While there are many troubling provisions in the Non-Profit Organisations Bill, 2018 (NPO Bill), I’m especially concerned about and strongly object to section 7(1), which reads: “A non-profit organization shall not carry out operations unless it is registered under this Act.” This means, for example, that before a group of individuals can band together to worship and propagate their religion, they are required to be registered as a non-profit organization with the Registrar of Non-Profit Organizations. Failure to do so could result in a hefty fine and/or imprisonment.
The effect of section 7(1) of the NPO Bill is that the government has set a pre-requisite to be met in order for certain constitutional rights to be enjoyed. One does not have to be a lawyer to see that section 7(1) of the NPO Bill violates article 22(1) of the constitution which confers and protects, among other things, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of religion, either alone or in community with others, and both in private and in public. If religious organizations in The Bahamas will be required to be registered with the government in order to propagate their religion, the government will be adopting the oppressive practice of communist countries that do the same. It is on this restriction of religious freedom that there should be primary and unrelenting resistance. In my view, the other objections to provisions in the NPO Bill pale in comparison.
Article 22(5) of the constitution permits the government to pass laws that restrict religious and other freedoms conferred in Article 22(1), but such restrictive laws must be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. But is it reasonably justifiable in a democratic society to require religious groups to register with the government in order to enjoy the religious freedoms conferred on them in article 22(1) of the constitution? I cannot see how. It is unconstitutional. And I believe right-thinking Bahamians share this view.
I support commonsense legislation for and regulation of non-profit organizations (of which religious groups are a part), however, I do not support draconian legislation that forces religious groups to register with and be approved by the government in order to partake of their constitutional right of unhindered enjoyment of their freedom of religion and the propagation of the same.
To those who are indifferent about the NPO Bill because they believe they will not be affected by it, I remind them of the famous words of Martin Niemöller, the Protestant pastor who was an outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler, and who spent seven years in Nazi concentration camps as a result. Niemöller said, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
In my view, Bahamians who feel it is perfectly fine for the government to threaten religious freedoms are short-sighted. Instead, they should heed Niemöller’s words. And I pray that they do, and that they will join right-thinking people all across The Bahamas to collectively oppose this violation of religious and other freedoms. Toward that end, I am praying to the Sovereign Lord.
— Pastor Cedric Moss