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Religious freedom concerns highlighted in L.D.S. submission

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [L.D.S.] was politically neutral in a submission to the Special Parliamentary Committee currently soliciting feedback on proposed changes to the Land and Titles Court.

But the church's representatives did express concerns about the effects of the proposed laws on fundamental human rights in Samoa. 

In a submission presented on Thursday morning, the Church remained politically neutral on the bills, which are at the second reading stage of the Legislative Assembly.

Spokesperson and Area Seventy Elder, Sapele Faalogo, said their submission contained a concern that fundamental rights would be affected by the proposed changes, especially freedom of religion.

The three bills in question are the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, the Lands and Titles Court Bill 2020, and the Judicature Bill 2020. Together they would create an autonomous L.T.C. the decisions of which were not subject to review by the Supreme Court.

Elder Faalogo stressed that they do not have a position on the bills.

"As a church our interest is to protect the religious freedom, guaranteed by the Samoan Constitution for this generation And for generations to come as we do our best to protect our freedoms to worship and live as our hearts and conscience lead us our families our communities and our entire nation will be stronger.

"The primary concern is on the exercise and protection of freedom of religion."

Coupled with their primary concern is the Church recommendation to ensure the protection of the people's property rights.

"Protection of property rights is essential to the exercise and enjoyment of freedom of religion. People who worship together need a protected place together. Thus, freedoms of religion and property rights are closely connected," he said.

"Without stability and certainty in property rights, businesses and churches would be hesitant to build on customary land.

Elder Faalogo said the main concern of the church is to ensure there is freedom of citizens to praise their God and the freedom to choose what and where to do so.

The proposed changes seek to establish a new Court structure where there are two separate and independent Courts and the Supreme Court no longer has any jurisdiction over the L.T.C.

Public consultations continue.

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