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President Paula-Mae Weekes

The following is President Paula-Mae Weekes’ Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day greeting:

Fellow citizens,

Spiritual Baptists today mark the repeal of the Shouter Prohibition Ordinance 1917 which, for thirty-four years, denied them freedom of worship and the dignified enjoyment of their religion. The exigencies of the COVID-19 pandemic have prevented the customary celebrations from taking place, but the Spiritual Baptist faithful will no doubt find ways, within the guidelines, to commemorate their hard-fought recognition and liberation. And all of us in the national community will join with them.

The stringent measures contained in the Ordinance, including banning members of the Spiritual Baptist community from congregating, erecting a place of worship or otherwise practising their beliefs, made life difficult for Spiritual Baptists, but their fidelity to their ideals never wavered and their religion continued to thrive. Adherents braved the repression of the police, the sanction of the courts and the derision of members of the public. Tubal Uriah Butler and Elton George Griffith were but two of the many, who were relentless in their pursuit of justice and the right to exercise the freedom afforded to other creeds and, on 30 March 1951, the Shouter Prohibition Ordinance was repealed.

The abrogation of the Ordinance was relevant even beyond the Shouter Baptist, as it dismantled a system of deliberate discrimination. While Emancipation had ended the physical subjugation of formerly enslaved Africans, the prejudice associated with fundamentally African customs and rituals had remained. Now, the bell ringing, hand clapping and foot stomping which were affronts to colonial sensibilities, are proud expressions of our only indigenous religion.

As Trinidad and Tobago makes the necessary adjustments to grapple with our present crisis, we can take pattern from the conviction, perseverance and resilience so ably demonstrated by our Spiritual Baptist brothers and sisters. Their journey of faith is relevant more now than ever and will inspire and embolden generations to come.

I join with the nation in extending best wishes to the Spiritual Baptist community for a safe, happy and healthy Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day.