KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – There was nothing wrong with Shefflorn Ballantyne’s comments which resulted in the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) policy on religion and the dismissal of fellow Thusian, Anesia Baptiste, from the senate last week, the former senator said Wednesday.
Ballantyne, a one-time prospective NDP candidate, this month criticised Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves for his comments about a religious group that some say is a “cult”.
He said Gonsalves was hypocritical in his criticisms because the doctrines of the “cult” are similar to the Catholic Church’s.
“The issue I was making was the issue of hypocrisy,” Ballantyne said at a press conference he and Baptiste held on Wednesday.
“Nowhere in my statement did you hear me refer to the Roman Catholic Church as being a cult,” he further stated, adding, “… people can have their own perception as to whether that constitutes the launching of an attack against the Roman Catholic Church …”
He noted that he was remarking on a newspaper article that reported Gonsalves’ comments, which were in response to a reporter’s question.
“Up to today, no one has used the same rule that they try to use with me with relation to the Prime Minister,” he said.
The opposition last week formulated a policy that prohibits its candidates and potential candidates from making adverse comments about religion.
“Because here he is condemning a religious group and he is the highest politician in the land. So how come that sort of hypocrisy is allowed to pass?” Ballantyne said of Gonsalves’ commentary.
“It is like the proverbial wolf, ready to eat up Shefflorn Ballantyne for making a simple comparison, for highlighting a hypocrisy that he has observed over the years and he himself has experienced, because our religion was referred to as a cult as well by the Prime Minister himself…”
Meanwhile, Baptiste — also a Thusian — quoted former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson who said, “The opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction.”
“You give the impression that because it will hurt the party you will limit the expression of our candidates,” Baptiste said in reference to the pronouncements of NDP leader Arnhim Eustace on the policy.
“You (Eustace) … tell them you can’t be critical of religious teaching publicly,” she further said.
She said that she “stood in defence of Shefflorn Ballantyne because he did nothing wrong.
“He was not speaking on behalf of the party (NDP),” Baptiste said, adding that Baptiste was critically analysing a newspaper article, which cited Gonsalves’ denunciation of the “cult” and was asking for fairness.
“He, in essence, criticised the hypocrisy of the Prime Minister. He did not ever call the Roman Catholic Church a cult.”
She said Eustace made an issue of the Ballantyne’s statement to the point where of firing her “when I essentially exposed that it was a non-issue and there was unfair discrimination in dealing with Ballantyne, that there were weightier matters to attend to and that I could not support such an unconstitutional policy.”
“Ballantyne never attacked any religion. The NDP didn’t have such a policy before. She was never aware of such a policy and no one proved it was there when she said so in the meeting,” Baptiste said.