On the Morris issue
In yesterday’s edition of the DAILY NATION we reported on the developing story of Anglican priest and teacher at Combermere School, Reverend Charles Morris being investigated by his employer for alleged “misconduct of a serious nature”.
A letter sent to him by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education stated in part: “I have been directed by the Public Service Commission, through the Chief Personnel Officer, to carry out an investigation into your alleged misconduct. I refer to an article, which was extracted from the February 3rd 2014 edition of the Daily Nation . . . .
“The comments attributed to you by the author of that article suggest that you might have committed misconduct of a serious nature in contravention of the Code of Conduct and Ethics set out in the Second Schedule of the Public Service Act, Cap. 29. The Code of Conduct and Ethics states in paragraph 24 (e) that:
“Officers shall not give broadcast talks or engage in any discussion, that is being broadcast on any subject that may properly be regarded as of a political or administrative nature, without the prior permission of the Minister concerned.”
That letter directed the priest to provide a written response to the allegations and to appear at the ministry for a hearing accompanied by a lawyer or some other representative.
There is no doubt that Reverend Morris is controversial. For years his statements in and out of the pulpit have upset from parishioner to bishop, from the man at the bottom to the politician at the top. And the comments at the centre of this disciplinary hearing were harsh in that he described the current Government using such terms as “disaster”, “environmental hazard”, “catastrophe”, “cancer” and “threat”.
While it is easy to comment on and draw a conclusion on the “rightness”, “wrongness” or “accuracy” of the statements of the goodly priest, we will resist the urge and ask another question: In a supposedly modern society where openness and free speech are supposed to be highly prized, does the section of the Code of Conduct under which he is being tried not seem grossly obsolete?
After so many years of investing so many billions in the education of our people, and after building a public service with some of the best brains the country can muster, can we still function with legislation that so restricts their involvement in national debate – even if what they say offends the political class whose primary motivation these days appears to be the preservation of their power?
But there is another aspect that ought to be considered. For well over a century the church, particularly the Anglican Church, has been providing teachers for our school system. And we don’t have to look hard to recall some teacher/priests who were known for their robust language, so what makes Reverend Charles Morris so special that he should receive this kind of attention? Have we become more thin-skinned with our development as a nation? Or are there other dynamics at play as the priest suggests? In any event, did Reverend Morris speak as a teacher or a parish priest?
Our position on this matter is simple: Our current national predicament requires more dialogue with all stakeholders, not less. This action against Reverend Morris, even if supported by existing law, can only serve to dampen national debate on issues that are crying out for the widest possible participation. It is not what the country needs right now.