Commissioner Frans Richardson : ”This is not about Politics for me”

"It is sad, very sad, that some people would deliberately take a decision of government meant for the good of our youth and create a big controversy from it about the separation of church and state." 

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These were the initial comments of Commissioner Frans Richardson regarding the ongoing debate about remarks he made at the ground-breaking ceremony for the new Methodist Church building in Belvedere last Saturday.

He reiterated that the decision of the Executive Council, taken unanimously, to assist the Methodist community in the construction of a new chapel in the Belvedere area to serve Dutch Quarter, Middle Region and environs, was meant as compensation for an oversight of government.

"With our assistance with the building of this church, we hope to resolve all concerns arising from our decision to fulfill our promises," the Commissioner stated. "Once completed, it will serve as the bedrock of Christian teachings in this community. With so much happening in our neighborhoods, an additional place of worship is never too much."

According to the Commissioner, contrary to what has been reported in the media about his address, he never said there should be no separation between church and state, but actually emphasized the need for stronger cooperation and understanding between the two institutions which have perhaps the greatest impact on our daily lives.

"I suggested that maybe the new church congregation and the managers of the new sports field will agree to join to create recreational programs for our community’s youth.

In this way, we will be better equipped to help our youth and students to become better socially and educationally by facilitating them with regular inter-generational contacts that would help them to grow as responsible citizens; facilitating parents with a better knowledge of their child’s friends and parents; to encourage our children’s development with their norms and values."

"When the church and the field have been built, I said, ‘I believe if there’s a fight or problem on the field, they can all come here to the house of God to resolve their conflict."

"I also said they always talk about separation of church and government, but I know every year, every so often, the government calls on the church to pray for it. Why is it OK to pray for you, but it is not OK to build a temple to pray in?"

Finally, I expressed gratitude to the representatives of the Methodist church "for their patience and their useful recommendations, paving the way for better mutual understanding between the church and government."

"These are the facts; these are the exact words I said at the ground-breaking ceremony. I make no apologies for the decision of government to correct what was an obvious mistake. I make no apologies neither for calling for closer cooperation between government and the church for the positive development of our youth and of our island.

However, I also understand the sensitivity in some quarters about the issue of the separation of church and state. This is a problem all over the world, even in the U.S. where President Obama has continued the "Faith-based initiative" of former President George W. Bush, which many see as an attempt to erase the separation between church and state.

The separation of church and state is not only a legal and political doctrine to keep both institutions independent of each other; it also has a biblical foundation. Jesus Christ himself established that separation when he commanded His followers to "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God, what belongs to God."

There are several European countries where the state subsidizes the churches – Belgium and Greece being two good examples. In fact, some countries considered to be very liberal in outlook such as Sweden, Norway, and Germany, also do the same or something very similar although no one would ever accuse them of not practicing separation of church and state. Similarly, when the island government pays teachers’ salaries and other subsidies for religious schools, nobody sees that as an affront on the separation of church and state.

I acknowledge that we are in a political season, and that some politicians are so desperate that they will stop at nothing to undermine the good that this government has been doing and will continue to strive to do. Let me state very clearly that government has not instituted any new policy to nullify the separation between church and state; far from it. But there are those with their own political agenda who want to mislead the people in thinking so.

But this is not about politics for me; this is about recognizing the role the church has to play in our society, especially in the development of our youth, and doing whatever we can to assist in achieving this common goal. I have no doubt at all that a better mutual understanding and cooperation between church and state will result in a better St. Maarten for all. This is what it is all about: a better future for ALL."