The Matter of Sunday Horse Racing
The decision to resume Sunday horse racing at Caymanas Park has attracted significant national attention over the last few days. The collective christian church in Jamaica has come out swinging, staunchly opposing the decision. Recently I gave my thoughts on the matter, albeit in a general manner; I wish to consolidate those thoughts. This is a classic case of the church vs the state, and I will attempt to deal with the issue in a substantive manner, now that I’ve thought about it and researched the issues at play.
During the Protestant reformation, the priest Martin Luther advocated what he termed the doctrine of two kingdoms. Central to this doctrine was the idea that God, as ruler of the whole world, exercised His power through both the state and the church. Though flawed, this doctrine marked the beginning of the modern conception of the separation of the state and the church. The United States, with reference to the writings of Thomas Jefferson, solidified the concept that there should be a wall between the church and the state. According to Jefferson, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution binds Congress to those words; and most countries of the world, save Islamic nations, have adopted this principle.
Here in Jamaica, there is no state religion. That is, the state does not recognise a religion; Jamaica is therefore termed a secular democracy, despite the frequent mention of the country being a “christian nation”. Being a secular democracy, the Jamaican state recognises the right of every individual to freely practice any religion chosen. A key component of this requires that the government does not impose any particular religious principle on unwilling citizens. Therefore, the church’s opposition to the state’s decision to resume Sunday gambling is placed squarely before us as a violation of the separation that ought to exist between the church and the state and a violation of the principles that govern a secular democracy. In this instance, the christian church is advocating that unwilling citizens be bound to it’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction, this is unacceptable. The church should have no jurisdiction beyond the consciences of those who have agreed to submit themselves to it’s dictates. Indeed, beyond preaching it’s message and seeking to influence thinking, the church has no jurisdiction to force compliance. Seeking audience with the Prime Minister, with a view to stopping Sunday gambling, is attempting to force compliance.
The reality is that we cannot force people to give reverence to something simply because we consider it worthy of reverence. The issue here is not whether gambling is moral or immoral, that will vary according to the individual; the issue is whether the state should deny an individual the right to choose how to spend their Sundays, simply because a particular religious denomination is opposed to it. Should the Jamaican state do this, then the wall that ought to exist between church and state would have been breached and people who may not believe in the principles of christianity will be forced to adopt them. I cannot stress how dangerous this is. This could lead to muslim children being forced to attend devotions at christian public schools, simply because they are enrolled there. The state must guard citizens against this arbitrary imposition by the church.
My more staunch christian colleagues have advised me that the church has a legitimate interest in persuading the Government against Sunday gambling because Proverbs 14 : 34 states that “righteousness exalts a nation, and sin is a reproach to any people.” Now these are truly beautiful words, truly they are. However, the justification from Proverbs cannot stand to scrutiny. You see, scripture can only legitimately bind those who accept it as law. Therefore those who do not deem gambling sinful or immoral, cannot be forced to abandon it. This goes back to the authority and jurisdiction of the church. How are we going to legitimately force people to comply with scripture? Veteran journalist Ian Boyne said it best. In his article, A Galloping Controversy : Church Horsing Around, he states that “there is no reflexive philosophical jurisdiction of the church’s view on morality or ethics, and the days are far gone when the church could hope to simply pronounce on issues and that was the end of the matter.”. I agree wholeheartedly. It appears to me that the church has not recognised the shift away from it’s influence. No longer can an elite group of believers define, for the whole society, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.
I have consistently supported the right to choose and I will continue to do so. No one has attempted to muzzle the church’s message of redemption, condemnation and salvation and the church must recognise and respect a person’s right to gamble on a Sunday. That’s a personal choice, informed by that particular individual’s values. The church may continue to preach against Sunday gambling, that is it’s legitimate right. However, it should refrain from “ganging up” on the state and forcing compliance with it’s message. This is not the dark ages. This is the 21st century and we are a pluralist, liberal and secular democracy. The wall between church and state must stand and well thinking Jamaicans should demand that it stand.
“The Church should have no privileged status in this society. There should be no automatic deference to the Church, no unquestioned authority invested in it. The fact that christianity is the majority religion provides no justification for the Church to impose it’s views on society. The Church must certainly seek to influence, but rational humans must whether it’s positions make sense. These positions are not inherently right.” – Ian Boyne.