Spiritual background checks in Trinidad and Tobago?

  • Date / 7 October 2009

Spiritual and moral background checks have been proposed for the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. The local Humanist Association has raised the alarm at this development in a country where the Police Service and Defence Forces already appear to be exclusively Christian and where atheists and agnostics are barred or made to feel alienated.

The Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association writes: “With police misbehaviour and corruption running rampant, one Anglican priest has proposed ‘spiritual and moral background checks’ for applicants to the Police Service.

“We wonder how such checks would be conducted. Would church attendance be considered sufficient evidence of good character? Or, by contrast, would any applicant who is having sex outside marriage be considered morally unfit to be a police officer, since fornication is a sin by religious lights? And how do you measure spirituality?

“We would argue that imposing moral criteria, instead of emphasizing ethical principles, will either have no effect or actually worsen standards in the Police Service. This is particularly so since the religious criterion in the Service appears to be exclusively Christian. At a recent thanksgiving service, for example, Acting Commissioner James Philbert and his senior officers had Pentecostal pastor ‘Doctor’ Winston Cuffie presiding. Their moral sensibilities were clearly not bothered by the unaccredited doctorate Pastor Cuffie puts before his name, but persons concerned with ethics would hardly consider this individual an exemplar.

“In all branches of the Defence Force, it appears that prayers and oaths taken on Bibles have become unofficial criteria for entry to these bodies. Atheists and agnostics – who, by the way, are the least represented group among inmates in prison, as compared to Catholics, Baptists, Anglicans, Pentecostals, and Muslims – are thus either barred or at the very least made to feel alienated.

“If the authorities really want to improve conduct in the Police Service, they should concentrate on rigorous psychological evaluations, on implementing measures to prevent “pull string” and bribery to gain entry to the Service, and on inculcating professional standards in recruits. As for religious belief, that should be a private matter for all officers since it has no effect on commitment and excellence on the job.”

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