‘[…] Today, all the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago need to applaud the members of the Spiritual Baptist community—for their struggles and the achievement of their liberation is, in fact, an achievement that we all benefit from …’
The following Letter to the Editor commemorating Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day was submitted to Wired868 by the Movement for Social Justice:
The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) salutes the members of the Spiritual Baptist faith on this, the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the repeal of the colonial law that banned the practice of their religion.
It was in November 1917 that the colonial government passed the Shouters Prohibition Ordinance. This law legalised police repression against members of the Spiritual Baptist faith who were routinely harassed and persecuted by the police.
With prohibition came the total denial of freedom to worship. Members of the faith were unable to hold religious services or to build any church. Members were regularly arrested and beaten by the police; big landowners and estate owners were told to report anyone who may have been breaking the law.
Those who controlled the society—the economic, political and social elites (which included the leaders of the traditional Christian denominations) viewed the Spiritual Baptists with great disdain. The Spiritual Baptist faith was considered to be inferior and ‘heathen’. They were discriminated against.
This view and the discrimination practised by the controllers was underpinned by racism and Eurocentrism. What was European and white was superior, what was African and black was inferior. There was also the definitive bias of class as members of the Spiritual Baptist faith were almost invariably working class, while those who opposed belonged essentially to the ruling elites.
The repeal of prohibition on 30 March 1951 was the culmination of many years of struggle by the members of the Spiritual Baptist faith to affirm their identity and to assert their basic human rights of freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of worship.
Today, all the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago need to applaud the members of the Spiritual Baptist community—for their struggles and the achievement of their liberation is, in fact, an achievement that we all benefit from.
Nobody could feel completely free to worship and to associate or to express themselves if the Spiritual Baptists did not fight and make the tremendous sacrifices that they made. Theirs was a true liberation struggle, a struggle for human rights. Their freedom has become our freedom!
Significantly, but not surprisingly, many members of the early labour movement, most notably Tubal Uriah ‘Buzz’ Butler, were adherents and leaders of the Spiritual Baptists. Their very faith, therefore, underpinned the struggle for social justice and liberation from exploitation and oppression in all its forms.
At the same time, however, we must recognise that there still exist remnants of the colonial culture of racism, colourism and discrimination. This is manifest in many aspects of our social existence and includes the reality of class interests driving decisions and the inequality of wealth and income.
A liberation struggle wins legal rights but the emancipation from mental slavery and backward attitudes, culture and systems must be an ongoing effort. Let us, therefore, on this, the 70th anniversary of the repeal of the Prohibition Ordinance, recommit to the ideals of social justice and an end to all forms of discrimination.
The MSJ joins the members of the Spiritual Baptist community in the celebration of all that you have achieved against tremendous odds and applauds you for your struggles on behalf of all of Trinidad and Tobago.
We all owe you a debt of gratitude for your liberation was won through great personal sacrifice and untold pain that you had to endure. However, we can indeed celebrate as the Psalmist so wisely tells us ‘Weeping may Endure for a Night, but Joy Cometh in the Morning!’