Fellow citizens, today the nation joins members of the Spiritual Baptist community in commemorating their hard-won right to worship, congregate and practise their religion without fear of discrimination or sanction. Covid-19 restrictions occasion a scaling back of the celebrations, a pity given the usual exuberant physical manifestation of the annual observances. However, the joy and jubilation of the Spiritual Baptist faithful have withstood many trials in the last century and will undoubtedly best the challenges of the pandemic while serving to inspire and hearten all of us in the national community. The repeal of the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance, on this day seventy years ago, was a tremendous victory over the colonial status quo, bringing to an end years of social and legalised oppression of Spiritual Baptists. Under threat of harassment, detention and financial penalty, Spiritual Baptists kept their customs alive, meeting secretly, protesting openly, and challenging the judicial system to overturn the egregious ban. Resistance came from various sectors of society and found champions in fiery trade union leader Tubal Uriah Butler, calypsonian Attila the Hun and politician Albert Gomes, among others. Activism, in front and behind the scenes, was the impetus for the Spiritual Baptist liberation movement, and their journey provides a valuable blueprint for the present-day groundswell of efforts to bring about social transformation, particularly in the areas of racism and gender-based violence. The campaigners were organised and embraced a common goal and were prepared to make sacrifices, never wavering in their commitment to the cause. Their experience teaches us that change is often not achieved overnight and can be tedious, even painful, but that with sustained and concerted action, it is always possible. Critically, when we gain momentum and accomplish incremental targets, we must continue to press forward and demand better for ourselves as individuals, communities and nation. The Spiritual Baptists exemplified this, when after the repeal of the Ordinance, they continued to advocate for their rights and dignity, working to dispel longstanding social prejudices, and obtaining a public holiday in recognition of their struggle and status. As we mark this occasion, we bring to mind the Spiritual Baptist legacy of temerity, persistence and action in the face of adversity. Their fight for and achievement of equality, justice and respect is a salutary lesson that we all can follow. I extend to the Spiritual Baptist community and the nation warmest wishes for a safe, happy and joyous celebration of Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day.
June 13, 2019
September 30, 2020