By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
A GROUP of Rastas is seeking to have all criminal convictions that relate to Rastafari possession, cultivation and supply of Indian hemp since 1963 wiped out.
In a writ filed in the Supreme Court yesterday, lawyers for the Rastas also cite significant persecution for which they demand redress, from unconstitutional searches of persons and homes on suspicion of hemp possession to unconstitutional cutting of Rastas’ locks in prison.
The plaintiffs, represented by Wayne Munroe, QC, and lawyers of his firm, want compensatory and vindicatory damages for breaches of their rights under Articles 15, 21, 22 and 26 of the constitution and are suing the Attorney General for the actions of the Royal Bahamas Police Force and officers of the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services. They claim the practice of their livity - their “enlightened” lifestyle - has been hindered by decades of oppressive acts.
Attorney General Carl Bethel has said the lawsuit has poor prospects of success.
The writ says: “The hindrance relates to the persecution of Rastafari for the acts in practising their livity in the cultivation, possession and supply of Indian hemp which is one of the sacraments of Rastafari.
“The plaintiffs claim that they have had their right to the protection of the privacy of their persons and homes breached by the members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force by searching for the sacrament which Rastafari can lawfully cultivate, possess and supply pursuant to the right guaranteed by Articles 15 and 21 of the Constitution.
“The plaintiffs further claim that their rights guaranteed by Articles 15 and 26 to practice their religion and to be free from discriminatory treatment have been breached by members of the Bahamas Department of Corrections and its predecessor Her Majesty’s Prison in the cutting of Rastafari locks while Rastafari was serving a sentence for cultivating, possessing or supplying his sacrament.
“The plaintiffs claim that all executive acts taken pursuant to the Dangerous Drugs Act or prison rules that hinder Rastafari in practicing his livity or positively infringed on it by the cutting of Rastafari locks breached the rights guaranteed and protected by Articles 15, 21, 22 and 26 of the constitution.”
Rastas want a declaration that from 1963 to now they have always had the right to practice their religion, including by consuming, cultivating, possessing and supplying their sacrament, Indian hemp. They want a declaration that section three of the Dangerous Drugs Act is unconstitutional because it does not accommodate their constitutional rights. Section three of that Act outlaws the cultivation of certain drugs unless the minister grants special authority to qualified people for medical or scientific purposes.
The Rastas are seeking: a declaration that any executive action that hindered their enjoyment of their right to practice their religion is a breach of Articles 15 and 22 of the constitution; a declaration that the arrest, search of the person and home of Rastafari on the suspicion of Rastafari cultivation, possession or supply of his sacrament violates their right to practice their religion and the right to privacy; a declaration that cutting of Rastafari locks while in prison violates their religion and is discriminatory.
Articles 15 and 21 of the constitution concern fundamental rights and freedoms, including protection for the privacy of one’s home and property from deprivation. Article 22 of the Constitution protects one’s freedom of religion. Article 26 establishes the protection from discrimination. The articles all stipulate conditions on these rights. The lawsuit cites persecution going back to 1963 because the protections in the 1973 Constitution were initially guaranteed in the The Bahama Islands (Constitution) Order in Council 1963.
The plaintiffs in the suit are priests Rithman McKinney, Elthelbert Harrison, Michael Minnis, Tafair Thompson, prophet Able Sealy, David Thompson, Damon Brown, Derick Taylor, Baltie Landor, Shamarcus Adderley and the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress. The congress is a not for profit company representing the House of Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress in Rastafari. Mr Munroe told The Tribune yesterday the lawsuit will be a representative action he hopes will encompass the claims of people beyond the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit comes amid heightened debate about marijuana. The Minnis administration has appointed a commission to codify the views of Bahamians on the drug and make recommendations to the government on positions related to the legal, social, medicinal and religious issues relating to marijuana.