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Christian country Papua New Guinea Covid controller first denies permission for Durga Puja because of ‘idol worship’, apologises later: Details

"Once again, I humbly seek your forgiveness for this unfortunate error and I hope that you accept that this was not in any way deliberate. I will make myself available if you wish to personally discuss this matter with me," Manning said in the letter.

Papua New Guinea COVID controller David Manning recently issued an apology letter after a previous letter signed by him denied permission to the nation’s Hindus from holding Durga Puja, saying idol worshipping is “morally inappropriate and against Christian values”.

The denial for Durga puja celebrations sparked outrage among residents, following which Manning issued an apology letter and termed the previous statement as “grave and unfortunate error”.

“On the 18th of September, 2021 a letter was drafted for me by the office of the Deputy Controller in regards to the non-approval of your request to host the prayers for Goddess Durga from 12-17 October, 2021. Whilst I ultimately take full responsibilities as the Controller of the National Pandemic Act, 2020, I afforded trust and professionalism to the Deputy Controller’s office. Unfortunately, my trust was misplaced in regards to this matter,” Manning said in a fresh letter seeking an apology.

“I sincerely and without reservation apologise for the comments in regards to “idol worshipping’ and “morally inappropriate and against our Christian values.” The comments in themselves are highly inappropriate and in no way, reflect my personal and professional views. I, as a representative of the Government of Papua New Guinea, respect the right for religious freedom in our country,” the letter further said.

Manning added that the non-approval for Durga Puja celebrations was based on the risk of COVID-19 transmission linked to the congregation of people. He asserted that he had caused the author of the previous letter to be disciplined in regards to the matter and has instigated a secure vetting process within the office of the Deputy Controller so that such a situation is not repeated.

Manning asked for further details of the proposed event, including expected numbers and COVID mitigation protocols, so that he could personally make another assessment of the application.

“Once again, I humbly seek your forgiveness for this unfortunate error and I hope that you accept that this was not in any way deliberate. I will make myself available if you wish to personally discuss this matter with me,” Manning said in the letter.

The apology came in the wake of a letter that rejected permission for the Hindu population to organise the Durga Puja celebrations. The letter said the approval was not granted for religious activities during Durga Puja, not because of COVID-19 but because “idol-worshipping did not conform to Christian values.”

Papua New Guinea’s marked shift to embracing Christianity as state religion

Papua New Guinea or PNG as it is commonly called is a country in Oceania that comprises the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands in Melanesia. It is adjacent to Indonesia and located just north of Australia. It won its independence from Australia in 1975 but continues to remain a member of the British ‘Commonwealth of nations’. About 98 per cent of the total 9 million population of PNG is Christian while the Hindu population is in mere thousands.

The preamble to the PNG constitution says the country was founded on two basic principles – of cultural heritage and Christianity. Though the country does not have any state religion, the preamble pledges “to guard and pass on to those who come after us our noble traditions and the Christian principles that are ours now”.

Parliament sessions and most government offices open and close with Christian prayers. Papua New Guinea’s National Executive Council had last year approved a proposal to formally declare the country Christian under the Constitution. The government is aggressively pursuing programs to augment partnerships between churches and the state, including providing subsidies to churches and setting up church councils to help manage local affairs.

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