Said the legendary wise old man: You cannot know what another man is thinking until he opens his mouth to speak. Nevertheless, we imagine ourselves capable of reading minds, when what we are too often doing is unwittingly putting into words our own most secret, self-serving thoughts. How often do men conveniently misjudge a woman’s silence? I dare to say, too often than is good for us. At great cost to ourselves, we habitually misread acquiescence into unspoken signals. Which is not to say words are always to be trusted, not when man was cursed from Creation with the ability to hear only what he wants to hear and to see such truths as support only his cause, while speaking with tongues better placed in the snouts of reptiles.
Wrote the actress Shirley MacClaine, doubtless supported by personal experience: “It is useless to hold a person to anything he says while he’s in love, drunk or running for office.”
Mutatis mutandis, the foregoing might easily apply to our parliamentary representatives, whose mantra was apparently borrowed from Lewis Carol’s Humpty Dumpty: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, nothing more nor less.”
Now consider the word dissent, defined by most dictionaries thus: “To differ in opinion or feeling; disagree. To withhold assent or approval.” The people’s right to dissent is at the heart of constitutions throughout the free world. High-court judges refuse to concur all the time with the opinion of a majority; that is what dissenting opinions are all about. Nothing in the definition of dissent is indicative of lawlessness or treason or lack of patriotism. Indeed, a nation cannot legitimately consider itself free if it is without the protected right of dissent. The right to disagree with and to criticize government policy is considered sacred by those who enjoy it and demonstrably worth dying for by those unfortunate enough to be living in countries ruled by dictators.
To borrow from Roosevelt’s related statement in 1918: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but it is morally treasonable to the American public.”
Today more than ever, the quoted declaration by the 32nd president of the United States is supported by his fellow Americans, all of whom, regardless of political leaning, subscribe to the view that “those who accuse the dissenters of being unpatriotic are themselves unpatriotic. The very act of free speech is patriotic, as is the right given to us in the Constitution. People who want to take that right away because they do not like what is being said are violating the Constitution and are borderline fascist.”
The following is taken from the 25 November 2003 Hansard which contains the contributions of the day’s MPs to debates relating to The Revised Criminal Code of Saint Lucia, now a Pandora’s Box of migraines for what passes on The Rock of Sages for our justice system. (The bills debated on the occasion sought conveniently to legalize some abortions—in the process creating new problems for rape investigators and prosecutors, over-horny husbands and unsuspecting significant others—to deny bail to citizens accused of murder or rape and to restrict freedom of expression via an iron gag called Section 361:
“I have heard Father Clovis say he is disappointed with the government because of what we are doing . . . but you have been disappointed in this government from May 23, 1997. That is the problem when we allow politics to color our theology and our work. When other dissenting Catholics are dismissed as nuisances, told they are not true Catholics, that is a reflection of the arrogance of which they accuse us. The church is dispensing to its people the very medicine it condemns.”
Forever the school principal with a lesson for his imagined students, the then prime minister said: “My attitude would have been to say to these people, ‘You have a different point of view from ours, can we please meet and discuss the issue and see if we can resolve it?’ The church is an institution that has to tolerate and understand dissent.”
Pointless going into the pros and cons of Catholic-Church theology and policy. In the first place, the then prime minister’s assault on the reputation of Father Clovis was not only regrettable, but it was also contrary to the rules of the House that forbid attacks on private individuals. Certainly there can be no excuse for elected lawmakers abusing House privilege by attacking long-established Catholic-Church beliefs. I am more concerned here with the words that lay bare the presumed sinless soul of the stone thrower.
What does he mean when he advises the church to tolerate and understand dissent among its flock? We get some idea from his next revealing line: “In my government I tolerate dissent—up to a point. I allow dissent because I recognize that sometimes it can be healthy . . . There is no room for arrogance in the leadership of the church, and that is the problem. Moral absolutes, if you cannot handle them, will lead you into that kind of profile . . . We have to manage differences and we have to manage dissent.”
In his blatant attack on “the leadership of the church,” by which, conceivably he also refers to the Pope—if not the church’s putative head Jesus Christ himself—the former prime minister missed the point. Father Clovis and his followers adhere to the dictates of a faith shared by the majority of Saint Lucians. The Catholic church has always considered abortion evil and the Constitution of Saint Lucia entitles them to hold such belief without government interference of any kind. For members of parliament to openly attack church beliefs in the venomous fashion demonstrated on the recalled occasion by the day’s prime minister was not only to establish a precedent most regrettable but also unconstitutional—a fact that must’ve occurred to the prime minister, considering his specialty outside the House is constitutional law.
In any event, it is not for any prime minister to “allow and tolerate” constitutionally guaranteed dissent. How revealing that from one corner of his educated mouth the day’s prime minister seemed to be advocating church tolerance of dissenting breakers of church laws and policies—in the process dismissing its leadership as arrogant—while at the same time underscoring his own questionable nakedness. For what else but palpable arrogance was his suggestion that it was up to him alone to determine, constitution be damned, how much dissent he would allow or tolerate in the government of the people!
What emerges from re-reading the 25 November 2003 Hansard is a picture most disturbing. It should be required reading for any Saint Lucian who imagines himself patriotic. For a citizen to deny the truth revealed in the pages of the particular Hansard tantamounts to a declaration that he is an enemy of the state.
Yes, nothing less.
Space prevents me on this occasion to remind readers of what passed for a House debate at the time of Section 166. Suffice it to say Sarah Flood-Beaubrun was crucified by her pro-abortion parliamentary colleagues, including the only other female MP at the time, a Seventh Day Adventist paragon. It is also worth pointing out that in her “defense of the rights of the unborn child” Flood-Beaubrun never once cited church policy, or God, more than can truthfully be said of her colleagues who seemed to concentrate their venom on the Catholic church and its leadership.
More on that at a later date. I now offer yet another example of Kenny Anthony’s manipulation of words that, had they been spoken by anyone else, would’ve amounted to an egregious abuse of House privilege, at any rate, by the former PM’s measure.
Having implied that between 2000 and 2001 there had been at Victoria Hospital a total of 592 illegal abortions, this is what he spat at the soon-to-be-discarded Gender Affairs minister: “Now let us forget that we do not have the figures yet for 1997 onwards, am I then, on the very logic that she has presented and the church has presented, to say that she committed murder vicariously because she was the Minister for Health and she allowed it to happen? Am I to say that? I refuse to say that!” Here he paused, as if to savor the sweets in his doubtless well-researched impersonation of Shakespeare’s Mark Antony.
“I refuse to say that,” he repeated, smiling the smile of a satisfied fox if only it could smile. “The evidence is clear that it happened at Victoria Hospital. It is very clear where it happened. Go further I will tell you about Saint Judes [Hospital].”
Clear that what happened? Vicarious murder? In any event Victoria Hospital record keepers soon afterward let it be known that their use of the word “abortion” referred to natural miscarriages, not the illegal termination of the life of an unborn child.
Let me end by reminding readers that following much hot air about the constitutionality of the law that would’ve denied bail to citizens accused of certain crimes, Marcus Foster bore holes in the government’s legal arguments wide enough to accommodate speeding freight trains. Irony of ironies, Foster had entered the picture in defense of a fellow lawyer accused of a particularly horrific rape and whom his competitors in the over-lawyered government were determined to imprison until his trial, a torture that lesser accused mortals normally suffer for four or five years before the charges against them are resolved!