Trinidad & Tobago High Commissioner in Canada, Camille Robinson-Regis, says that the freedom of worship that Spiritual Baptists – also known as Shouters – fought to achieve should be celebrated, not only by its members, but by all people who have struggled for the right to gain freedom, respect and dignity.
“Religious freedom has often been cited as the bell weather for respecting human rights and as a benchmark for democracy and tolerance,” she said at the National Evangelical Spiritual Baptist Faith Diocese’s 58th anniversary celebration last Sunday in Scarborough.
“In Trinidad & Tobago and here in Canada, we sometimes take for granted our right to practice our faith and to believe in what we choose. Today, we are reminded that the religious freedom that is afforded to us came with immense sacrifices and the unyielding will of our forefathers. In T & T, Spiritual Baptists fought assiduously for recognition of their faith and through great peril and huge sacrifice, they have secured for this generation and future generations the right to practice their religion.”
Spiritual Baptist/Shouters Liberation Day in an annual public holiday in T & T that has been celebrated for the past 12 years on March 30. The holiday marks the repeal on March 30, 1951 of the 1917 Shouter Prohibition Ordinance that outlawed the group’s activities. The ban was imposed, ostensibly, because the Shouters celebrated too loudly. It was, however, suspected that the real reason their activities were curtailed was because the colonizers were opposed to their Afro-centred practices.
Worshippers who defied the ban were beaten, arrested and jailed, and they had to flee to the hills and forests to practice their religion without interference. After much lobbying, the bill to overturn the ban was passed in 1951.
Over the years, Shouters in T & T have been awarded plots of land and allowed to establish their own schools.
“We have recognized that it’s important for all persons to be given an equal opportunity to spread their religion in a way that they see fit,” said Robinson-Regis. “After the struggles the Spiritual Baptists have endured, today they are recognized as one of the chief religions in Trinidad & Tobago.”
The twin-island republic’s top diplomat in Canada challenged the religious organization, which practiced largely in rural Trinidad from 1917-1951, to open the doors of communication and seek to educate and promote a greater understanding of their faith.
“Share your story because it’s one of triumph over great difficulty and it is a story of perseverance and strength of will,” she said. “After being persecuted, silenced and beaten, the spiritual Baptist faith has survived and thrived. It’s a well established and recognized religion reaching across the Americas, the Caribbean and the United Kingdom.
“The spiritual Baptist community is an integral part of the vibrant cultural identity of Trinidad & Tobago, the Caribbean and, likewise, in Canada. You are adding to the richness of Canada’s multicultural milieu and, in both countries, you are positively contributing to social development.”
United States Consul General, John Nay and Scarborough-Agincourt Member of Parliament, Jim Karygiannis, attended the celebration and brought greetings.
“Since its inception, the Shouters faith in Canada has inspired its parishioners,” noted Karygiannis. “I have had the opportunity to meet with members of the laity on different occasions. Your church has been a pillar of support and your congregation has been an integral part of communities across Canada.”
The Shouters have practiced in Canada since 1974 under the guidance of Dr. Deloris Seivright, who was appointed Archbishop of the Canadian diocese 13 years ago.