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Rastafarians seek state recognition of their faith

Guardian Staff Reporter

Published: May 04, 2013

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Members of the Rastafarian community said yesterday they do not enjoy some of the basic freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of The Bahamas, adding that they face heavy discrimination because of their beliefs.

Hon. Priest Phillip Blyden, of the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress (EABIC), said the most egregious issue is the Rastafarian faith is not recognized by the state.

"We request full recognition of the Rastafarian faith in The Bahamas by an act of Parliament or a bill of rights," said Blyden as he addressed the Constitutional Commission yesterday.

"For example...the Methodists were established by the act of Parliament,” he said.

He said much of the discrimination Rastafarians face would end once the faith is recognized.

Blyden said, "Because all Rastafarian persons have been ostracized, marginalized, victimized, profiled, brutalized, degraded, [used as a] scapegoat or dehumanized or all of the above, we now collectively call on the commission and all relevant agencies of The Bahamas government to recognize the faith and dispel the myth, stigmas and villainous impediments by enforcing Chapter 3 of The Bahamas Constitution to ensure our social, spiritual, domestic and economic development..."

He added that the practice of cutting Rastafarians' locks upon entrance to Her Majesty's Prisons (HMP) is another major issue.

In addition to calling for officials to abandon that practice, Blyden called on the commission to ensure that Rastafarians receive education and proper dietary provisions while incarcerated.

Many Rastafarians eat a limited type of meat in accordance with their faith.

Blyden also pushed for the Rastafarians to be given alternative sentences when convicted on minor offenses, including the possession of herb.

"Set the captive free for small portions of sacramental herb and repeal the four-year sentence which is unfair," Blyden recommended.

Smoking herb is considered a spiritual act in the Rastafarian faith.

However, according to law, anyone convicted on drug possession would be sentenced to a minimum of four years in prison.

Blyden was one of three Rastafarians to address the commission yesterday.

Ras Ean Maura and Ras Jamal Curry both commented on the practice of cutting the locks of Rastafarians who are incarcerated at HMP.

Maura added that over the years, Rastafarians have become targets for police and suffer depravation at the hands of the state.

"When young Rastafarian brothers and sisters do well in school, earn scholarships and be denied those scholarships, that is indeed deprivation,” he also said. “This must stop."

Maura said Rastafarians are often treated as if they don't belong.

"We have to now fight to even say that we have the right to exist. That should not be so," he said.

Maura added, “Profiling is being done by the police right now and automatically if you are a Rasta, you are a suspect. We don't know what we are suspects for.”

Curry said the recognition of the Rastafarian faith is essential to eradicating the stigma placed on the Rasta community.

Speaking more generally, he said the country needs to institute a no confidence vote for ministers, prime ministers and commissioners of police “because a lot of times we as citizens feel that we have no control over those who say they have control over the country".


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