by Lauren Flores
Greg Clark, International Fellow for the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, served as a moderator for a panel on the status of law and religion in the Caribbean. Speaking at the session were Jean Marie Christian de Lespinasse from Haiti and Rafael B. Paz from the Dominican Republic. Each individual spoke on the importance of religious freedom in their home countries.
Jean Marie Christian de Lespinasse, a lawyer from the Cabinet de Lespinasse spoke of the great opportunity Haiti has to expand their laws to address religious freedom. He explained that in Haiti there is not much that has been done, and that the greatest challenge will be to organize an interfaith coalition. He spoke to the fact that Haiti as a nation has so many other needs that are seen as more pressing for the government to address. He also explained that there are grey areas as to what is considered a religion. Haiti has indigenous groups that have some ties to spiritual beliefs, but it is still to be determined whether practices such as Voodoo will be protected as religious.
Rafael B. Paz, Senior Pastor for Iglesia Cristiana Palabras de Vida, spoke to the threats to religious freedom in his country from the perspective of a Pastor. Paz highlighted threats he sees to religious freedom. One threat that Paz sees to religious freedom is the frequency of changes to the Dominican Constitution and the subtle way in which harmful provisions slip into the Constitution. Paz also explained that international agendas that are well funded have a big impact on the way that religious liberties are viewed by the Dominican people. He explained that the way to maintain rights for religious groups is to organize, band together, and begin dialogues between the different religions.