Rastafari gains official recognition in Jamaica

Rastafari gains official recognition in Jamaica


by Barbara Gayle

“RASTAFARIANS HAVE scored a big victory as the Government for the first time has openly recognised Rastafarianism as a religion in an out-of-court agreement signed yesterday.

The agreement states that Rastafarian prisoners are entitled under the Constitution of Jamaica to have their church conduct acts of worship with them.

It was part of the settlement that the Church of Haile Selassie I has the right to have access to inmates of correctional institutions and conduct acts of worship with them, on similar terms afforded to inmates of other religions.

However, the smoking of ganja as a sacrament during religious practices is not part of the agreement.

The leaders of the church are to confirm in writing that all activities will be conducted in accordance with the rules and regulations of the department and the laws of Jamaica.

“It is a small but important development as it recognises the constitutional protection afforded to all Jamaicans,” Michael Hylton, Q.C., Solicitor-General told The Gleaner yesterday. He also explained that the agreement was in effect accepting Rastafarianism as a religion.

Howard Hamilton, Q.C., Public Defender, had brought a motion on behalf of the Church of Haile Selassie I and Kevin Hall, a Rastafarian, who is serving a prison sentence for non-capital murder. Hall contended he wanted to be baptised but was being hindered because of his religion. He said counsellors who visited him were not allowed to use the chapel while permission had been granted to inmates of other religions.

A large number of Rastafarians attended court yesterday and were allowed to wear their headgear in court. Mr. Hamilton had said when he took office in April 2000 that his first order of business would be to address the rights of Rastafarians, people with HIV/AIDS and children.

When the motion came for hearing before the Constitutional Court comprising Justice Horace Marsh, Justice Gloria Smith and Justice Lloyd Hibbert, the lawyers representing the parties announced that an agreement was reached and therefore the motion was being withdrawn.

Mr. Hamilton and Lord Anthony Gifford, Q.C., who represented Hall, told The Gleaner that although the way has now been paved for the Rastafarian prisoners to have freedom of worship that did not include the smoking of ganja as a sacrament because that was against the law.

“The church undertakes to respect the laws of the land as they exist but the agreement will give them a basis on which to petition Parliament for a dispensation in relation to the use of ganja as a sacrament in religious practices,” Mr. Hamilton said.

Lord Gifford said the Govern-ment’s consent yesterday meant that the Rastafarians should also be treated without discrimination in other areas.

Defendants to the motion were the Commissioner of Corrections and the Attorney-General who were represented by attorneys-at-law Ingrid Mangatal and Catherine Francis.”

Published on Thursday February 6th, 2003 in the Jamaican Gleaner