Last week we looked at 5 of your 11 Rights under the Constitution of Vanuatu. This week we will briefly look at 2 of these rights and what they mean.
The Right toFreedom of Conscience and Worship
Freedom of conscience is sometimes called simply freedom of worship or religious freedom.
This is the right to follow your own beliefs in matters of religion and morality. This right includes your right to change your religion or beliefs at any time. This right allows you to put those beliefs into actions and words, that is, you have the right to wear religious clothing, example, if you are Muslim and wish to cover your hair as a woman. You are also allowed to talk about and openly practice your religion without interference by anyone or the government. This right even protects persons who do not believe in God at all and those who are uncertain about God and religion.
For a citizens belief to be protected under this article it must be a belief that is serious, concerns important aspects of human life or behaviour, be honestly held and be worthy of respect in a free society.
The government cannot stop you in any way from practicing or changing your beliefs. Having said that, there are instances when the government can prevent you from demonstrating your belief and religion. In such a case the government must be able to show that it is lawful and necessary to protect public safety, public order, health and morals and the rights and freedoms of other religions.
Any action taken by the government must be balanced and only enough to deal with the problem. For example, in one particular case a group of parents brought a case against a school for them to reintroduce physical punishment for children in school as they believed that it was the duty of schools, in the Christian context to assume a parental role and physically punish children.
The courts found that even though this was the religious belief of the parents, this belief had to be restricted because the need to protect children from the harmful effects of physical punishment was more important. The court felt that children needed to be protected and that the law that was passed to ban physical punishment in schools was necessary and reasonable.
The Right toFreedom of Expression
This right protects your right to hold your own opinions and the right to express them freely without the government or any person trying to prevent it. This right allows you to express your views out loud and in public such as through public demonstrations. You are also free to express your views in the newspapers, in books, on television or the radio, in the form of art such as drawings or poetry and even on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. This freedom also allows you to receive information such as in the form of pamphlets from other people.
Like all other rights there are limitations on how far you can go. Even though you have these rights it does not mean that you must be careless about how you use them. In exercising your right you must be responsible and take care to respect other people’s rights. This right can be restricted by public authorities such as the government but only if they can show that it is lawful, necessary and balanced. They can restrict your rights for the following reasons: in order to protect the security of the country, to prevent disorder or crime, to protect health or morals, to protect the rights and reputation or name of other people, to prevent persons from giving out information that is meant to be secret, to maintain the authority and fairness of judges.
Some examples of an authority restricting your freedom of expression would be; if you express views that encourage racial or religious hatred such as saying that all Muslims are terrorists and should be treated badly. You can also be restricted if you tell lies in public or post these lies on Facebook about someone or if you work with government and you try to write an article or publish a book on matters that might affect the safety of the country.
This is a very important right especially for journalists and other people working in the media so that they are free to criticise the government and other institutions without the fear of being taken to court or imprisoned. It is one of the most important rights in a democratic country like Vanuatu.
Next week we will continue our series on Know Your Rights where we will look at 2 more of the remaining 4 rights under the Constitution.
DISCLAIMER – this is a legal column to provide basic information on the law and court procedure. It is not to be used as a substitute for legal advice but to be used only as a starting point in understanding what you might need and what you might need to do.