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Controversy has been brewing since Jamaica’s public transport authorities ordered lay preachers to put the brakes on sermons on state-owned buses.
The move came against a backdrop of numerous complaints from passengers about the noise and disturbance created by the preachers, which led to a directive instructing drivers to politely warn religious ministers that they were no longer permitted to evangelize on public transport.
“I am all for evangelizing, but they cannot use the bus as their platform,” said Hardley Lewin, managing director of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC).
The transit boss had the full backing of Senior Superintendent of Police Radcliffe Lewis, who has warned lay preachers who use JUTC buses for their ministry that they will be prosecuted.
On Thursday, Lewis said that preaching on public passenger vehicles is an offence and persons in breach can be charged with disorderly conduct on a public passenger vehicle (PPV).
"It doesn't matter who it is, even if you were the pope. With the amount of complaints coming in, Mr Lewin had no other choice but to take the action him take. He has done the best thing," Lewis told The Jamaica Gleaner.
"There need not be any debate on the issue," Lewis said. "The law is the law, and you can be charged. I am totally for the ban. You cannot go about disturbing people and annoying them and forcing people to listen to you," he added.
"Any noise, singing or preaching or playing of any instrument, once you start to disturb the passengers, you can be charged for disorderly conduct on a PPV. I expect that persons who preach should respect the law and respect the rights of other citizens," Lewis continued.
The senior cop also told The Gleaner that in the past they had turned a blind eye to the practice, but based on the number of complaints, they would now have to take action against anyone breaching the law.
Meanwhile, although some lay preachers are said to have accepted the decision, reports indicate that others may challenge it by citing Jamaica’s constitution, which includes the right “to manifest and propagate religion”.