Friday, February 23, 2018

Fundamental dignity for all

 I write to state that my main intent at the National Consultation on Constitutional Reform on Monday 10th February at UWI SPEC was to bring philosophical perspective to views that were being expressed on the floor and to strike a blow against unfair discrimination and hateful expressions of any kind.

The tone of our public dialogue at present on the reform of our nation’s Constitution, the fundamental document that governs how we live together in this society, should be civil, respectful and exemplify our national watchword: tolerance. We must all be able to live together on these islands in harmony after this process. 

The media also have a critical role to play in achieving this objective and setting a compassionate tone and accurate measure. Attaching as captions such expressions that I did not use like “gay rights” and “sexual rights” served to create some confusion in the minds of readers and to detract from the main human rights gist of the presentation.

Human rights are entitlements which encompass the full range of human diversity and are based on the inherent human dignity of each and every human person and form the basis of what is called the Bill of Rights as integral to modern liberal constitutions. Constitutions are regarded as fundamental law and place persons at the heart of what a nation and its development is all about.  

A bill of rights recognises the inherent dignity of human beings and the rights and freedoms emerging from that dignity simply by the fact of their being human. It contains entitlements with respect to persons and protects persons from encroachments from the State and from fellow citizens. In a modern democracy and especially in a multicultural society such as Trinidad and Tobago, this provision helps to manage various and ofttimes conflicting interests, setting fundamental boundaries and rules of fair play. 

In the Bill of Rights as obtains in our Republican Constitution of 1976 there are fundamental inalienable rights set out at Section 4 of which marriage is not regarded as a fundamental inalienable right. The term “fundamental inalienable right” is defined as one which a person has or to which he/she is entitled simply because of their personhood and humanity. Although my overall approach is non-discrimination for persons on the grounds of sexual orientation, this does not obligate the State to same-sex marriage in the future.

In the context of the discussion I also drew on a principle of jurisprudence which ensures that the rights of a minority not suffer under the will of the majority. Such a principle of protecting minority rights and the moral perspectives secured by constitutional laws make for sober and responsible judgment on matters affecting those citizens who may suffer the indignity of discrimination.

The context of the discussion that took place at UWI SPEC was a public forum by the Ministry of Legal Affairs National Consultation on Constitutional Reform.  I was commenting on Chapters Two and Three which dealt with “Rewording the Preamble” and “Fundamental Rights and Freedoms” respectively. I commented on four distinct areas, all of which I considered critically important. 

The first was on the wording under paragraph 37 on the “languaging”/wording of gender terms; second, on the inclusion of the environment; third, on the recognition of God, where I supported the idea that recognition of God should be indicated by mention of God’s name but also where I specifically defended the rights of atheists who should in no way be disadvantaged or prejudiced by their belief or lack of belief; and finally on part “b” of page 13 which reads “the issue of sexual orientation and human rights should be made the subject of further national discussion and public education”. 

(Concludes on Monday)

• Fr Stephen Geofroy PhD is a lecturer in philosophy at 

UWI’s School of Education