Best News & Current Affairs Blog (2011 & 2012) and Jamaican Blogger of the Year (2011) at The Jamaica Blog Awards.

NCU Has Rights Too !


ImageChristianity is not dynamic, it remains static. As society’s understanding of rights and freedoms evolve, Christianity must necessarily remain steadfast. Anything else would disturb the supposed infallibility of the religion’s tenets. It is against this backdrop that I approach the controversy currently surrounding the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) in Central Jamaica. The University stands accused of suspending a female student for “depicting homosexuality in a (cheerleading) routine”. This depiction amounted to dressing like a man and proposing to another female student, all in the name of fun. The decision of the University has come under fire from human rights advocates who charge that the suspension is in violation of the student’s most basic rights as a citizen, with many condemning the draconian and theocratic approach of the tertiary institution. While I agree that the action is draconian and startling, I am persuaded to stand with NCU in this matter. It is my considered opinion that the University has the right to determine, as a matter of conscience, what behaviours and attitudes it deems acceptable under the existing “ethos” of the campus.

ImageIt is no secret that the Seventh Day Adventist Church is one of the most intrusive christian denominations which exists. The precepts demand strict observances which often encroach on individual liberties, by regulating diet, dress and other aspects of everyday life. Being led by Seventh Day Adventists, one would reasonably expect the same aggressive brand of conservatism from the institution. Why are we alarmed that the school decided to maintain its principles? The argument which says that NCU should be mindful of the fact that not everyone who attends is christian, and therefore tolerate secularism, is flawed. The reality is no one forces non Christians to attend, that is entirely a matter of choice. Why then do we believe we have a right to exist in a christian space, and act in a manner which is contrary to the religion’s belief system? Such a notion can only come from a place of unbridled arrogance. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. I give an example, I have dislike tofu and the like, but on the many occasions I have been invited to the Mandeville campus, I have been fed tofu. Did I complain? No. Why? Because I chose to accept the invitation. I knew the terms of my acceptance,  it was never forced on me. Students are not forced to attend either. Therefore, it is not enlightened, as has been suggested, to demand that people and institutions discard their beliefs simply because it is not main stream, hip or current. There is a troubling precedent emerging which says that without a wholesale acceptance of gay rights, gender rights or any other right which is deemed fundamental, an individual cannot be intelligent or above the level of the “common man”. It is terribly offensive. As hard as it is to believe, there are still many among us who hold some things sacred. That is their right, and we ought to respect it. By attacking NCU, we are endorsing the idea that any thinking outside of the mainstream is null and void. I am not prepared to accept that. I believe that is the first step in violating the right to a free conscience.

ImageIn our crusade for human rights, we seem to have ignored the fact that  NCU is a private institution, with a right to determine its own standards and practices. A well placed source on the campus has informed me that the university is governed by what is referred to as an “ethos”, every student has heard of it, and every student is mindful not to upset it. Presumably, homosexual expression violates that ethos, surely the young lady knew this. She has a right, of course, to express herself through fashion, perhaps even through sexual orientation, but how do we weigh this right when opposed to NCU’s  expressly defined moral principles? Should such a right be absolute, no matter where the young lady finds herself? I believe we can look to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Maurice Tomlinson, TVJ, CVM, PBCJ matter for an answer. As I understand it, the Court upheld the right of the television stations not to broadcast content which they deemed contrary to their moral conscience. If we accept that we are a society based on laws, then we ought to be persuaded by the Constitutional Court’s declaration in this matter. I believe the same circumstance is present in this matter. If broadcast stations can invoke religious protection in furtherance of private discrimination, why shouldn’t a religious institution be allowed to do the same? I believe that is the only way to insulate the Church and its precepts from the shifting priorities of society.

ImageFinally, far too often the march towards an inclusive society fails to accept the reality that not every citizen or institution will be party to the shifting norms and values or the activist agenda. I think that’s part of the beauty of democracy, that there are competing ideas, and an ongoing conversation. We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss NCU’s practices because they conflict with our modern sense of human rights and freedoms. If we are committed to upholding rights, we must commit to upholding even those rights which offend us.

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11 responses

  1. sbb

    NCU is a private institution and I think it should be allowed to determine who it does business with and on what basis it can disciple it’s students. However there are certain criteria that it should not be allowed to use to discriminate against persons, even when their religious views come into play. I believe a person’s sexual orientation is one of these criteria.

    “If broadcast stations can invoke religious protection in furtherance of private discrimination, why shouldn’t a religious institution be allowed to do the same?”

    I completely disagree that religion protection is a good reason to allow private discrimination. If there was a private religious institution that barred people based on the colour of their skin because it was a tenet of their religion society would not tolerate or allow such a thing to happen. But because it is homosexuality then “religious protection” can be invoked as a reason to allow discrimination. This is because in Jamaica racial prejudice, even by private institutions, is illegal while prejudice based on sexual orientation is not. To me I see no difference between race and sexual orientation. Both are inherent aspects of a person that one cannot choose. Why should we allow religion to be used to discriminate against homosexuals and not black people?

    “If we accept that we are a society based on laws, then we ought to be persuaded by the Constitutional Court’s declaration in this matter. I believe the same circumstance is present in this matter.”

    In this case while it is legal, that does not make it right. In this case the law is technically correct but wrong because it perpetuates injustice. Religion should not give you the legal right to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

    April 7, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    • COP

      Even trying to look at it through sbb’s eyes it wouldn’t add up. The institution had made it clear that if the homosexual behaviours are displayed then this will be the outcome. We see this before entering the institution and even after. Any will say they don’t simply because they don’t read. The bible speaks against homosexuality, not racism and if the christian institution falters where that’s concern, none of you that has an issue will take the blame so let them do what they have to do. You knew this before… why complain now? NO SAME SEX IS ALLOWED!!! If you are oriented in such fashion, keep it to yourself and or your partner but not on campus!!! CLEAN DEM OUT NCU!!!!

      April 7, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    • jahsonaj

      Sexual orientation, as with all other human behaviour, require influence and or nurturing to develop and thus is not equitable as a right to that of race. That is to say, who you feel attracted to [a cognitive decision] is not equal as a rights issue to the colour of ones skin [a biological result]. Your choice to believe sexual orientation is not a choice does not make it truth, alas the debate does not centre on these issues. The university, as with organizations reserves the right to make decisions regarding its students and the requisite course of action when breaches are identified.

      April 7, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      • sbb

        I think most people are missing the point I was trying to make. I was just using race as an example of a criteria on which in modern society has decided you can’t use to discriminate against someone, even by private religious institutions.

        I’m not disputing that NCU has the right to discriminate against gay people, but I don’t think it should be able to just because it is against their religion. It is just my own idealist position.

        Even if you chose your sexual orientation it still wouldn’t matter. Religion is a choice and you are protected against religious discrimination (NCU can’t expel people because they are not SDA) so why shouldn’t gay people be protected against discrimination as well?

        What I am getting it is that “religious protection” seems to be is an acceptable reason for discriminating against gay people, but we would not accept using religious reasons to discriminate against someone based on their race or gender or religion.

        April 8, 2014 at 6:42 am

  2. Nemesis

    It is clear you are an outsider (as many of the commentators usually are) because you would have known that the individual in question was not “persecuted” for just a “routine” but because of other “offences”, offences deemed as such only by the “offended”. Additionally, the said institution you are defending outlines what procedures should be taken in the event a student is not wearing an ID (as she was accused of) as well as what to do when presented with “attitude” as she was said to have. I go further to say that not only was she the only one targeted, no discernible efforts were made to find the “female” in the scenario as the student body representative who spoke with the Jamaican media said she did not show up when she was called into the meeting. Might I say to you learned Sir that the same institution does not share with its populace these supposed rules until the student has been received and monies paid over. We call that “bait and switch” in advertising. I go on to say that the institution aught to be held as complicit as it failed to ensure its checks and balances worked. Where is the faculty/staff member who vetted the routine before it was presented to the school body? Let me answer that: at no point was anyone trying to :kiss a girl’s hand” or proposing. They were forming a wedding and the very dexterity with which the young ladies in question carried through the routine ought to be hailed as nothing but creative, art and flawless. This kind of expression should be commended in fact rather than lambasted. It is hypocrisy of the highest order to say you are suspending a student for “depicting homosexuality” when two males were allegedly caught ON TAPE in an otherwise unsavoury position and instead of suspending them, you are said to have called them into councilling. What separates the two incidents? I could go on but I have not done reading your article… I go fetcheth my glasses… Without going for glasses, I have read your entire article and must add that private or public, any act which contravenes the constitution of any land is ultra vires and as such, illegal. Explain to me where she went wrong and identify where this can be found at the institution in question: Such Place allowed female students to wear pants as at 1999; Young Miss wears pants everyday to Such Place. What exactly is not within the norm there that would violate the good morale senses of Such Place March 4 but not March 5 or February 19? I ask you further, why was she the only one targeted when it was a routine done by a group of persons? If you crucify Jack, crucify Jane. Anything else makes you worse than the accused.

    April 7, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    • jahsonaj

      All information regarding your questions raised can be found on the university’s public website via http://www.ncu.edu.jm/ProspectiveStudents.aspx and information sharing is very much a part of the university’s culture. You statement regarding bait and switch advertising is false.

      April 7, 2014 at 10:23 pm

  3. sheldon

    Can’t obey the people them rules, don’t go to their school. That’s my rule, including church.

    April 7, 2014 at 10:22 pm

  4. Bartley

    I am yet to hear what the institution will do to the 2 men found on the dorm having sex recently. They are covering up that story and the men are still freely roaming the campus as if nothing happened. They are against homosexuality and yet they these men are still there…why haven’t they also been suspended or expelled? NCU is a sad case…they disgust me to the highest degree.

    April 8, 2014 at 10:04 am

  5. dunstan bryan

    So I am to take from this article that once there is a rule there should be adherence to it. Hmmm ,,, let me change the scenario and say that the schooll had rules about segregation of blacks and whites or what about rules about slave labour….would the covention hold? I am not certain about this arguement about obeying rules as it has always been the rule breakers that have changed the status quo. This line of logic lacks contempoary rigor I think as an unjust law is no law at all, Where would we be if we all followed this logic of rule adherence. Yes the school has every right to have rules and promote its moral position but there is also a morality in objection. Wasnt that what Jesus was about “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees….For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but with a finger of their own they will not move them. (Matthew 23:4).”

    April 8, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    • Thank you for your comments, Dunstan. On the point of racial discrimination, NCU would be forbidden from doing this as our laws expressly forbid that type of discrimination. Homosexual expression is not protected under law. Indeed, out society has gone to great lengths not to protect homosexuals from discrimination. However, what is protected is NCU’s right to freedom of association. As difficult as it is to accept, the status quo endorses NCU’s position, as a matter of conscience and association. I accept that the act is draconian, but when we consider what’s at stake – the church’s fundamentally held principles – I think the right call was made.

      April 8, 2014 at 9:32 pm

  6. dunstan bryan

    do recall Ricardo that when segregation and slavery was being challenged they were still very legal. How then would your logic stand up against this. Are you saying that because the schools at that time had the rule they were right to segregate and there should be adherence to that right?……hmmmmm…. I cant seem to accept that. Dont get me wrong I understand your point of view and I also understand the actions of the school, it is when Civil Society begins to endorse injustice that I become concerned and so it is with your article’s (blog…I dont know the difference) logic. Its the thesis that I am finding hard to accept not the specific case. The question for me then is when is it ok to rebel against injustice as injustice is often legislated. So when do we break the law so that a new one can be formed? When was Martin Luther KIng and Paul Bogle and Nanny and Bustamante and Sam Sharpe, Nelson Mandela and all those others who all broke laws, when was it that they should have adhered to the rule of the institutions because the institutions have rights. I am sorry but I just dont get how this is contemporary thinking?

    April 9, 2014 at 9:57 pm

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