Jamaica has banned preaching of the gospel on public buses following complaints from some passengers.
The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper reported that the Jamaica Urban Transit Company Ltd. (JUTC) has advised its drivers to "politely" tell preachers they can no longer preach on state-owned transportation.
"I am all for evangelizing but they can't use the bus as their platform," JUTC Managing Director Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin told The Gleaner.
"I have sent a memo to the drivers, basically, telling them to politely request that the people do not preach on the buses.”
Lewin noted that preachers take advantage of the buses because commuters have no choice but to listen to their loud sermons.
"I think this is what makes the bus an attractive mobile church, and I suppose you can't just get off because you have spent your money," he explained.
However, Jamaica is a deeply religious country, with some preachers claiming the bus company in infringing on their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
"We won't be going back on the bus until the matter is resolved because we are being verbally abused, and the last thing you want is to be physically abused," a lay preacher Lawson told the Gleaner.
"If the driver says 'don't come on the bus, we don't want you here because [you make] noise and... disturb people and... disturb [us],' we just won't go in there.”
But Shirley Richards, president of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, defended the JUTC's directive, with a caveat.
"I wonder if this couldn't have been resolved by dialogue as distinct from a total ban, especially bearing in mind what seems to be a move to secularise the country?" she pondered.
For now, ministers accept the directive, but may eventually seek to challenge it on constitutional grounds, BBC noted.
According to the CIA Factbook, 62 percent of the Jamaican population are Protestant, which sizable numbers of Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentecostals and Baptists.
Readers of the Jamaica Gleaner seemed to generally oppose the ban on public preaching.
A man named Craig Carr wrote: “I think these lay evangelists are fulfilling a purpose. If there is disagreement with it they probably can scale it down, but I don't think they should ban it.”
A woman named Patricia Stephenson declared: “The Bible says you must go on the highways, byways and edges, so nothing is wrong with preaching on the bus.”
A Jamaican named Jeovanni Nembhard opined: "Since Jamaica is predominantly a Christian country, we adhere to the values of the Christian doctrine, so I don't think there should be a specific time for preaching. Preaching should be done anytime.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.