Trinidad and Tobago: Prime Minister Speaks Out for Religious Freedom

News January 2005

PM Manning with Dr. John Graz

Port-of-Spain, Trinidad… "Religion can be the most powerful force for liberty in society," affirmed H.E. Patrick Manning, prime minister of Trinidad andTobago. "However religion can also be one of the root causes of division, with intolerance of others, belief in the monopoly of sacred knowledge, and the incapacity to see alternatives."

Speaking on January 19 at the International Religious Liberty Association's regional conference, prime minister Manning spoke of his pride that "we can discuss these matters with candor and freedom in Trinidad and Tobago," noting that the country's constitution guarantees religious freedom. Admitting also that "practice may differ from ideals," he pointed to challenges, especially of the past. "History has taught us that states have unfortunately been party to the suppression of religious liberty," he added. "Trinidad and Tobago suffers from no such ailment-we have not been persuaded by bigotry. There are those who would use religion as a divisive force amongst us, and we must work against such a tendency and mitigate this factor."

In his conclusion the prime minister proclaimed, "Those who espy the bell of freedom should ring it, and those who hear it should respond to the call."

"We are delighted at such a strong endorsement of religious freedom and this conference from the prime minister," commented Dr John Graz, IRLA's secretary-general. "Our goal is well summed up in the conference's theme, 'Building Bridges: The Quest for Freedom and Justice.' We trust that the outcome of our meetings here will be an increased recognition of the vital importance of supporting-in very practical ways-religious freedom and tolerance in every part of the world."

Local IRLA representative and primary event organizer Clive Dottin noted that the conference was the first of its kind in the country. "In bringing together over 320 leaders of both society and faith communities from across the Caribbean region and beyond, we hope that we can develop wider support for freedom of conscience and mutual respect," he states. "Religion itself can be misused for those who have their own agendas. Intolerance and discrimination leads to conflict and violence, disrupting society and harming individuals. We need to work together to address the many problems in today's society, and only as we recognize each other's right to believe as we choose can we progress." [Jonathan Gallagher/IRLA News]