure from special interest groups over offense taken at public expression of religious opinion is unwise, immature and shows poor leadership. This will truly hurt the party.

An Opposition party like ours is best positioned to understand the need to protect the rights and freedoms of those in minority groups from the bullying and stifling attempts of those who consider themselves majority and popular. Therefore, it should be careful not to limit freedoms of minorities but to facilitate their free and full exercise legitimately, least it appear to take on the same character that its opponents-the government-possesses. For that, will truly hurt this Opposition party.

In this regard sir, you would do well to consider the example of the political figure called the Deputy of Achaia in the book of the Acts of the Apostles chapter 18, verses 12 -16 in the Holy Bible (King James Version):

 “12 And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat,

13 Saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law.

 14 And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you:

 15 But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters.

 16 And he drave them from the judgment seat.”

Note the wisdom of Gallio- Deputy of Achaia who reasoned that when it came to religious opinions and differences, he could not judge in such matters to take a side (neither the Jews’ nor Paul’s) but that he would limit his jurisdiction to matters of crime and evil, immoral behavior. He diffused the situation by the policy position he took and did not consider that this position was politically disadvantageous to him but simply stood for the religious liberty for all. Paul was free to teach his opinions and so were the Jews to oppose him. However, to bring Paul before the politicians for judgment, the politician refused to judge in such a matter. This is wisdom, Mr. Eustace and you would be better off following Deputy Gallio’s example. Unlike him, it is reported in other chapters of the Acts of the Apostles that Jewish leaders who listened to the crowd’s accusations against the Apostles without a hearing, caused great persecution of these innocent Christians, who were beaten, arrested and even imprisoned when the intolerance for their seemingly unpopular teaching, was taken to its fullness. Peruse the book of Acts and you will see the accounts. Like Deputy Gallio, you should encourage those who whisper misrepresentations of Ballantyne’s words in your ears, to be mature and to leave the issue alone because it is not truly a political one. Tell them to maturely debate Ballantyne or anyone for that matter if they want but that you will not judge in such matters because you are not infallible and you cannot dictate to a person’s conscience what opinions they hold and express religiously.

Please let it not be that you my dear sir and others in the upper party are the ones making this a political issue in the Country, and not the government. It would be wise for you not to attack or to break those who are helping you fight the government like Ballantyne’s words were doing. Remember, Ballantyne was not attacking any religion, neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the new religion the Prime Minister was attacking. The point of his words was to show the irrational attack of the PM and others, which have incited people to transgress the rights of a religious group. And dear sir, all this is not just talk. This is political sincerity.

Mr. Eustace, I have to ask you- what about all the critical comments which have been made by our members, including candidates and representatives, against the hypocrisy of the Christian Council? What about our condemnation of compromising positions of people like Reverend Job and others? Will such commentary be outlawed now by this policy of yours, sir? I am sure there would have been religious persons who were offended at the party’s criticisms. Where was the policy against such then? Why is Shefflorn Ballantyne singled out now for being intelligently critical of an issue of comparative religious teachings (facts and alleged)? The way this matter is being handled makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It reeks of discrimination based on a level of bias against Ballantyne. Could it be that leadership prefers Lauren Baptiste for North Windward and is perhaps looking for fault in Shefflorn Ballantyne to use against him? Your policy promised taking action if necessary. What kind of action will you dare take, sir, against a man’s God-given and constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty? Will you act against his desires to serve at a higher level just because you don’t like his expressed opinion on religious matters?

Do we not have more serious issues to be making policies on in meetings? Is not the ULP doing much in this Country to destroy people’s lives? Should we not be focusing all our energies on addressing them, rather than trying to limit the freedom of speech of morally upright and hard working members of our party such as Ballantyne, who did no wrong, neither called the Roman Catholic church a cult- which you have seen in his statements transcribed in this letter? This position you took today is a backward and debilitating one for the NDP and I am obliged in my conscience to tell you so without water in my mouth.

Today, when I indicated my concern that matters of complaint about candidates’ public behavior do not seem to make it to these meetings for confrontation but that this particular matter of Ballantyne’s statement interestingly came before the meeting, resulting in the dictating of a strict, anti-rights policy position, nobody responded. I was particularly referring to calls I have received complaining about Hon. Leacock’s behavior in public with a woman who is not his wife and also the complaints against Lauren Baptiste’s (potential NW candidate) public behavior regarding his female partner. I believe you have received these complaints also. There are other complains too, such as about upset and confusion in East St. George between and among former council member, the current candidate and supporters. Has any investigation been done into these things? Or is there no need for any? Will there be policy positions dictated on these issues also? Will they be brought into similar meeting like today, in each person’s absence, like what was done today also? Or do they not hurt the party? How far are you prepared to go, sir? These things warrant attention. Is there unfair discrimination when it comes to Ballantyne? Why single out his innocent statement for address? Is there hypocrisy? It seems it would be better if Ballantyne had stoned a church like another candidate and nothing would be done about it.

My Position:

I have heard and read the statement made by Shefflorn Ballantyne and I do not agree with you that such public expression of religious opinion which some may find offensive should be limited.

I do not at all agree with the policy position you dictated today.

I do not at all support the policy position you dictated today.

I will not follow or obey it because it is against my conscience which God alone can dictate to. And you, Mr. Eustace, are not and will not be allowed to play God to me.

I will not follow or obey it also because it is against my God-given religious liberty right exercised in my freedom of opinion and speech.

I will not follow or obey it because it is an attempt to limit my free (legitimate) speech.

The policy position you dictated is also against the highest law of the land-the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and not in harmony with the spirit of the principles and objects of the constitution of the NDP. I will not follow such an unconstitutional policy.

And for it to have come from you-the leader of the Opposition and President of the NDP who aspires to becoming the Prime Minister of SVG, is disappointing, unacceptable and leaves much to be desired. I fear that if you are taking such a position now in Opposition you will be a danger to Vincentians’ rights and freedoms as leader of government. It is in fact the policy position that you dictated today that will hurt the party’s position of getting into office. And if the NDP really holds policies like this it will do no differently from the ULP in persecuting persons for their rights and freedoms.

As for me, I, Anesia Baptiste am a democrat. I will stand as I have always stood-for the protection of the inalienable and constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms of all people, including and especially minorities. For this is the true test of the character of policy makers and governments. This is the real yard stick by which governments are to be judged- how they treat the God-given rights and freedoms of the people. I will not be the hypocrite, not then, not now and not ever. This is who I am, this is what I stand by, based on the word of God. Like the 16th Century Great German Reformer Martin Luther I say “To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. I cannot and I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other.  So help me God.”

MY dear sir, with all due respect to you, when I joined the NDP, it was because I believed that the party had respect for rights and freedoms of all Vincentians, those in the party and those in government, unlike the tyranny of the ULP. I placed a lot of trust in the ideals of this party and hoped that through its policies we will see a new politics, a new beginning, a golden age for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Please do not hurt me so much by disappointing me. Please do not make me feel that I have misjudged this party.

Sincerely Yours
…Anesia Baptiste……

Anesia Baptiste

Strategy Committee Present on 17th April, 2012

Hon. Godwin Friday
Hon St. Clair Leacock
Hon. Daniel Cummings
Hon. Roland Mathews
Hon. Nigel Stephenson
Hon. Vynnette Frederick
Dr. Linton Lewis
Mr. Allan Cruickshank
Mrs. Doris McIntosh
Mr. Norell Hull
Mr. Addison Thomas
Mr. Kenroy Johnson
Mr. Marcus Defreitas
Mr. Burton Williams
Mr. Alfred Bynoe